McCarran Airport, Las Vegas, 3/20/15
“Sir, these tickets are for yesterday…” Linda at the Delta counter said, slowly, with regret. I felt the projectile tears loading up – this 40th birthday trip was about to end in disaster.
“Oh. Okay.” I said with a shaky voice, “Um, now what?”. My wife, normally unflappable in the face of scheduling disasters gasped and held back a sniffle. My sons, ever attentive at the worst moments, felt our panic and began looking for hiding places.
“It’s okay guys, it’s just money, we’ll figure it out, why don’t you go sit over there and let me work this out with the nice lady.”
<lots of clacking and consternation>
“Sir, the flights are all pretty full tonight, I’d have to split you up into two groups, one with a layover through Detroit, the other via Atlanta. Also, err, um, the price for the tickets is around $1300 per ticket.”
“Oh…HEY KIDS, I GUESS WE LIVE IN VEGAS NOW!”
The Delta ticket agent laughed, asked for some time to make a few calls. I felt my American Express Gold getting warm to the touch, the familiar Centurion smiled and winked at me.
My commitment to “offlining” for the week felt great at the time, but I was seriously regretting it right now. When I go on vacation, I remove mail from my phone, have my wife change my password so I can’t even check my mail if I want to. Otherwise, I’d be sneaking around at 3am reading mail and causing problems at work. So I missed the helpful email that says “check in for your flight TODAY NOT TOMORROW YOU STUPID PERSON.” Fan-fucking-tastic.
While the ticket agent worked the phone and checked with various co-workers, I shuffled over to my wife and kids as they sat sniffling against the darkening glass wall of the terminal, and reassured them all would be well – we’d find a way home, it’s no big deal; it’s just money guys, we made a mistake; mom and I were trying NOT to be on our phones all week; we just missed the emailed warnings; we screwed up the dates. The look in their eyes suggested fading trust, sprinkled with a liberal amount of doubt. I could feel my Superman cape being torn off as my kids recognized the Clark Kent within.
I walked back to the ticket counter, prepared for the worst.
“Mr. Clancy, here’s what we can do. We can get you all on a flight back to New York tomorrow morning at 6am-”
“Okay great, thank you so much, now all I have to do is get a hotel room…ooh, on a Friday, in Vegas-“
“Nope, I already arranged for you to stay at the Silver Seven Casino, it’s not far from here, the Shuttle Bus driver is waiting for you. I know him, we spend our paychecks over there on Thursdays.”
“Wow, thank you so much, what do I owe you for the tickets? Still $1300 a piece?”
“No, its just the change fee, which is normally $250 per ticket-“
“Awesome! done, thank you-“
“Let me finish Mr. Clancy, Delta really cares about its customers, wants to change the impression of the airline industry (seriously, she actually said this) and we can tell this was an honest mistake, the total fee is $250 for the change, oh and your hotel room is booked at a Delta employee rate of $79 for the Friday.”
Dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. Knocked off my feet. The tears of fear and frustration I’d been fighting back broke loose as a full on verklempt relief tears. I couldn’t believe this. Thanking her profusely, apologizing humbly for being such a dummy, I hustled over to my wife with the great news.
THAT’S how you re-accommodate a passenger. United Airlines could learn from Linda at Delta about customer service. So often, we are confronted with problems that are not solved with incredible technology, or thorough policy, or even deep customer service training. Many problems simply require empathy, and an organization that allows their employees to use their empathy to solve these “human” problems.
In my case, I wasn’t evaluated as an entry on a customer loyalty scoreboard (hell, I wasn’t even a Delta frequent flier). I wasn’t a dollar sign, an open wallet or a chance to boost a CSAT score. I was a human being in need, with a real family in a (self-inflicted) pinch. I was treated kindly by my fellow human, and as a result got home in one piece with a great story to tell (as embarrassing as it is). In this ever more automated world, that kind of treatment was a rare gift.
Thank you Linda. Thank you Delta.