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How Delta Airlines Missed the Most Obvious of Service Recovery Solutions

 How Delta Airlines Missed the Most Obvious of Service Recovery Solutions

Airlines get a bad reputation. But for me, it’s not the absurd fees and inflexible policies that upset me the most, it’s the complete lack of compassion, personalization and acknowledgement and ownership of their mistakes that makes them, deservedly, one of the most loathed industries in the public’s eye. Here’s a perfect example from a recent Delta Airlines trip (and don’t forget to read about my American Airlines experience too).

I Choose You Because YOU Are Different

I had a choice when booking my return flight from Honolulu to Orlando. I chose Delta because they provide on-demand video entertainment at ever seat. United just plays videos on a loop (so if you miss the first 5 minutes, you have to wait until the movie is complete to actually restart your viewing experience). I chose Delta because of this feature, plain and simple.

You Failed, And You Did Nothing

Immediately after airborne the video systems broke. The crew tried a reboot to no avail. Thirty minutes in to the 8-hour flight and there was no longer a key feature that makes Delta stand out amongst the other carriers.

I waited for an apology from Delta via email or snail mail and received nothing, and it’s been 30 Days later.

Now there are a lot of reasons why your technology didn’t work. Maybe it just flaked out. Maybe it didn’t work on the previous leg and you didn’t have time to fix it. It’s pointless to guess why it failed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It failed and you chose not to recover.

That’s right, you had a choice to do something here. We all understand that sometimes things break. But 200+ people were watching to see how you would respond to this breakage. Who you be proactive or reactive? Would you make any attempt to show empathy towards us?


You chose to do nothing, hoping we’d forget. Hoping we’d just shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to “this is how the airline industry is these days.”

Customer Service Reps = Canned Response

So I wrote you a very brief letter with two questions:

  • How come you did not provide any service recovery to the passengers on this flight?
  • Why does Delta think it is acceptable that when things don’t work, they don’t apologize or do anything about it?

Granted it was a bit snarky, but I deserved this one bit of snark.

Your customer service rep saw a brief mention that the inflight entertainment system didn’t work, and immediately pulled that email template from your hard drive and went on and on about how sorry they were and frustrating it must have been. They even forwarded my comments to routine maintenance, clearly demonstrating a complete lack of reading comprehension. My issue was not about the fact they broke (it happens), it was about the lack of response from Delta on fixing an obvious mistake.

You gave me 5,000 miles which I did not ask for. And never acknowledged my initial questions, the pure purpose of my email.

Alternatives You Could Have Taken

It irritates me to no end when people (and companies) don’t take responsibility for their mistakes. Imagine if…

  • You emailed every passenger the following day and apologized that this key differentiator of their airline (on-demand video) didn’t work and provided a flight credit, partial refund or miles for the inconvenience without anyone asking for it?
  • The gate agent at the destination airport provided complimentary vouchers for entry to the Sky Club or a bottle of chilled water to help relax after this really long flight that had no entertainment?
  • You sent a funny apology letter in the mail 7-10 business days later and provided a $3.99 coupon for iTunes so I could catch up on the movie I really wanted to watch by downloading it to my ipad for a future flight?

You could have done a number of things to demonstrate that you cared about your customer. Instead, you did nothing. And I still would like to know why.

Was it because your flight crew never reported the problem? Is there no mechanism to report problems like this? Are they not trained to report these problems? Does this happen so often that you consider an ordinary course of business? Are you concerned that these recovery items cost money (if you worked harder to avoid these problems, you wouldn’t need to recover)? Do you genuinely not care about these issues?

What’s the answer? I would truly like to know. Sound off in the comments. And when you’re done, consider reading why Airline Customer Service is @SS Backwards.





I’ve never flown with Delta but I can imagine your disappointment when you chose them over others for the very reason they ended up failing you in.

The funny thing is that most of us can be fine with these things if we just get an honest apology, and far too many companies don’t seem to realize the importance of that.


Exactly. When I emailed them twice, they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t own up to the fact they messed up. There’s no form letter for it!


I can’t really complain after Amanda’s story above but I’ve had quite a few 10+ hour flights where the entertainment wasn’t working. I have a tiny mp3 player that I load audiobooks onto for these situations now (long battery) and the audiobooks I keep on it are ones I don’t mind relistening to. My deciding factor sometimes is if I know the airline turns the entertainment on straight away rather than Qantas who can take an hour after boarding to turn it on.


It’s always a good idea to bring your own backups, but still, the fact that Delta chose to do nothing is unacceptable.

Jeremy Branham

I just don’t think they care any more. I know I’ve shared my thoughts in detail on FB but these days, customer service isn’t as important now. They know that if they lose you, they will get someone else without having to try just because they may offer a good deal and you don’t have many choices, especially when airlines can dominate regions.

Between FAA regulations, unions/salaries, and making money, customers are so much further down on the priority list these days.
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It’s just so sad that it has come to that. Where’s the humanity behind the company? If leadership doesn’t care in the business world, makes you wonder if they care with their families at home.


First world problems…


I’d agree. It’s a first world problem. But if we took that attitude for every poor experience we had in life, we, as consumers, would constantly be taken advantage of by bigger companies, who would make record profits with no consequences.

When “the people” speak up, take action and put pressure on those that are doing wrong, is when change is made – whether it be corrupt governments or greedy, selfish companies.

Amanda @ Farsickness

I love a good Delta rant. I was on a trans-Atlantic flight that lost engine power over the ocean and had to make an emergency landing. They were horribly unorganized and unapologetic and when I called to change my return flight they were surprised that I complained and asked about some sort of compensation. Oh, and then my return flight was cancelled due to mechanical errors.

So yeah, not surprising…
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That clearly sounds like an issue with poor communication and lack of empathy within the organization. It’s one thing to be cheap when you you have no money, but when you made 1 billion (with a B) in profit in 2012, you can’t play that card.


I have both enjoyed the experience on both JetBlue and Southwest (though I despise the Southwest boarding procedure). But they are two airlines who get it when it comes to making the flight experience just a little bit different.

Jennifer @ Solo Travel Girl

Delta ticked me off on my 10-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Atlanta in October – I was sick – as in bathroom and bag sick. I warned a flight attendant before takeoff and she didn’t seem all that concerned. I realize they couldn’t make me feel better but even after a dozen trips to the bathroom, not once did a flight attendant ask if they could get me anything or if I was alright. Just knowing they were concerned would have meant something. Oftentimes it’s the little words that can make a big impact. You’re right, Delta could have taken care of you almost immediately, unfortunately it seems guest service is lacking in several airlines and yet, the bottom line doesn’t suffer.


Yes and, you gave gave them the opportunity to treat you as an individual on a silver spoon. It’s so tough to train employees to “read people” and anticipate customer demands. But you laid out all the cards on the table and said “I’m someone who may need a bit more attention than your usual passenger today”.

Every problem in a company is a leadership problem. The leader either doesn’t know what’s going on, or doesn’t care about what’s going on. Wonder which one is happening in your situation.


Had a recent bad experience on a united flight to Antigua from Newark. The inflight entertainment cost $8, made payable by credit card. It’s 6 hour flight. Out of principle I refused to swipe my card and pay for quite outdated movies. An hour into the flight the entertainment turned off, a message on the screen read ‘out of us airspace’. Glad I didn’t swipe my card!
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This is a perfect example of managing expectations and being open and honest. Great service isn’t hard to deliver, just do the right thing. That’s why I get so annoyed.