Travelers Are On Their Own

August 7, 2008

in Airport Stories

I had a direct flight on Delta out of JFK to go see my mother on her birthday. I got to the airport 1.5 hours prior to departure to ensure that I would be able to get my ticket and get on a plane with plenty of time to spare. I hate to rush. When I went to the e-ticket kiosk, I was informed that I would have to go to an agent to get my ticket. The line for the agent desk was out the door – there were about 3 agents to help maybe 60 people. I stood patiently in line as the time ticked away. Some years ago I had missed a flight, and the agents had simply rebooked me onto the next one. As I stood in the slow-moving line, and the departure time for my flight neared, I felt confident that I would be rebooked this time as well with no hassle.

I finally arrived at the desk about 20 minutes before my flight departed. The agent gruffly told me that I missed the check-in window and told me to go to the customer service phone to rebook. I turned and saw another long line (all the people who had missed their flights like me) at a panel of 6 black phones. I started to get a bad feeling.

I stood in line for the black phones for about 45 minutes, feeling an increasing sense of panic. People in the line with me were angry, and justly so. I finally got on the black phone and picked it up. A cheery woman came on the line. I told her I needed to rebook my flight, and she said she could put me on the next plane out of JFK for $600. I asked her why I was being charged this money; she told me it was because I hadn’t checked in in time. I could tell people around me were receiving similar messages, as they were yelling into the phone for managers to get on the line. I asked her if she could find me a different flight out of one of the other area airports (LaGuardia or Newark). She looked, and told me she could put me on a flight out of Newark that departed in about 6 hours. Total cost: $50. I took it.

Taking various train systems, I made it to Newark in time for my departure. I arrived in Seattle about 10 hours late.

For my return trip, I attempted to check in online the night before, but was told I couldn’t. I called customer service, and the nice lady said it was a simple technical issue that could be resolved by a person at the gate. I got to SeaTac airport 3 hours early to give me plenty of time should I need it. I should interject at this time that my return flight was on another airline, but my ticket was issued through Delta.

I got to the airline agent desk, and the agent told me he couldn’t issue me a boarding pass because I needed a voucher from Delta. I walked over to the Delta desk, and stood in line for an agent. When I explained my story to the agent, I was told that it didn’t make sense, that the other airline should issue the boarding pass. I walked back over to the other airline desk and told the agent that. He sent me back to the Delta desk, saying he couldn’t do anything for me. The Delta agent walked back over with me, but we were ignored and the agent left to return to his own desk. I started to get panicky, because about 2 hours had passed and I was beginning to fear that I would miss my return flight.

I saw the dreaded black customer service phones for Delta that I had used back at JFK. This time there was no line. I got on the phone. After a period of muzak, someone came on the line, but they were breaking up and I couldn’t hear them. I hung up and got on another phone. Time was ticking by. It was now 40 minutes until my flight departed. I waited again, wondering if this was the right step, or if there was something else I should be doing. A customer service agent came on the line. I was in tears now, sobbing into the phone. I explained to her what was going on, and she said she didn’t understand why the airline wouldn’t let me on, but she agreed to print out some document for me anyway. It printed at the Delta agent desk and I ran over and grabbed it. I ran back to the other airline desk and up the agent I had been working with all this time. He exclaimed that that was all he needed. He checked me in, I grabbed my boarding pass and ran to the gate. The plane was already boarding as I arrived. I sat down in my seat and breathed a sigh of relief.

I continue to fly regularly for work and personal life (I live on the opposite U.S. coast from my family). But this one experience taught me irrevocably that customer service is nonexistent in the airline industry. You are truly on your own as a traveler, and have little to no recourse if something goes wrong. Every time I travel now, I do everything I can to leave as little to chance as possible. The only thing I rely on the airline for is to physically transport me from Point A to Point B.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Anette November 18, 2008 at 8:46 am

I'm so glad I fly Scandinavian Airlines (Norway). The last time I had to change flights (due to my travelling standby and the plane being full) the ticket lady at the gate gave me food and fixed me a new set of tickets within ten minutes. I got to my destination a few hours later than the original plan, but that was expected.

Someone remind me never to travel to the US…


Allison April 2, 2009 at 10:52 am

I am impressed with your patience. I probably would have lost it loooong before you.


Diane April 2, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Try booking with a travel agency. Reason being, if you are in a long line, a phone call to your agent can get you on a flight. Sure, we charge a fee for our service, but it is worth it if you need someone to back you if you have a problem.


last boyscout April 3, 2009 at 8:23 pm

diane, you are saying that by going through a travel agent, a traveler can avoid all this bullshit I'm reading about by placing a phone call to you? I'm afraid the only pull you have in on your guys' dick. Get real!!


John April 4, 2009 at 8:13 pm

SAS is a HORRIBLE airline as well. It used to be the case that Estonian air handled flights between copenhagen and tallinn. When SAS bought it out, well let's just say that the service went from excellent to terrible.


Anonymous April 4, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Anette. Please don't travel to the U.S. Chances are nobody there wants you there either.


Bo April 4, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Annette the reason you were probably treated well is because you're a white woman in a white country, and that's the priveledge you enjoy. As an Asian woman, I have travelled SAS once, dealt with their faux pas and let me tell you it was once too many times. I will never fly with them again.


SASSUCKS April 4, 2009 at 8:22 pm



Private Porksword April 4, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Anette, your comment sounds dismissive and arrogant, like that of a spoiled gentrified lady of privilege. Typical.


tom April 11, 2009 at 1:32 am

If airline customer service is non existant…why did the Delta agent step into your situation to try to resolve things with the other airline? They were under no obligation to do that after your sketchy rebooking.


Nate April 21, 2009 at 10:24 am

Tom your an idiot, if the Delta employee was anything near proactive, they would have gotten other people envolved instead of giving up and sitting on their fat lazy ass.


Mark December 2, 2009 at 6:36 am

SAS is a fine airline. I have flown them more than thirty times. Some people here seem to have an IQ lower than their shoe size.


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