Delta Airlines – A comedy of errors

April 11, 2012

I travelled from Greensboro to Madison yesterday in order to attend InterVarsity’s spring leadership meetings. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an adventurous travel day. My 30 minute layover in Detroit turned into a four hour stay.

Our initial plane had an indication of a system problem that the mechanical staff were unable to resolve. We spent about an hour on a rather hot and stuffy regional jet. We then disembarked after a couple of hours and transferred to a second plane.

This second regional jet had a problem with its auxiliary power unit and was unable to start an engine without the aid of an external generator. The generator was brought in–it could not be started. A second generator could not be located. After a wait of another hour, the second generator was located and brought to our gate. The engine was successfully started.

We taxied to the apron, but held short of the active runway in a “holding area.” The problem? It had been so long since our scheduled departure time that Air Traffic Control needed time to look up our original flight plan. After a further wait of 15 minutes, we were finally able to depart Detroit for our 49 minute flight to Madison.

Total time in the air: 49 minutes. Total time waiting to depart: about 5 hours.

In the midst of what can only be described as a total system failure in Delta’s Detroit operation, there was a single redeeming quality.

The Captain of Delta 6164 modeled strong leadership and total professionalism. Here’s how:

-He kept us informed about what was happening. We were routinely updated about what was happening and what needed to happen in order for us to successfully depart.

-He did not over-promise. He was realistic in his assessment without being depressing.

-He authentically apologized. When he apologized, I believed that he was actually sorry for what was happening.

-He took responsibility for the situation. He stated frankly that he was sorry for what was happening and that it was happening on his watch. He did not point fingers or shift blame to the ground crew. Instead, he acknowledged that as captain he was responsible for the flight and took responsibility for the problems.

The rest of the flight was a success. In arriving at Madison, Delta informed us that each of us on the flight would get a $50 credit for the inconvenience–I’m grateful for that acknowledgment of error on the part of the airline, but I’m more grateful that I got to see an excellent leader in action.