August 04, 2011

Complaints and How to Answer Them

After a recent travel debacle, I decided to complain. My letter and the response are below. Sometimes being manly is about knowing when you've been wronged as a paying customer and standing up for yourself, within civilised bounds, of course. It clearly hits home. I congratulate Delta for the tenor of their reply.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to describe to you my journey from Montreal to Berlin on Air France on the 28th-29th June, 2011. I would like to ask you if you would yourself tolerate such an experience. I further wish to know why, given the competition in the airline market, I should ever choose to fly with Air France again? You should be aware that this is a trip I have made about three times per year for the last five years or so on different airlines. Of all of these experiences, my recent Air France trip was the worst. I hope you will reply promptly to this letter. In two weeks time I shall publish this letter on a blog that receives about 12,000 page views per month. I should very much like to include your reply.

My trip began with a delay. The scheduled departure time of 17.20 was put back to 19.00. No explanation was offered. In the event, we did not depart until 19.45 because of “boarding difficulties.” This delay occurred even though boarding began at 17.30 – a full 90 minutes before departure. The first load of passengers, myself included, were driven to the aircraft in a vehicle that raised and lowered itself. When this vehicle arrived at the aircraft it stood there, suspended thirty feet in the air, for 40 minutes. There was nowhere to sit, no ventilation, and no explanation.

Once underway I realised immediately that the screen in my seat did not work. I informed a flight attendant who said he would “re-set” it. He forgot. When I could next attract his attention I asked again and he saw to it. It was one hour into the flight before I was able to avail myself of the in-flight entertainment. I watched a movie. As soon as it was over, the screen went black and the system remained inoperable for the remainder of the flight.

At no point before being served a meal was I (or anyone else) offered a drink. What happened to champagne in economy? It was your proudest boast in former times. By the time I was served my meal I had been sitting in my seat for three hours. The man next to me repeatedly asked for water and was either ignored or told explicitly to wait for his meal.

The quality of the meal was very poor. I’m not sure of the wisdom of serving scallops in economy even under the best of circumstances, since they are dangerous when re-heated. In this case, however, it was completely inedible. I actually wondered if a small piece of hard rubber had accidentally landed in my salad by mistake, until I realised that everyone had one. In addition there was no choice of meal offered. It was a questionable beef and pasta dish or nothing.

My connecting flight was in Paris. Unbeknownst to me, I arrived in chaos. When I first checked the boards, my 10.20 flight to Berlin was showing “on time.” At 10.00 it changed to “delayed until 10.55.” At 10.30, the flight disappeared altogether from the boards. I asked three separate Air France members of staff at the gate what was happening, and all three assured me that the flight was not cancelled.

At 10.50, it was announced that the flight was, prior assurances notwithstanding, cancelled. At this point, the Air France member of staff at the gate began to communicate without a microphone and only in French to the assembled crowd. I could neither hear nor understand her. Confusion was extreme. Eventually I managed to get re-booked onto an earlier flight that was about six hours (!) delayed.

No reason was given for any of this. Rumour was the only source of information: a French strike? A lightning strike? Only at 12.00 did the pilot of the next flight tell us of a massive systems failure in Paris, but it is hard to believe that this can be allowed to happen.

I arrived in Berlin shortly before 14.00. The baggage did not arrive for nearly an hour. No reason given; no communication. Needless to say, when the bags did arrive, mine was not there. I went and joined what turned out to be a very long queue of disgruntled Air France customers reporting missing bags. Mercifully, I was near the front. I reported my case, and was assured the bag would be with me the next day. That should have been today (June 30th). I called the service and was told that my bag had been found but was still (!) in Paris. I am now expecting delivery tomorrow. Of course, I am without clothing, and without some important items in my case.

I left the airport finally at 15.30. The total travel time, from scheduled departure until leaving the airport at my destination: about 16 hours. From Montreal to Berlin, that is completely ridiculous.

In all, my trip was a series of delays, with poor service, poor communication, poor food, and lost luggage. I highly recommend that your senior customer services representatives try flying Air France Economy some time and see how they like it. I wouldn’t wish this trip on my worst enemy, and yet I undertook it voluntarily! I even paid hundreds of euros for the privilege! It seems that Air France needs to be reminded that its customers are neither cattle, nor are they cargo. Your passengers were sorely let down by this frankly brutal experience.

I hereby challenge you to make amends: what assurances, or compensation, can you offer me that might once again induce me to purchase an Air France ticket? I promise you I will not be easily tempted to return.

Sincerely yours,


Dear Dr. [VB]

Thank you for your communication.  I would like to inform you that Delta Air Lines represents Air France and KLM in North America.  Therefore, on behalf of Delta Air Lines and our SkyTeam partners, I would like to extend our sincere apology for flight disruptions causing your late arrivals and our service failures on your trip to Berlin on Air France.

After reading your email, I can only imagine your frustration when the Air France flight from Montreal to Paris was delayed.  I am so sorry for this inconvenience of leaving over two hours late.  To make matters worse, the connecting flight to Berlin was canceled and you were rebooked on another flight that was delayed six hours.

We all take on time performance very seriously and despite our tough economic conditions are not sacrificing these goals or safety in any way.  At the same time, we realize travelers want an airline they can count on to reach their destinations in a timely manner and how upsetting it is when plans are disrupted.

Additionally, it is disturbing that you were not offered explanations by the Air France staff regarding these flight disruptions.  We expect our team members to provide prompt flight information updating our passengers at the gates, but I apologize your experience in Montreal and Paris was to the contrary.

Also, I am truly sorry for your disappointment with the inflight service received on our flight from Montreal to Paris.  I deeply regret our video system was malfunctioning  on this lengthy flight, you were not offered a beverage prior to our meal service, and the food quality served was unfavorable without being offered a choice of meals.  We want our partner's inflight environment to be pleasing to our customers, but I understand your disappointment with the inadequate service you received on this flight.

Finally, after waiting one hour for the checked in baggage to arrive, I am so sorry your checked in luggage did not arrive with you in Berlin. Like you, we certainly wish that instances of mishandled bags never occurred.  Your frustration is understood considering you were without clothing and some important items during this delay.  Please know we have dedicated goals for delivering bags, but I apologize, again, for this inconvenience.

We appreciate you taking the time to advise us of this unfortunate experience.  It is important for us to know any instance where our partner's service is lacking.  Please know your concerns are taken very seriously and have been thoroughly documented.  Be assured, I will be sharing your comments with the Air France Airport Customer Service leadership teams in Montreal, Paris and Berlin for their internal follow up.

As a gesture of sincere apology for our flight disruptions, our inflight service failures and your mishandled baggage,  I have issued an Electronic Transportation Credit Voucher (eTCV) in the amount of $200.  Please note the voucher number and associated Terms and Conditions will be arriving in a separate email.  I encourage you to add Delta Air Lines to your receiver list so the voucher document is not misdirected to your spam folder.  Please keep the voucher number and the Terms and Conditions since the number is required for redemption.  It is also important to remind you that there is no Direct Ticketing fee for reservations confirmed online at

Dr. [VB], thank you for your support as an Ivory Flying Blue member and for trusting your business to us. We hope you will continue to choose Delta Air Lines and our SkyTeam partners, Air France and KLM, for your future air travel needs. Please know your comments will not go unnoticed.  We will make every attempt to serve you better in the future as we look forward to our continued business relationship.  Thank you for writing to us.


Thomas Wyborski
Coordinator, Customer Care
Delta Air Lines


  1. Given the wretched customer service I routinely encounter these days, particularly when it comes to the airlines, I am astonished that Delta even bothered to respond. Not only that, but said response was a lengthy and considered one, and not a generic "form" letter. Brave VB! And I must say, Bravo Delta, too! Reggie

  2. Airline travel is my most unfavorite form of travel, period. I hate it, I hate the endless delays, I hate the uncomfortable seats, the hunt to get tickets, the poor food (if offered), the poor in-cabin air quality, etc.
    Well Done!

  3. While a nod is deserved both in the writing and the response, the "compensation" is enough to get you what? A one way ticket to?

    I could decry the decline of airline service, but I am one of those who would never get to take advantage were it not for the decline in prices.

  4. Bravo.My father (who is 80) just had a similar Air France experience-- he chose Air France because his previous experiences had been wonderful. I wonder what's up with AF?

  5. Sorry to hear of your troubles.
    My better half and I are travelling to London on 31 Aug, flying business class with Malaysian Airlines. (We have never flown with MA before but we were made an offer we couldn't refuse!) We shall be travelling by rail for 3 out of the 7 weeks we're away to Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. Do you have any watering holes / cafes you can recommend for Munich and Vienna?
    Ian from Downunder

  6. I'll be in Vienna for the first time next month, and the only thing I know about Munich is the airport, I'm afraid. Sounds like you're planning a great trip though. And the train in Europe is really quite an attractive proposition.

  7. I am impressed they bothered to write back. They seem to have never managed to get the hang of dealing with their customers. I would've preferred cash tho.

  8. You did not finish the story!

    Did they make amends? Was this coveted voucher enough?

    Will you fly the airline again?

    Let me tell you a story:

    Last week, while in Venice, I stepped outside "the Floating Hotel," and I was astonished at what I saw.

    [THE END]

  9. The voucher is bitter-sweet. Obviously, I've no real desire to fly with them again. But I'm realistic. It'll do.

  10. NOT impressed. And to all the comments above me, you shouldn't be either.

    I had similar troubles, and I got virtually the same reply (almost). They have a generic reply that they modify to fit each complaint. Got the same compensation 7500 sky miles, which are equivalent to $200 money value. I wasn't happy with the compensation either, it's useless considering I won't be flying AF, with their old aircraft, unresponsive in flight service and overall unimpressive and sometimes bad experience, ever again.

    If only more people knew how bad this airline has gotten.


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