Delta Flight 1630: Life and Death Customer Service Experience at 27,000 Feet!

Apr 16, 2015

There is a heightened awareness these days about airline safety, bad news about runway skids and coverage of recent plane crashes. I hope you can relate to this story. As a customer care analyst, covering contact centers, I fly at least twice a month on business. After 25 years with AT&T and 10 years as an analyst, customer experience is in my DNA. For me, business travel is all about safety, convenience and comfort, right?

I love Delta Airlines. I have flown on this carrier for 50 years. As a young boy I have romantic memories of dressing up in a suit and tie to fly from California to my mom’s native land in Jamaica. Those were the days when tablecloths and real stemware graced the table tray along with a hot 3 course meal. Pinning on my gold pilot’s wings was dessert. I’m dating myself. Back to the “experience”.


Returning from Frost & Sullivan’s spectacular Contact Center MindXchange Event last night I got upgraded to first class on the second leg of the flight, and was looking forward to the extra legroom and premiere service. We had just reached our cruising altitude of 27,000 feet and I was ready for some smooth jazz and a refreshing beverage. Just then, the captain came on the intercom with an announcement, “..ladies and gentleman we are turning back to Atlanta. We saw sparks coming from the right engine. It’s running normally, but we’re not taking any chances and I am turning back”. You could hear a pin drop. Was the engine disabled or damaged? Were we going to come in on one engine or two? After all this was a 757 – a big plane and it was completely full. During the descent, no one talked.

The last message from the captain at this point was, “We will have a plan to get you safely to San Antonio and as soon as I have more information, we’ll share it with you.” And they kept their promise. Needless to say, we landed safely. Cheers and applause went up throughout the cabin. Although it was clearly a mechanical issue not of their making, the flight crew walked the aisles and apologized to every single one of the passengers. All I cared about was kissing terra firma.


What Delta had done, unbeknownst to the passengers, was set in motion a well- rehearsed contingency plan to get another aircraft ready. Our new plane that would be re-fueled, cleaned, stocked and catered. When we landed the in-flight crew chief instructed us to exit the aircraft and proceed just a few gates down in the same “A” concourse to our new gate. Meanwhile checked bags were moved to the new plane. The aircraft was another 757 with the exact configuration as the last flight- meaning that you kept your seat assignment with minimal disruption to the boarding process.


Like an orchestrated dance, that boarding process went ever so smoothly. When the ticket agent at the gate swiped my (old) ticket, she read my name and said, “Thank you Mr. DeSalles for your loyalty as a valued Delta customer.” I returned to my first class accommodation. Same seat, same everything.  Now, I could settle in for a well-deserved beverage and relaxing music.


 When I got home, my wife was relieved and said, “Why did you complain? It wasn’t their fault.”  I said I didn’t make a fuss. I was just happy to be alive. For the ‘inconvenience’ a Delta customer care director sent an email and had proactively deposited 10,000 bonus miles in my SkyMiles account before I got in the taxi to come home. Are you impressed yet?

After last night, I’m no longer so concerned about on-time reputation, the colors on the plane, the food selections or how much the flight crew can make me laugh. I want a service experience that is efficient, safe and helpful. I want to feel special.

 That, my friends, is my latest travel saga and a testament to excellent customer service – served up at 27,000 feet and across the Delta logistics chain on the ground. Mine was a seamless and consistent experience that I will not soon forget. I jumped at the chance to shake the hands of the pilot and co-pilot, and thank them personally for their professionalism and care. Delta pilots and crews make it a practice to get out and greet every passenger to show appreciation and, in this case, apologize –again- for the inconvenience. We were delayed by only 2 hours or so. I can handle that kind of delay.

In closing all I have to say is this: Well played Delta Airlines. Well played!  Sure, I like other airlines too.  But this is why I LOVE Delta. And apparently, Delta loves me back.




Michael DeSalles


DeSalles has 25 years of contact center operational experience. He combines this with 10 years of research and analytical expertise in: Emerging trends, convergence, collapse and disruptive technologies in the contact center industry; Insight into site management, supervision and agent development; Customer care outsourcing; Skills based routing; BPO Near shore deployment; Home based agents

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