Thursday, June 16, 2011

Delta's Black Eye

Delta Air Lines got caught charging active duty military personnel steep fees for checked bags that contained their "work" gear and equipment. This is wrong on a couple of levels.

(Full disclosure: I have a son in the U.S. Army who, to my knowledge, has not been subject to a Delta bag fee. But he could have been.)

First, what is going on when the U.S. military forces its personnel to schlep their combat gear around on a civilian air line? What happened to the Air Force and military flights? When I last checked we were paying north of $300 billion per year to fund the military. Not enough to keep a few planes in the air? C'mon.

But the more immediate problem is Delta's. Their gaffe was a case of somebody following the rules to the letter, at the cost of causing embarrassment for the entire company. Are the bag fees posted? Yes. Did the soldiers' bag fall under the fee rules? Yes.

Was it a good idea for Delta to shake down a soldier who was tired, dusty and desperately trying to get home after a year in the war zone? No.

After they got caught, Delta did the right thing and changed their bag fee policy for active duty military personnel. And, hopefully, squared things with those who had been charged.

I sincerely hope that Delta's slip up was a case of an overzealous manager who was afraid to break the rules. If so, Delta needs to spend a little more time training their people on presenting a good company image at all times. And that goes beyond a neat uniform and winning smile. A ticketing agent with a little intelligence and some leeway could have easily prevented the PR problem by waiving the excessive bag fee for a soldier, sailor or airman.

However, if it turns out that Delta knew about the problem and condoned it in order to make a few bucks, that would trouble me deeply. I think the military's travel planning arm should look into this incident more thoroughly. If Delta was cashing in on military travelers, the government should look to other carriers in the future.

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