Letters – July, 28 2006

Letters – July, 28 2006

Change For The Worse
I am planning to take my parents (who have only once been to Europe) and my wife to Paris to celebrate my wife’s 50th Birthday in May 2007. I meticulously counted the number of days before I could make the reservations for Business-Class travel and called that morning to secure the tickets. My folks are traveling from a different city.

For my first call to Delta to make the reservations I was informed that the Delta Partners had not “loaded their computers yet” and could I call back? I called the next day and was informed that I could not schedule the outbound travel until I was able to — as per the 11-month advance requirement — schedule the return.

I then called Delta (again) and was informed that almost every itinerary was not available and that I could schedule an outbound itinerary — a week later than I needed — before scheduling a return, but I only had 48 hours to confirm the outbound and that at that time they would extract the miles from my account. I asked what would happen if the return would be as difficult/scarce as the outbound … could I have my miles re-deposited into my account? (360,000 miles.) I was informed that I would have to pay a service charge of $50.00 per ticket if I chose to do this. After repeatedly pointing out that this “conundrum” was not fair, much less workable, I was then informed that a “hidden” provision states that if the return was “not within range” that the fee could be waived. I didn’t even pursue the definition of “within range.”

I must state that it is the most frustrating experience that I have ever had. I am a Lifetime Silver Medallion and Million Miler, but this means nothing to Delta. I have flown 1,900,000 program miles with Delta over the last 25 years to no avail. (This is just one more reason that I fly American almost exclusively and enjoy Platinum Status.) Delta will not even agree to grant me Gold Medallion Status for one year to assist my garnering Lifetime Gold Medallion Status which occurs with the 2M-mile threshold.

I asked the agent if something had changed with regards to SkyMiles travel recently, and she informed me that a “couple of months ago things changed.” I think what this means is that few if any SkyMiles seats are available or in reality they are attempting to discourage their use.

I flew to Europe a few years ago, cashing in 200,000 miles with Delta for a pair of tickets (First Class) with a Delta partner and again, to the minute, I called 11 months in advance and had no problem.

I’ll say “something’s changed.”
P.J. Zornosa

Note: A couple things. We’ve really seen no evidence of a change at Delta in their award redemption practices over the past year and surmise that the difficulties you are experiencing are a result of other factors. For the record, Delta led all airlines last year in domestic redemption on the sponsoring airline. If there were actually any changes, it certainly would have been noticeable in the stats as reported to the SEC. What you may be seeing is the result of a change in how Delta loads up award inventory. It is an old myth that the best time to claim awards is at the 11-month mark. Some airlines are not loading all inventory at that point, and others don’t load award availability at the same time as revenue seats. But for Delta, you are continuing to see (vs. your experience several years ago) a continuing path of award redemption from members worried about losing their miles should Delta not survive the current bankruptcy. Also, since Delta added Alaska Airlines as a new partner, you see additional inventory going to partners of the program, which works both ways. By the way, our research shows that the best time for you to try and get the seats you are looking for May 2007 will very likely be in Nov./Dec. of this year.

Anyone Home?
I am writing to you out of frustration with Delta Airlines and their customer service department, which should be labeled customer disservice and abuse department. I have tried to get a response from the executive department from the President’s office, Mr. Richard Grinstein, or Mr. Jeff Robertson, Managing Director of Delta’s SkyMiles program, but they just seem not to care about the customer and/or choose to hide behind their assistants and promote non-truths to the Public.

Over the past 20 years I have been a loyal customer to Continental Airlines whose service overall has been professional and courteous. We have traveled with them over 100 times to Israel and back as have many of my employees. My wife and I moved to Boca Raton, Fla., and decided to try Delta’s new flight to Israel from Atlanta. My wife, Shelley Klein, was harassed and abused by a Delta employee at the ticket counter in Fort Lauderdale, who refused to board my wife on the flight to Israel even though she had a confirmation number and Locator number. It even went so far that the Delta Supervisor at the airport tried to board my wife on the flight, but the clerk refused. Finally, the Supervisor was able to take charge and my wife barely made the flight … although quite upset and shaken up. This was a Business-Class ticket, no less!

I have personally been trying to get our SkyMiles card from Delta now for four months, and I have also found out that I have two accounts under the name Mel Klein in Boca Raton. I have tried for the past three weeks to resolve that to no avail. I called customer “disservice” at Delta to ask for their help and spoke to someone in the Far East who gave me her name as Maureen O’Brien or something. She could hardly speak English, and did not help, and her real name was not Maureen O’Brien. I called the executive offices of Delta Airlines about 10 days ago and spoke to one of the three executive secretarial assistants of Mr. Richard Grinstein and Jeff Robertson. She was very nice and polite and said someone would get back to me within 24 to 48 hours. Ten days have gone by and I continue calling everyday and get a different fabricated story each time… there was to much rain, other people’s problems were more important, I have told Mr. Grinstein and Mr. Robertson about your problems and there is nothing more I can do. I also spoke to another assistant to Mr. Grinstein on the fifth day, and she told me that I originally was the sixth name to be called, and now was the number-one person to be called. The next day I called back and [was told that she] should not have said that.

It is now going on two weeks and I have still not heard anything from Delta Airlines or its President’s office.

Mr. Grinstein, you can not hide behind your employees’ professed ignorance to the deceitfulness and unprofessionalism at Delta Airlines. Their financial problems, image and reputation comes from President’s office and is passed to its employees, and we all know what Delta’s reputation is today!

I will continue writing to the various industry related travel magazines and financial media including attending the Delta Stock Holder meeting, until I get a return call from Delta’s Customer Service or from the office that leads them and where the buck really stops.

Thank you in advance.
Mel Klein

Note: We called Mr. Klein to offer our assistance and he was very surprised and thankful for our call. The good news is that Delta has now contacted him and the dialog with Mr. Klein was to his satisfaction. Apparently we were the only magazine he contacted that returned the favor of a response.

Safety Concerns
I was shocked to learn, when flying on a private or executive jet from a U.S. airport (en route to Paris), that there was no TSA baggage or (one-on-one) personal screening before departure. When I asked the pilot about this, he said, “Well, they check the names in advance.” As I flew I realized that a terrorist group could pay a needy, willing American to charter a private aircraft and, using assumed American-sounding names, carry onboard a suitcase-size nuclear device or dirty bomb. Apart from the serious security gap, this system is unfair to the average American who uses only commercial flights and has to endure sometimes excessive TSA screening. (An example I recall was a TSA examiner, speaking less than clear English, at Logan/Boston bringing a mature woman on line in front of me to tears during a prolonged screening, despite the fact that the passenger could not have fit any terrorist profile. The screening, of course, revealed nothing of interest.) I have contacted both NBC and CBS TV about this problem and the latter sent an investigative reporting team to my home for an interview. I have also written to my Congressman about this glaring security gap.

If InsideFlyer agrees that this is a serious problem, will you please consider helping by using your influence appropriately and let me know any way that I may help? Thank you very much.
David Milton

Note: David, thanks for the letter. You highlight several points that many of us who travel quite frequently have come to recognize as problems in the overall strategy of the TSA in their plan to secure our travel system. Along with what you point out is the harbors situation, and of course, the ongoing battle right now with securing our borders, albeit with the intention of stemming illegal immigration. Frankly, we’re not experts on any of these topics, but as a fairly high profile magazine, we certainly want to lend whatever influence we have on behalf of our readers. To that end, we are just now partnering with a newly formed “Alliance of Business Travelers” to further the lobbying efforts necessary to address this problem. Look for more information on the new and important Alliance of Business Travelers in the months ahead.

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