It goes without saying that Delta has had a rather rough week, after their systems went down on Monday morning. Operations are finally mostly back to normal today, so I wanted to briefly reflect on Delta’s crisis performance, because there are some areas where they did exceptionally well, while other areas where they failed their customers.
There has been shock and outrage from people about how a malfunction like this could possibly happen. Perhaps I’m more forgiving than others, but I don’t fault Delta for the problem as such.
Yes, this was a huge failure. A switchgear malfunctioned, and then the real issue that caused the catastrophe was that the backup systems didn’t kick in as they were supposed to.
“How can the world’s second largest airline be reliant on a single piece of technology?”
Well, there are malfunctions every single day at global airlines, and fortunately 99%+ of the time the proper backup systems kick in, so as customers these problems never impact us.
Once in a while every company has a catastrophic failure, and that includes Delta, the self proclaimed “on time machine.”
So I hope they learn from the situation, though I realize no company is immune from failures like this.
Delta is brilliant at marketing themselves, and their recovery efforts have been no exception. They’ve had frequent high level communication, and they should be commended for that. It would be tough to beat the frequency and level of remorse with which Delta communicated.
The same day the outage happened, Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, made a video personally apologizing for the issues:
— Delta News Hub (@DeltaNewsHub) August 8, 2016
On the other end of the spectrum they put out some ridiculous fluff press releases, like that they transported 40 passengers in private jets to get them to their destinations:
— Delta News Hub (@DeltaNewsHub) August 10, 2016
Perfect, I’m sure the hundreds of thousands of people who were stranded will be thrilled to hear about Delta’s commitment in that regard.
Delta has even taken out billboards and electronic signs all over the place thanking people for their patience and indicating that their operations are back to normal.
— Eric (@GoldboxATL) August 11, 2016
They’ve also proactively offered delayed passengers compensation, something they came up with pretty quickly.
So in terms of image management, they’ve been doing exceptionally well… as Delta usually does.
Here’s where Delta really failed their customers. Presumably when this outage happened, Delta knew that it would be several days before operations were back to normal.
About half of Delta’s flights on Monday didn’t operate, so it goes without saying that a huge number of flights on Tuesday wouldn’t operate either, and that the schedule issues would continue over the next several days.
However, Delta only issued a travel waiver for Monday. It wasn’t until Monday night that they issued one for Tuesday, and until late on Tuesday that they issued one for Wednesday.
To me it’s ridiculous that they’d wait that long. Per their policy, during the day on Monday a passenger booked on a Tuesday Delta flight would have to pay a change fee to reschedule their flight.
Furthermore, the travel waiver indicated that tickets had to be rebooked for travel by this Friday. This is impractical for so many reasons:
- Presumably Delta knew that operations would be impacted for several days, so why would they want to force passengers to rebook for travel within a few days, rather than letting them rebook for later dates? This made the situation even worse.
- A lot of people might be weekly commuters, so suggesting that someone simply reschedule Monday morning travel for Thursday or Friday isn’t exactly useful, in many instances.
Let’s also keep in mind that a bit under a year ago Delta discontinued their inline agreement with American. This would basically allow passengers to be rebooked on other airline at pre-arranged rates in the event of irregular operations. Delta was so confident in their operational performance that they weren’t willing to accept industry standard reimbursement rates.
In this situation that meant that Delta couldn’t easily rebook passengers on American, since the agreement wasn’t in place. So while they may be better operationally most of the time, that’s a policy that severely inconvenienced passengers this week. They thought they were better than other US carriers, and that cost their customers a lot of rebooking options this week.
Delta has done an incredible job managing their image throughout all of this, as usual. They had high level communication, and are even spending (what I assume is) a lot money on ads apologizing to customers.
While front line employees have been going above and beyond to accommodate passengers, the high level decisions Delta has made during this outage have been disappointing. Only issuing a travel waiver for one day at a time, and requiring people to travel by the end of the week, is ridiculous when we’re talking about something of this scale. Furthermore, Delta’s self perceived operational superiority cost their customers this week, as they weren’t able to be rebooked on airlines like American.
So good job on the image management, Delta, but in terms of actual policies in place, I think they left a lot of customers hanging.
What do you make of Delta’s performance during their outage?