Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dear Delta Airlines

I had a horrible flight last night (see below). As I was fuming on the airplane I thought about writing a scathing letter to Delta. Funny thing is, when I woke up this morning I was completely over it, but I decided to write the letter anyway just to see if my powers of persuasion were enough to get them to respond or give me a million skymiles for my trouble. I wrote the below letter on the plane today (ironically) on my way to Chicago. It is supposed to be as self righteous, indignant, moralizing, and condescending as it sounds. I make a few little notes in brackets. It's long.

To Whom it May Concern:
My name is Matt Steen, I am a frequent flier on Delta. My frequent flier number is ******8070. Before I get to the real purpose of this letter, I need to explain a basic legal principle that has bearing on my narrative. It's called the "eggshell plaintive rule." In short, the egg shell plaintiff rule holds that if a plaintiff's injury is made worse by the presence of a pre existing condition, though unknown to the defendant, the defendant is still held responsible for any harm caused as a result of his actions. A potential defendant, therefore, inflicts even a small offense at his own peril, for even a perceived small breach of conduct can yield costly consequences.

This fundamental legal maxim is relevant to my story because last night, as I boarded flight 242 from Detroit to Baltimore, I was in a fragile state. Though it was only the middle of the week, I was already mentally and physically spent due to stressful interactions with judges and an unusually taxing travel schedule that left little time for sleep. After my flight I had only a short turnaround before I had to awaken very early the next day and drive a considerable distance for work, only to turn right around and head back down to the airport to fly to Chicago [on Southwest]. The only flight I could get out of tiny Alpena, Michigan left at 4:30pm, followed by a 3 hour layover in Detroit and a late arrival in Baltimore. Under optimal conditions, with the drive home I would get home around midnight at best. At about 8:30pm, tired, frustrated, and frazzled, I boarded my flight [on first class, as Robyn points out], anxious to get home.

As the wait stretched out I slowly grew more dejected, because of my seemingly inescapable fore ordination that I be perpetually tired [poor baby!!!] and out of concern that my aged and easily confused mother [zing! My mom doesn't know where to find the internet, much less my blog], who agreed to pick me up, would make it to the airport alright.

It turned out our plane was in need of repair, and the 10 minutes expected to repair the problem grew to an excruciating hour. By the time I made it home, fighting to stay awake, I had only 4 hours until I had to pull myself out of bed the next day[wahhhhhhh].

If our delay had been caused by inclement weather or some other force majeure, you would be insulated from any blame. But, innocent or not, this seemingly minor breach of duty was your doing. Though it may seem small to you, it was a big deal to me [but I'm really over it now, not like it hasn't happened before]. and I write this letter to ask you to make due reparation. You are the world's largest airline, and I am one dissatisfied customer. Your market share wouldn't feel the tiniest ripple if I never flew Delta again [I have WAY too many miles to follow through on that one] and indeed, my cynical nature tells me this letter will go largely ignored because of your size advantage [reverse psychology alert!!]. But I am asking you to do the right thing, the honorable thing [I'm not beneath manipulation!]; admit your fault, acknowledge my letter [on Foxnews at primetime], and make amends in proportion to the harm incurred [which for my purposes, was colossal].

This isn't the proper forum for me to pine over the lost art of customer service, but I will offer a couple of my insights if you will bear them [time to talk down to you!] First, right minded customers, among which I count myself, do not expect things to always go perfectly. Secondly, and most importantly for our purposes here, is this: it's not the lapses in good service that distinguish bad companies from good ones, but how they react to those lapses. Every mistake, great or small, is a seminal moment for a corporation or business [waxing deeply philosophical now]. It is a great opportunity, one for the corporation or business to not only preserve trust, but bolster and grow it by providing surety that the company takes its stewardship seriously. When a good company makes amends, the previously aggrieved and disgruntled consumer is left with a profound respect for the company, and feelings of disappointment are replaced with appreciation and awe that the great paid obeisance to the one.

Even more pivotal for a consumer (and company) than how a mistake is perceived at the moment is how it is perceived ever after. I still often recount how at a Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore in 2001, my meal came out just a little later than those of the rest of my party. Though I was utterly unmoved by the event, so concerned was the manager that my meal was free! Many times have I retold that story with genuine admiration for the Cheesecake Factory and its manager, and as many times that admiration was shared by those who heard the account. The good companies find a way to make a customer almost glad he suffered an inconvenience, while the less successful company sweeps the matter under the rug with an obligatory form letter thanking the customer for his "valuable feedback." [YOU wouldn't do that, would you, Delta???]

So I commend this letter to anyone at your airline [CEO, COO, CFO, VP, etc] in the hope that it will find its way to a like-minded person. I hope to hear from you soon.


Jackie (updated profile) said...

Maybe Delta will spring for your next meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

Candice said...

A Continental flight was on the runway for 7 hours without a working toilet...
Sounds like your problem is the least of the inconveniences that the Airline industry has caused society. They will not care. I am, however, a huge supporter of letter writing and demanding common sense customer service. So, Right On!

Matt said...

I know. My "problem" was small airline peanuts compared to those poor people.