Delta Airlines Treats Dogs Better Than People And Other Valentine's Day Airplane Horror Stories

While it seems that no one had a very nice trip this Valentine’s Day, things were especially bad for Lesley. She spent her entire day trying to get on a flight to LA for a job interview, only to have the flight canceled. She was loaded on and off planes, there was a large dog roaming around, the jetway broke, the flight crew had to be changed, it goes on and on and on.

Her story is honestly one of the worst we’ve ever heard. The NY Post did a little piece on it, but you have to read her entire email to Delta Airlines, which she cc’ed to us.

Lesley writes (to Delta):

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to express my extreme displeasure for the service I did (and did not receive) on February 14, 2007.

Due to the weather on February 14, I arrived at JFK at 8am, almost four hours early for Flight 1841 to LAX, set to leave at 11:46am. I called the status line several times between 7am and during my trip to the airport and was told repeatedly the flight was on time. The check-in area was a total zoo, with a line wrapped around the terminal. I was fortunate to have no baggage and after some searching, found the single terminal for self-check in (which did indeed give an option to check bags.) More of those terminals would have gone a long, long way to alleviate the crushing line.

Around 10:30am, the flight had its first plane/terminal change, from Terminal 2, to Terminal 28, in a completely different section of the airport. There was no announcement made, just a semi-periodical scroll on a message board.

After moving to Terminal 28, we were told the flight was now delayed to 12pm, which turned into 12:30, 1pm, 1:30pm, etc. Terminal 28 is located in a forgotten part of JFK, with no food available other than a tired sandwich cart. I’m sure Delta is very proud of having a Discovery Channel store in that area, but as it sat, empty, while the sandwich cooler was raided, perhaps that should have been rethought.

Around 1:30pm, it was determined our new plane had broken bathroom doors and would not be suitable to fly to LAX, necessitating another plane/gate change, this time down to gate 27. Again, there was no announcement made, just a scroll put up on a television screen. The passengers were left to find out for themselves.

In the midst of all this, a woman was permitted to walk her very large, barking, untrained, and uncrated dog around the terminal. It was made clear to everyone that she intended to bring the dog on board and let it roam free. Many people were concerned and did not wish to fly next to a large dog with no crate.

At 2pm, the pilot made an announcement about a mechanical problem with our new plane and we’d have to wait until it was fixed, at least 30 minutes. The only reason I heard it, is because I was standing right next to him at the time. The PA system was so bad; the announcement was inaudible and garbled. When people rushed to the podium for clarification, the pilot returned to the plane, leaving myself and several other passengers to spread the word.

They finally made a boarding announcement at 2:30. However, we were not permitted to board until all the dogs in cargo and the one in the gate area had been walked. I can’t even begin to describe how angry and upset many, many passengers, including myself, became after seeing that. It’s inexcusable that Delta is placing animals ahead of people on their priority list, especially in a situation like this. It’s awful and insulting and possibly one of the worst things that could have happened at that moment.

We finally boarded at 2:45 and that’s when this ill-fated trip went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

At 3:15pm, when we were supposed to be pushing back, the jetway broke, refusing to detach from the side of the plane. On the other side, a luggage cart had slid underneath the plane, unable to finish loading bags, and was now stuck in snow. Our plane was now actually physically prevented from moving.

At 4pm, neither problem had been fixed, but we were being repeatedly assured that as soon as they were, we’d taxi out to the runway, get de-iced and be on our way. We were also informed that every other airline had canceled their flights hours ago, a Jetblue plane was currently frozen to the runway and ever better, if we didn’t get going before 6pm, the flight attendants would go into illegal overtime and would not be permitted to fly.

At 5:30, with both the jetway and luggage cart situations finally fixed, we tried to push back from the gate. We could not, as both the plane and tug was now also stuck in the snow and unable to move. At this point, passengers were pleading to be let off the plane and for Delta to follow the other airlines and cancel the flight. We were told that should we get off the plane, we’d forfeit our seat and no flights were available until at least Saturday. Additionally, should the plane take off, all the luggage was going to LA no matter what, and wouldn’t be returned for at least two business days (as this was Wednesday, the bags would be gone for over five days when returned.) The airline also refused to deliver the missing bags to homes, forcing people to return to JFK to retrieve them.

By 6:10pm, we attempted to push back from the gate once more. We jerked to a stop, because in the time it took for us to start moving, a Lufthansa plane had jumped the de-icing line, and was now in out spot, on the runway, with no de-icing trucks available. We couldn’t move until that plane had been towed away and the trucks located.

Which didn’t matter because at 6:20, our flight crew went illegal and were no longer permitted to fly.

Another crew was located, but they were also stuck on a plane on the runway, with no gate to taxi to. In order to get to us, the plane was to be towed to a parking lot, and the crew bused in. At this point, the pilots chose to inform us they had 90 more minutes before they too went illegal, and Delta still refused to cancel the flight. We were completely out of options and hope of getting out tonight if we didn’t get underway by 8pm, as there were no more flights beyond ours for the night. We were essentially being held hostage by Delta’s whims and refusal to end this nightmare at 2pm when it was clear this flight had way too many problems to continue. There’s absolutely no excuse for playing with people lives like this.

At 6:30pm, the jetway was brought back down to the plane, and the captain told everyone to get off. However, the gate agents and tower disagreed, and wouldn’t permit us to get off. Until a decision could be made, we were to sit on the plane, with the door open, and the weather frigid. We were told that should ANYONE got off the plane, it would become unsecured, and we’d all have to get off, be re-screened and re-boarded.

Perhaps the worst, most insulting part of the evening came next. Although we were banned from leaving the plane, Delta permitted the woman with the dog to go out on the jetway to walk the dog. Despite protestations from the entire plane, the flight and gate crew decided once again, the dog’s comfort was more important than any human on board. A woman with a toddler pleaded to get off the plane to get baby food and she was refused. There are no words to describe how horrible this situation had now become and this was the ultimate insult.

It was finally determined that it would be best to let everyone off the plane to get something to eat and use the bathrooms while they figured out this complete catastrophe.

Ordered not to leave the terminal, we sat there and watched the pilots collect their bags and coats and leave the plane. Delta still refused to cancel the flight.

Finally, at 7:30, they admitted defeat, and with no flight crew or pilots, ended the nightmare and canceled the flight. Over 150 people waited on line to try and get home and were being informed that not only were their no flights until at least Friday, Delta wouldn’t be providing hotel rooms or transportation or anything, not even a food voucher, for stranded passengers, blaming the entire situation on weather, completely ignoring the multitude of mechanical and customer service failures. I was forced, once again, to wait on line behind a dog, to get my tickets canceled and refunded.

Being delayed due to weather is one thing, but the snow stopped at 12:30pm. Delta had every opportunity to cancel the flight and instead, chose to hold over 150 people in limbo. There was no attempt to plow the runways or make alternate plans or help passengers in any way. Between allowing dogs more comfort than people, and refusing to do anything to help the situation, Delta has sent a clear message to their customers that they simple do not matter, no matter what the situation. Had the flight been canceled earlier in the day, it’s entirely possible that at least half of Flight 1841’s passengers would have been rebooked for same-day travel, either on other airlines or from LaGuardia or Newark. There were many children on board who are now missing school and sleeping in hotels (or worse, the Delta terminal), because the airline was stubborn. This goes so far beyond wanting to get people to their destination and is now firmly in the corner of refusing to do the right thing.

Due to Delta’s complete disregard for their passengers, I’ve had to forfeit a job in LA. Is Delta going to compensate me for that? Are they going to apologize for placing an animal’s priorities over paying customers? People need to know that Delta is only concerned with their bottom line, to the complete and total detriment of their customers (and inflight crew that was also forced to suffer.)

I am sending this email on Thursday February 15, 2007, as well as sending it via registered mail on Friday, February 16, 2007 to Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein. Delta has five business days from the receipt of this letter to contact me with both a formal, written (not emailed) apology and some sort of compensation for this entire, avoidable mess.

I await your response in this matter.


(Photo: JoSchmaltz)