Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bravo Delta

I am 1,000,000 mile flyer on Delta Airlines and soon will be one on United once they complete their mergers. But last night, December 7, 2011, I saw something happen in an airport that is absolutely new and amazing.

It was a typical flying day, New York was all messed up, lots of cancellations and holds, and I, of course, had to be there that evening. I arrived at the airport 90 minutes early, made it through security, got to the gate and my cell phone rang. It was a happy androgynous voice from Delta Airlines telling me my flight would be delayed about two hours, no further explanations. That was my last contact with the Delta androgyny.

Two Delta reps showed up to stand at the boarding counter and provided absolutely no information whatever. The guy in the red coat, probably a supervisor, had an accent so dense, combined with practically swallowing the microphone, that no one could understand what he said even if you three feet away at the counter. He looked out the window with his back to customers and continued speaking. The woman gate agent was so nervous, due to growing customer agitation, that half the time she spoke, her voice dropped off even though her lips were moving.

Despite the delay the crowd seemed really quite docile, but concern was growing. Then Delta dropped the hammer. LaGuardia had called a ground stop, which tossed out every airplane’s schedule with absolutely no indication of when things might begin again. Now a buzz was really beginning. That’s when the miracle occurred.

The captain of the flight came off the plane up the ramp and came to the rostrum. He took the mic and calmly, adding a couple small jokes, explained what was happening. I have not seen this happen in 35 years of flying. Everyone quieted down, and many gathered around the rostrum to listen more carefully. In a couple minutes he explained the situation, told us that the ground stop was a very serious indication, but he was determined to get the plane and all of us out of there if it was at all possible.

Calmness reigned. But, the miracle continued. The Captain stayed in the boarding area visiting with customers, holding a couple babies for pictures, and even walked one or two older customers down to the Delta customer service desk. We were now more than two hours late.

After about 30 minutes the Captain, still in the gate area, got a phone call on his cell, went to the rostrum and told everyone his plan. It took 20 minutes to board the airplane; we sat on the tarmac for another 20 minutes or so and finally took off from New York. The flight was smooth but the weather in New York was really bad. It took two nerve-racking tries to land the plane.

I told the captain as the passengers debarked, that his performance in Minneapolis was amazing and enormously appreciated. Yeah, the landing was tough and scary, but this day this man earned his pay on both ends of the flight.

They didn't give his name, but it was daily Delta flight 2296, Minneapolis to LaGuardia, 5:14 PM (theoretically). I told the pilot I hoped somebody would remember how he handled this flight, the crucial role the captain played in calming concerned passengers, and that maybe this ought to be taught in Captain's school. It was pure, powerful leadership in action.

Bravo Delta Airlines.
By James E. Lukaszewski

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