Sunday, February 23, 2014

The "Delta" Approach

Those of you who receive my timeline updates know that I rely heavily on DL to get back and forth IAH/ATL to handle family matters. Since the merger, our ATL service has really been scaled back. More than the greater availability, there's a certain something about the Delta experience that I always look forward to.

In planning my return ATL/IAH yesterday, I was shooting for the 1745 with a 1920 backup. (The flights on the following 2 days were chockablock full on all carriers.) I arrived at the airport a little early (around 1515) and considered whether or not I could make the 1608, an RJ with 5-6 seats showing available on It was leaving from gate E34 and, given the size of the ATL airport, I told myself, "No way!". 

Never say never!

I arrived in the gate area at around 1535 and told myself that if it were busy, I was not going to annoy the agent by approaching. Boarding had not started, there was no one at the podium besides the agent, so I decided to tempt fate. As I approached, she looked up from her work. She looked me squarely in the face and smiled. Admittedly, she caught me off guard. I returned her smile and asked if it was too late to list for F/A jumpseat on her flight. "Not at all. Can you ride the jumpseat or will you need a cabin seat?". "Cabin seat, please", I replied as I handed over my ID and passport. A few seconds later she smiled and handed back my credential along with a boarding card which I assumed was the standard Delta "SEAT REQUEST" card. Not until I walked away did I glance down and see "6C", Economy Comfort. I turned around to say "thank you" but the agent was involved with another customer. However, she must have seen me out of the corner of her eye, because she glanced in my direction and smiled.

I tell you all of this to illustrate the point I've been trying to make lately. I often read in the "World Class Delta Flight Attendants" group stories that rival some in our groups for audacity and drama. The issues we discuss are often the same issues that they discuss. As in families, their issues are as big and insurmountable to them as ours often seem to us. On this trip, the CRJ900 I boarded ATL/IAH looked old and dirty; not unclean, dirty. The nice seat assignment I received was for a seat with a dodgy seatback lock that occasionally worked. (On the IAH/ATL flight, I was also in EconomyComfort in 5C on an A320. That aircraft was also old and dirty. The tray table was broken and had a jagged piece of metal jutting out from it.) Neither seat was comfortable, although the extra legroom is a great plus. On both flights, the Gogo land-based wifi worked perfectly, though.

What always stands out in my memory about the Delta experience is the people. I don't feel that they are concentrating on "meeting prescribed standards". Most of the time, I feel a genuine warmth, a desire to serve & to please, a confidence in themselves and in their product, often in SPITE of the product itself (which is frequently tired-looking)! They do have a lot of top-notch tools but there's NO tool that will substitute for a human face and touch.

I would like to think of my approach to my own job as a Flight Attendant as a "Delta" approach. Just before boarding, I take a moment to remind myself, this is my workplace, these are my guests; this is where and when I make my mark, professionally. I possess everything I need to be a success. The next few minutes will be the most important of our time together, make them count: smile, warmth, friendly, unhurried, eye contact...SLOW DOWN! Especially during the first few moments of a new customer encounter, speed is not the best attribute to employ. When an extraneous circumstance (late arriving aircraft, etc.) pressurizes the boarding, I will purposely slow down my own pace of meeting and greeting. Those uncontrollable circumstances affect customers at least as much as they do us and if we "set the expectation" of civility and warmth in spite of circumstances, our outcome is often improved.

I can only hope that my customers might leave me feeling welcomed and valued the way I do when I leave Delta. Is it wrong to recognize the right formula even if it isn't ours?

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