24 June 2011

Delta Backpaddling

June has been more than a four letter word for the public reputation of  Delta Airlines.

In early June, soldiers returning home after a deployment in Afghanistan were charged $200 a piece for excess baggage. The soldiers were told the military had made arrangements with airlines that allowed each soldier to bring four bags.  When they got to Baltimore, the soldiers learned during their 18 hour layover that Delta’s contract stipulated only three bags.  The 34 troops from the 94th Infantry  who flew to Atlanta were charged $3,400 out of pocket.  For most of the soldiers, the fourth bag was a weapons case which included a M14 rife, grenade launcher and a 9mm pistol. An exasperated reservist made an even keeled video documenting his disappointment, and that video went viral on Youtube.

It was not immediate apparent to the overcharged soldiers, but the DOD allows for reimbursement for such an out of pocket expense for excess bags.  Delta management maintains that they abided by their contractual obligations that coach soldiers could check four bags and  soldiers in business or first class could check without charge four bags.  Of course in 2008, Delta had a policy which waved all baggage fees for soldiers but that expired in August 2008.  As a result of the kerfluffle, soldiers flying in coach are allowed to check four bags without charge.

The overcharged soldiers should be happy that their bags arrived undamaged.  Another despondent first class Delta passenger from London to Minneapolis who recounted a tale of how his bag was repeatedly misdirected to Boston.  When the lost bag was returned after four days, the bag reeked of urine.  Apparently pissed off airline employees used the misdirected bag for privy target practice. Once again, a YouTube video documenting the despicable circumstances and piss poor customer service.

This appalling circumstance  certainly does not resemble Delta’s corporate mission statement:

We—Delta's employees, customers, and community partners together form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.

The long delayed and urine soaked bag seems like employee misconduct and persistent logistical mismanagement.  Alas, the preparation for international code sharing seems to be systematic and sinister.
In January, Delta Airlines joined a SkyTeam Alliance that would allow passenger code sharing with AirFrance, KLM, Korean Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines et ali.  The controversy is that SkyTeam partners would not allow passengers with Jewish connections (passport, passport stamps) and non-muslim religious items (e.g. a Bible) from flying into the Saudi Kingdom.

Word of this policy created an uproar on the internet.  Based on these preliminary reports, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter of inquiry to the FAA but his concerns were directed to the Department of Transportation, which would be responsible for monitoring the matter.

Delta tried to staunch the wound from this news by noting that Delta does not discriminate but noted that they must comply with the destination country’s policy, or lest it be fined for noncompliance.  This effectively translated into Delta reluctantly following the Kingdom’s visa policies.

When the bad PR continued to fester, Delta issued statements that it does not fly into Saudi Arabia and that it was not code sharing with any airline that serves Saudi Arabia.  Delta claims that it is only a “standard interline agreement” that allows fliers to book with multiple carriers.  Moreover, there is nothing official from Saudi Arabia that Jews, those having an Israeli passport or stamps from Israel are banned.   Ironically, legislation to address this issue was offered in 2009 by now former Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY 9th), but the bill went no-where in the 111th Congress.

Other airlines, such as U.S. Air and United Airlines are in the Star Alliance which has partners that fly into the Saudi Kingdom but have not experienced this problem.  Cynical news junkies may wonder if this is to complicate Saudi Arabian Airlines joining SkyTeam in 2012 or if anti-sharia activitists, such as former talk show host, Love Boat Actor and former Representative Fred Grandy (R-IA 6th & 5th), found this to be a ripe issue.  Perhaps the ramifications of the Skyteam partnership or the “standard inline agreement” were not apparent.  Or it could just be a bad streak for the Delta PR team.

Nevertheless, this streak of poor publicity belies Delta’s slogan in the mid-2000s “Good goes around”.

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