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As you may have heard (or experienced) by now, Delta and its customers had a rough start to the week. The airline suffered a power outage at its Atlanta hub that caused all departing flights to be grounded at their point of departure, creating a perfect storm of customer anger, disappointment, and logistical catastrophe. As of 1:30 p.m. on Monday, the airline announced that 427 flights had been outright canceled, with only 1,590 of a planned 6,000 actually in operation.
The travel disaster that was Delta’s Monday morning has already been documented and parodied, and not much can be added to a conversation that, at this point, can be summed up with a resounding sigh. Unexpected setbacks are part of any brand’s journey. What we can examine, however, is how Delta is handling the situation, and the effect it might have on customer experience going forward.
First and foremost, the company made every effort to communicate the situation with rapid updates over multiple channels and with a notable level of transparency, going so far as to post an apology video from Delta CEO Ed Bastian. Since 2:40 a.m. on Monday, the airline has been keeping travelers updated every step of the way. Granted, the updates certainly weren’t the news that customers wanted to hear, but Delta’s commitment to keeping flyers in the loop goes a long way in showing that the brand doesn’t shy away from engaging with consumers, even in an impossible-to-win situation like the Monday outage.
The Delta outage has caused headaches across the country not only for travelers, but for employees as well. The brand’s level of employee engagement is being put to the ultimate test today, with customer service representatives taking the brunt of (understandable) customer outrage. Along with these reps, flight crews have taken it upon themselves to make the best of a bad situation through, ahem, nutritious peace offerings.
So where does Delta go from here? Short term, customers will be entitled to a full refund if their flight was canceled or significantly delayed. Customers can rebook their flights for free if scheduled for before this Friday, and without an additional fee for dates after that (though they’ll still be subject to the difference in fare for post-8/12 dates).
Long term, this incident may sting a bit. Customers are upset, and many likely won’t return to Delta for some time, if ever. The brand now faces the task of rebuilding its relationship with customers who trusted it with their summer travel plans, and found it coming up well short. The delays continue, with no immediate resolution in sight for the thousands of Delta passengers still stranded at airports across the country and around the world. The questions Delta must now answer in its customer loyalty recovery are twofold: how do we win customers back, and how can we ensure and communicate that something like this will never happen again?
Only Delta will be equipped to eventually answer those questions, but for now, I can only recommend that they take a deep breath, keep their fingers crossed, and of course, when all else fails, ctrl-alt-del.
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