Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 9, 200711:13 PM

An Open Letter To Joe Kolshak - Executive Vice President And Chief Of Operations For Delta Airlines

Dear Joe,

Today was one of the first (and hopefully) last times that I plan on flying Delta Airlines. It's funny that I'm writing this to you, because as my Blog gains in popularity and our Digital Marketing agency, Twist Image, continues to grow, I swore that I would never speak ill of any brand/corporation. I did not want to use this Blog as a customer service complaint channel plus, you never know how things will change, and I would hate to know that Twist Image lost business because I Blogged about something while in the heat of a bad moment.

The truth is, I think your airline, Delta, is beyond repair.

I just spent eighteen hours flying from Bangkok to New York City on Thai Airways. It was an amazing experience from check-in to baggage pick-up. As I transferred over at JFK Airport into what-I-thought-would-be Delta's capable hands to get me back home to Montreal, I was truly let down.

When I first left for South East Asia about two weeks ago, my luggage was lost on Delta. Imagine that, my first flight on a three-flight connection trip (over twenty-four hours of flying) and the luggage was lost before even leaving the U.S. It took the kind people at Thai Airways to not only hunt the bag (that your airline lost) down, but they physically sent one of their reps to pick up my bags at your terminal so it could make the flight. Delta could not even let me know when it might be shipped to my hotel in Singapore. Thankfully, the bags arrived on Thai Airways with me, specifically because of one Thai Air customer service rep, Dan, and his dedication to making flying on Thai Airways a great experience. Ironically, when I thanked Dan, he asked that I thank the whole Thai Airways crew. Humility and team work always build the best brands.

So here I am (on my trip back home), after an eighteen hour flight and all I need to do is get from JFK to Montreal (a one hour flight) on Delta. As I headed over to the Delta terminal at JFK (Terminal #3) I wondered what country I was in. Having just been in airports from Singapore, Phuket, Bangkok and Montreal, I could not believe that this was a United States airport in New York. The dreadful heat (only made worse by these huge fans at the terminal blowing hot air), an actual pigeon walking around in the adjacent food court and into our terminal gate looking for food (at last check, JFK was not an open-air building) and the overall dirtiness of everything from the carpets, to the seats to the burned out light bulbs to the smell emanating from the washrooms made me wonder if I was in a third world country.

The listing for our flight at the gate was only posted five minutes prior to boarding. Our gate was crammed with four other flights, and nobody at the gate knew if the plane had arrived. Your staff was not helpful in this regard as they were too busy trying to load four other flights through this one terminal gate.

When it was time to finally board, the Delta staff member taking my boarding pass asked where my "green card" was. I'm from Canada Joe. I don't have a green card. I had been through customs, your Delta check in counter and security. Nobody had mentioned anything about a green card. When I informed your staff member of this, she just shrugged her shoulders and let me pass (that made me feel confident about your security measures).

The flight was equally disappointing. From seats that would hardly be comfortable for someone who is five foot five (let alone my six foot plus height) to the condition of the interior, the entire experience could only be described as "embarrassing." And here's what really inspired this letter: I picked up the August 2007 issue of your in-flight magazine, Sky, and read your Perspective piece titled, Seeking Smarter Skies:

"Hello, and welcome aboard the new Delta! I hope by now you've had a chance to see some of the changes we've made to make your travel experience simpler and more enjoyable. In our airports, we continue to upgrade our branding and signage and implement changes to make your trip from check-in through security as hassle-free as possible. We're also investing in much-needed facility and infrastructure improvements in the concourse and on the ramps in New York and Atlanta. Finally, we're making a significant investment in our people to ensure we're prepared to handle all your travel needs."

You might want to start with having "your people" actually be friendly and smile versus the constant flow of "you're such a sucker" vibe that they give off to your clients.

Imagine what I thought about when I read your "perspective" after going through all of this? The days of talking the talk are gone Joe. Delta has to walk that talk.

I also don't think this is an isolated incident. In fact, my good friend, Joseph Jaffe, author of Life After The 30-Second Spot, Blogger over at Jaffe Juice and Podcaster at, Across The Sound, had this Blog posting today: We Realize You Have NO Choice In Airlines. And it has Delta insights like this:

"From a marketing perspective, why are airlines not turning this huge negative into a positive. Take my current experience with Delta today. As a Platinum customer, I expect to be treated a little differently (I just do). Instead of taking some responsibility, they just shrug their shoulders and say, 'not our problem. It's the weather'."

That only further inspired me to let you know that if your new branding campaign is based on "Experience Change" you can't just say it_ you have to live it.

At this point, the fifty dollar low-budget flight I took from Phuket to Bangkok on Air Asia made them look like Virgin Air Upper Class compared to your full-fared, unchangeable Delta ticket.

Please take a more serious look at what you're offering. The brand is not just getting me home on time. It's everything from the experience I have at the airport to the people who take my boarding pass to what the other customers are saying on the flight. It's also a lot harder to take when your are making claims like the quote above in your in-flight magazine.

Branding and Marketing are about the full experience. I know it's not easy. Delta is a big company. But big changes happen when the little things are done right. Get your people passionate about their work. Get your business excited about getting people to where they need to go. Get it done well and get it done right, and you'll never have to lead the charge behind an "Experience Change" campaign again. When things are done right, there's never any need to change.

By Mitch Joel