I have read with great interest the media accounts on Delta Air Lines’ treatment of a wounded serviceman on a recent flight. On the surface, it’s difficult not to shake your head and wonder what the hell was Delta, or more specifically, the Delta personnel directly involved, thinking? Of course, I wasn’t there, and this, like all stories, has more than one side, I am certain. I don’t know why Mr. Brown was not pre-boarded, as is customary in circumstances involving the use of what those of us with an airline background know as an aisle chair. (Note: according to this blog post, Mr. Brown was attempting to take a flight earlier than planned, one that had already begun boarding) Not that it matters. What matters is that a veteran who has given so much was apparently humiliated in front of an airplane full of passengers. If the media reports are accurate, a couple of First Class passengers offered their seats to Mr. Brown only to have this gesture refused by a flight attendant.
I have personally assisted more aisle chair boardings than I can count during my time at the airport, and thankfully, none ever wound up in the newspaper. I would like to think it was because those that I worked with and I demonstrated as much compassion and care as we could. I expect that the overwhelming majority of Delta employees conduct themselves in exactly the same way. If that’s the case, then what the heck happened here? Again, I was not there, but I can speculate. In doing so, let me shift gears for just a moment. This may come as a surprise to some, but on time performance is taken very seriously by the airlines. There are some delays you cannot control like weather and air traffic, of course. But one impression still burned into my mind from my time at the airport was this: do not take a delay that you can control. Sometimes, those kinds of delays are going to happen, but when you’ve had “don’t take a delay” drilled into you enough, it is possible for an otherwise normal human being to turn into a bit of a drone. In other words, an otherwise reasonable person can lose sight of the bigger picture and let being technical get in the way of doing the right thing. I strongly suspect that may have happened here.
Now, how you deal with a mistake can say a lot about a person or about an airline, and I think Delta is doing the right things. Delta’s Vice President of Customer Care has authored 2 posts on Delta’s blog about the situation, which you can read here and here, and I would expect more is going on that we do not know about. The latter of those 2 blogs includes a brief update on what Delta has learned during its review of the incident, which is worth reading. According to the posts, Delta has so far been unsuccessful in speaking personally with Mr. Brown, and I think that is unfortunate. Perhaps a conversation would help Delta learn more and avoid a similar outcome in the future. I think it’s at least worth a shot.