Delta Airlines nails it for employees, “Never let the rules get in the way of common sense”


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Is Delta climbing higher?

Delta Airlines recently released a :60 second spot called “Lines”. The spot touches on the human factor at Delta. The voiceover [Donald Sutherland] describes how Delta’s employees manage the unpredictability of air travel:

“The 80,000 strong team at Delta predict the unpredictable, anticipate the unexpected and never let the rules get in the way of common sense.”

150589-DeltaMy antenna has been up since Delta started their “Keep Climbing” campaign two years ago [see “Climbing” and “Up”]. I’ve flown nearly 500,000 miles with the Atlanta based airline [480,542 to be exact]. The majority of the miles came between ’96 and ’03. I’ve only recently started flying the airline on a more consistent pattern, but I’ve seen a difference. Here are 3 instances where I noticed empowered employees stepping up in the last two months:

1. Lost bag – Delta lost my bag on a trip back from San Diego. I’m partly to blame as my carry-on bag (without a nametag) needed to be checked because the overhead bins were full. Fast forward six days later and still no bag, I began the arduous process of filing an online claim. The very next day I received a call from Asheville, NC. They found my bag and by evening it was delivered to my doorstep. Shortly after I received a sincere apology from Delta and a voucher credit for a future flight. It wasn’t the typical $25 credit. I’ve received those before and they feel like a slap in the face. This voucher was almost enough to pay for a normal round trip. [Purple Goldfish Takeaway: To adequately handle a mistake, don’t just aim to make the situation right. Push past equitable and go above and beyond the call of what’s expected]

2. Volunteer bump – Assuming my flight isn’t time sensitive, I’m usually the first guy to raise my hand when they are looking for volunteers. On a recent overbooked flight to Canada, Delta asked for volunteers and offered a $400 credit. The next flight to my destination wasn’t for another nine hours. I approached the gate, expressed my interest and asked if they could do any better on the amount. The gate attendant said she’ll ask her supervisor. She came back a few minutes later and informed me that since this was an international flight, she’d be able to raise the voucher amount to $600. I was more than satisfied and took the bump with some meal vouchers for lagniappe. [Green Goldfish Takeaway: The gate attendant made the extra effort on my behalf and was empowered to raise the amount for the bump]

3. Mechanical difficulties – Last week I boarded a flight from Raleigh to Atlanta. Just before we are about to push off at 6 a.m, the Captain comes onto the PA, “Folks, we’ve noticed some fluid dripping from one of the engines. We’ve called someone over to look at it an assess the situation. I’ll be back with an update shortly.” True to his word the Captain came back shortly, “So, here’s the situation. There is only one person on maintenance detail. They are assessing the situation. Our maintenance crews do not arrive until 7:30. I could tell you that we’ll repair this and be underway in the next half hour, but that wouldn’t be true. We’re probably looking at an hour plus. We’ll either fix this aircraft or we’ll need to get another plane. If you have a connection in Atlanta, you are free to get off the plane and seek another option.” Straight up truth, no bull from the Captain. I assessed the situation and decided to seek other options. Green Goldfish Takeaway: Be open and transparent. Don’t sugar coat it. This Captain nailed it by not glossing over the situation and creating a false sense of hope.

Once is chance, twice is coincidence and three is a pattern. Let’s hope Delta continues to climb higher, never letting the rules get in the way of common sense and empowering employees to put the needs of its customers first.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a video from Travora on Delta’s iPhone app. This app was a lifesaver when I needed to rebook my flight plans after #3 above. The app gave me alternatives and allowed me to rebook with one click:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


  1. Good move by Delta – I assume it is in part motivated by the recent incident involving cellist Lynn Harrell. Someone at DL totally let the rules get in the way when they stripped Harrell of all his lifetime miles AND forbid him from participating in SkyMiles because of a violation of the program Terms & Conditions. In a loyalty program, rules must be enforced to prevent fraud, but a good marketer should never let the rules get in the way. It’s nice to see a major industry player learn from their mistakes.

  2. Thanks Howard. Maybe the best lesson I learned in graduate school, “There needs to be a reason behind every rule. When the reason stops, therefore should stop the rule.” Let’s hope Delta learns from the Lynn Harrell incident.


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