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August 10, 2016

Or How About We Cut Delta Some Slack?

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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The Airplane movie frame was funny the first 80 times an airline had a computer failure.
The Airplane movie frame was funny the first 80 times an airline had a computer failure.
In what is being reported as if it were a sign of worldwide apocalypse, Delta Air Lines has canceled over 1,500 flights since a power outage brought their operations to a halt on Monday.

It is easy to take any opportunity to pounce on an airline goof-up. The airliners are always a target for attack in the news, whether it is their fault or not. But yes, this event was a big one. Flying to New York from California yesterday (on a different carrier, thankfully), I entered the airport and saw a line to the Delta ticket counter that was easily 200 feet long. I walked by gates that were showing delays up to and over 5 hours. People were sleeping about the airport in the late morning in a way that would make you think it was 2am and they were stranded after they had missed their red-eye.

I was fine, and I knew I was going to make it to my destination unaffected by this particular event, but I felt for all of them greatly. Whether you have to make it to that meeting on time, have a tight connection or have nothing to rush to at all, it is not fun being at an airport and delayed for hours.

Years ago (and not that many years ago, mind you), the industry did away with paper tickets in exchange for using the internet age to run almost every aspect of airline passenger operations. Booking tickets, flight plans, air traffic control tracking, communications, and almost every aspect of a flight operation touches on the old World Wide Web. The switch is something that has made things easier and cheaper for an industry with a ton of overhead. Your record-low ticket prices compared to decades past (even when you factor in the “nickel and dining” charges for amenities that were once included in the ticket price), are largely due to these technologies.

There is also a huge safety component to how technology keeps accurate calculations and a flow of vital information moving, making it that much easier for you to get from A to B ignorantly safer than in airline history. Whether it’s the dispatcher getting a pilot deviation guidance for an upcoming storm by texting through a computer, 3 easy presses on an iPad that brings up the new airport diagrams for a pilot after a last minute runway change instead of thumbing through Bible-thin pages in a dozen books, or calculating your takeoff performance to make sure you flight doesn’t end “short of airborne,” the internet age has been a huge contributor to safety.

But there’s a trade-off. Even with backups galore in terms of data, power, operations centers and more, the drawback of using technology is that sometimes the lights will go out. The glitches, outages, bugs and hacks are inevitable. It will happen, and no airline, company, or even government agency, is immune to this.

I am not trying to give Delta a ‘get out of jail free’ card, or imply that they don’t have some serious customer service butt-kissing to do over the coming days, but please, cut them some slack. The airline industry is not a public service regardless of how much the public relies on it. It is a business. Most airline employees, namely the ones who are on the receiving end of your complaints, do not make a lot of money. If their airline cannot make money, which many historically do not, their jobs and careers sit in jeopardy. They want your flight to take off and land on time just as much as you do. Many rely on the same flights to commute home to their families themselves.

So aside from preparing yourself for potential delays both big and small when you fly, be kind to the person behind the ticket counter or gate podium. On days like that, they get abused, and I am not saying that metaphorically. I do urge you to call customer service lines, talk to those agents at the airport and get the service and accommodations you need and deserve. But maybe bring a sandwich and a Coke for them as well. Or maybe just give them a thank you and a smile, even if they are not smiling themselves. We are all people. Humanizing travel is something you have a part in, too.

Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has airline experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. He currently runs NYCAviation and performs duties as an aviation insider for the news media. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.


  • Louis Bonsignore

    When was the last time Delta cut us slack? Has Delta EVER cut us slack?

    When a Delta rep lets it slide if I miss check-in by five mins. AND the door is still open I might reconsider. Until then Delta will receive the attention it derseves