“You should help these guys out”

By | February 23rd, 2016

Jessica Swain is paging Superman.

You know, this guy.

Here’s her tweet to me.

Oh, you already know this story, don’t you?

It involved a four-hour flight on Delta Air Lines that reportedly turned into a 30-hour “nightmare” with two flight diversions caused by bad weather. At one point, the turbulence was so bad, one passenger thought the plane was going to break in half.

Obviously, it didn’t.

Swain’s suggestion that I rush to the rescue wasn’t the first one involving this Delta incident. But I pay close attention to my Twitter feed, so I knew a lot of people were watching. What would I do?

Here’s why my advocacy team and I only get involved when we’re asked directly by the customer: Nicole White.

Remember her? Back in 2009, she alleged the TSA took her child from her at the airport. I parachuted in to help. After several days of back and forth, the TSA released footage that showed it didn’t forcibly separate her from her child.

White never asked for my assistance. Instead, readers urged me to offer my services. She wasn’t happy with the resulting story, which suggested her recollections of the incident did not line up with reality. I don’t blame her. (The original post on her site, which started this whole episode, was deleted long ago.)

Since then, I’ve jumped in, uninvited, on several other cases. They didn’t turn out well. Either the case didn’t resolve as the readers wanted it to or the story wasn’t what they’d hoped for.

So I came up with a policy that I’ll only help when I’m asked. Directly. No exceptions.

I call it the White Rule.

Think of it in horror movie terms: You know how vampires have to be invited inside a house in order to seduce the inhabitants? I won’t advocate unless you invite me. And if you invite me in, you can’t complain about it later.

Then again, maybe I ought to call it the Vampire Rule. I digress.

But if I had gotten involved, was there anything I could have done? Well, here’s the somewhat wooden response from Delta, when asked about the flight:

Delta flight 944 from Punta Cana was unable to land at JFK due to runway conditions and inclement weather in the New York area. The flight diverted to Manchester (N.H.) where it remained overnight to comply with mandated crew rest requirements.

The flight redeparted for JFK the following day as Delta flight 9929 but diverted to Boston as a result of severe weather in New York. With improving conditions, the flight arrived at JFK before 8 p.m. EST Tuesday.

If a passenger from Delta 944 had contacted me, I would have listened sympathetically to their horror story. I might have watched one of their videos.

And then I would have given them the bad news.

Technically, Delta fulfilled its contract of carriage. Specifically, Rule 3, which states:

Delta will use its best efforts to carry the passenger and baggage with reasonable dispatch.

Times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract.

Delta may without notice substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, and may alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. Schedules are subject to change without notice.

Delta is not responsible or liable for making connections, or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule or any flight.

And then they’d complain about Delta’s adhesion contract, which they’d agreed to without knowing it. And I would say they’re right, it’s a ridiculous contract. (So much for being the world’s “most trusted” airline.)

But back to Swain’s suggestion. Should I have found the closest phone booth and changed into the costume?

I kind of like the White Rule.  It keeps me out of trouble and ensures I only help people who want help.

But maybe it’s time to rethink that policy. The Delta passengers couldn’t be helped, but someday, somewhere, maybe there’ll be a consumer who needs the help of the E-Team.

Should I have a White Rule?

View Results

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  • sirwired

    I don’t see this as poor customer service on Delta’s part. If the weather isn’t suitable for landing the plane as scheduled, it isn’t suitable. If the crew can’t fly because Federal Law says they’ve already flown too many hours, then the crew can’t fly. If they have to divert again because of unsafe conditions, I think the passengers would much rather divert than crash. If the diversion airport can’t accept international passengers, Delta can’t just let them go anyway.

    This situation was very unfortunate, but I don’t see that Delta royally screwed up here.

  • MarkKelling

    Even though this was called n international flight, they WERE allowed off the plane in Manchester to get a hotel, they WERE allowed off the plane in Boston where several decided to take alternate transportation. No mention of having to wait for customs and passport check. So it is not as bad as it sounds. When I first saw the headline in the news, I thought they were on the plane for the full 30 hours.

    Delta could have and should have done more for the passengers. Reimbursing them for the hotel in Manchester would be the first thing they should do. OK, so airlines don’t normally provide hotels for weather related delays. But in this case I feel it is the right thing to do since the passengers had no other option to continue their travel at that point. I don’t feel the passengers who chose other travel options from Boston should be paid for those choices since the plane did get to JFK. Appearing to be a caring corporation would go a long way for Delta in this situation. Unfortunately they have decided to be the opposite of that with the attitude of “What are you upset about, we got you were you wanted to go.”

  • Ben

    You definitely shouldn’t advocate for anyone who doesn’t ask for you help, but there is value on reporting on these big stories. Using your contacts, expertise, and judgement, you can give us a more complete picture of the story that often doesn’t get reported in today’s climate of click-bait. Your readers trust you and seek the truth so that we can be more informed travelers, consumers, and citizens.

  • sirwired

    I don’t know what happened in Boston, but in Manchester before the passengers were allowed to leave the terminal, an ICE crew had to be bussed in to process them.

  • MarkKelling

    Thanks. I missed that detail in the linked article. But, having cleared once I doubt they needed to do it again in Boston.

  • sirwired

    Yeah, I don’t know what the deal was in Boston.

  • polexia_rogue

    I’m all for the ‘white rule’, you have more then enough on your plate.

    again using the customer service desk analogy-
    “hey there’s an unhappy customer in the grocery department! you should do something!”

    me-“my line is 20 people deep”

  • Flyonpa

    The Flight from MHT-JFK next morning got Diverted again and went into BOS, They sat in BOS then went back to JFK few hours later, (Some passenger got off in BOS and did not reboard). Some MHT passengers also made other arrangement and did not reboard @ MHT that morning.

  • sirwired

    Oh, I know the flight eventually went on to JFK; I just can’t figure why the BOS ramp didn’t want to let the flight deplane until some sort of argument with the pilot. There’s no security issue involved here, and they had already cleared customs in MHT. As long as they have an accurate headcount before departure, there’s just some tedious extra paperwork to file to formally terminate the diverted flight and file a plan for a new one from BOS to JFK.

  • Since you are a PK..
    Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him. Proverbs 26:17

  • Flatlander

    Situations like this is why I am terrified of flying. The possibility of a crash doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and even if it did happen it would be quick. The thought of being stuck on the runway for 18 hours with or being stranded at some hell hole like Washington-Reagan is absolutely terrifying.

  • Flatlander

    After seeing every episode of Air Crash Investigation, I have absolutely no problem if the flight crew diverts my flight due to weather because they are acting in my best interest vs the interest of the airline company. Just let me go to the terminal so that I can try to sleep in a hallway instead of spending the night on board the friggin aircraft. I really would prefer to not call 911 to report a hostage situation, fake a heart attack, or activate the emergency slide.

  • Flyonpa
  • flutiefan

    White Rules matter.

  • Flyonpa

    Just a guess, but DL BOS Ramp, probably did not want to tie up a gate, (Or did not have a gate) with the diverted MHT-JFK flight, preferring them to sit out in the penalty box, Get re-fuled there, and wait for JFK to be able to take them,

  • sirwired

    On the new rule, can we apply it to mothers trying to call for an advocate on behalf of their grown children?

  • Jacob

    that made me smile :)

  • Kathi C

    Absolutely! Cuz my darling is too busy ;)

  • Tricia K

    I think it is one thing to offer your services to someone who appears to be having a bad time of it, but I agree, jumping in on your own without being asked is opening a can of worms. No good deed goes unpunished.

  • Peter

    At some point, maybe Boston, if I could, I would have taken a cab to the train station and skipped the rest of the nightmare. Or maybe rented a car in NH and driven to Boston.

    I was once in a situation like that, being diverted, waiting, taking off, being diverted again, waiting some more. With nothing to eat and little to drink. And I would do anything to avoid that experience again. The worst part is the uncertainty. And the poor communication you usually get, in tiny dribs and drabs.

  • just me

    I see it differently. “Delta will use its best efforts to carry the passenger and baggage with reasonable dispatch”. Delta did not obey its own contract. The delay was exacerbated without good reason. After all this was East Coast – plenty of access to Manchester. Delta should have provided fresh crew so the passengers do not have to wait for old crew to sleep it off.

  • sirwired

    Neither BOS nor Manchester is a DL hub; for a new crew to show up, they’d have to be flown from ATL or DTW first, probably to Boston. (Which may have been impossible due to the weather; the initial diversion did not take place because the pilot thought it would be fun.) Depending on the availability of spare crew certified for this particular model aircraft, an overnight stay may have been the best resolution. (And if TSA had Manchester had closed, they’d be unable to admit the replacement crew to the ramp until the next morning anyway, even if they were sent up to BOS and drove.

    Delta has LOTS of incentive to make sure the plane is in the right place. If that international-rated plane was supposed to be in JFK, it almost certainly had other flights it was supposed to be operating which had to be cancelled instead. If they could have gotten it to JFK sooner, they would have done so, no matter the CoC terms.

    I’d say it’s a virtual certainty they had good reason for the flight to not try again until the next morning.

  • just me

    They are in business in which such things do occur and they should have contingency plans. I would expect them to be better than run of the mill DOT which is always surprised that winter came again. ATL or DTW is an excuse. Nobody said that it is easy to run an airline – but it is easy to stick to the customer. Not to mention that in old days there was always some charter company available to fill the gaps in equipment and crew.

  • judyserienagy

    The White Rule (I like Vampire Rule better) is a must. Our job is to become so well known that everyone will know to contact the E-Team when they have a problem. Everybody likes to criticize everything the airlines do, but unless personally present, their observations are probably useless. Hard to imagine passengers complaining about not flying if the pilot deems the weather unsuitable … lends new meaning to the term self-absorption.

  • KanExplore

    Absolutely, every weather related cancellation or delay is costly to the airline, as well as inconveniencing the passengers. But I’d personally rather get to my destination a few hours late than get to a cemetery instead.