A Weird Morning With Delta Stresses The Need For Communication

a counter with a screen on the wall

In one sense, you could chalk yesterday up to just another day as a road warrior.  Travel has it’s fair share of bumps and bruises, especially when flights are as full as they are right now.  As a business traveler, I’m used to things going wrong on the road.  I plan my trips to avoid as much of it as I can, opting out of afternoon flights in the summertime through popular thunderstorm spots like DFW.  To my knowledge, yesterday had nothing to do with COVID and plenty to do with poor communication.  Let’s reset.

Getting Up Early To Get Home

After a long week on the road, I just wanted to get home.  Due to some back issues I’ve been having, I didn’t want to take another swing at a redeye flight. But, I was in for a 3:45am wake-up call to hit a 6am departure time out of Las Vegas airport (McCarran?  Harry Reid?).  There were no indications anything was amiss as I speed-walked through the terminal towards security.  My flight shows as “on-time” on the big boards and I hadn’t received any notification from Delta that anything was wrong.

Quickly through security, I stopped to pick up a breakfast sandwich and some water for the flight.  When I arrived at the gate it was about 15 minutes prior to boarding.  There was nobody at the counter servicing my flight yet, which was a bit odd.  I took a picture of our plane through the window, posted it on Instagram and went to sit down.  A few minutes later, the plane was apparently towed closer to the window.  I say apparently because I only took a “before” picture, not an “after” one. But, I’m as sure as I can be that the plane was moved closer.

Things Start To Go Sideways

At any rate, as we edged up to boarding time I noticed two things.  First, there were still no gate agents. Second, there were no Delta agents at any of the counters.  And, the crowds of people waiting for flights was starting to grow.  I heard a Delta flight crew member note to a colleague that there was some sort of computer problem.  15 minutes after our scheduled boarding time, there were still no gate agents anywhere.

Passenger started congregating around some of the abandoned counters hoping to flag down a gate agent when one arrived.  At Las Vegas airport in the D concourse Delta has about a dozen gates that flights depart from.  Roughly 8-10 of those are at the end of one pier, so the counters are, for the most part, in a central area.  As time passed there were multiple flights that should have been boarding, as evidenced by the restless looks from passengers around the pier.

a counter with a screen on the wall

20 minutes after our scheduled boarding time Delta finally pushed a delay announcement to the Delta app for my flight.  However, the flight still showed as “on time” on the boards throughout the terminal.  In fact, it would show as “on time” until after the departure time.

As departure time neared a lone flight attendant stood up and started taking questions from passengers.  I walked over in her direction to hear what she was telling folks.  Over and over again, she explained that she didn’t have any information and was apologizing on behalf of the airlines.  I called Delta and waited on hold approximately 15 minutes, watching this flight attendant continue to take questions while she had no answers.

people walking in an airport

My flight was delayed twice more before I reached a phone agent.  Clearly, something was amiss, but the phone agent had no additional information.  Thankfully, she quickly realized I would misconnect on my flight home and was willing to move me to another airline so I could still try to make it home in time for dinner.  As I walked away from the Delta wing at McCarran I could see frustrated customers waiting for answers.  Most hadn’t picked up their phone yet, still waiting in a line at the counter serving their gate, hoping to find a Delta gate agent.

The Final Two Pennies

I never did figure out what was going on.  My flight did end up taking off about an hour late, though it never did show up as anything other than “on time” on the monitors throughout the terminal.  Some sort of system glitch makes sense, and maybe it only affected Las Vegas and not the rest of Delta’s flights that day.

I’m still stumped by the lack of gate agents to explain the situation.  I’ve been flying Delta a bit more this year as I attempt to qualify for top-tier Diamond status.  But, I can’t say I have anywhere near the number of flights with the airline to say whether this is a common occurrence.  Over many years as a United 1K and American Airlines Executive Platinum member, I can’t recall a time when all the gate agents across a slew of gates were just gone. It makes very little sense to me.

This would seem to be one of the most critical times to have agents out there helping customers understand the problem, and rebook those who would misconnect.  Even if they didn’t have access to computers, they could have talked to customers and encouraged them to call customer service.  Heck, they could have called customer service for passengers.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been pretty, but the choice to pull all the gate agents from public view left customers abandoned and bewildered.

I suspect this is a unique experience on Delta, who normally runs a pretty good operation.  They have had a few meltdowns recently, but I’m not aware if gate agents were pulled in those situations.  Let’s hope this is something I never come across again.

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