I rarely have a need to use a US airline, so I don’t really know anything about their relative merits. I do, however, now have one useful data point.
Delta is staffed entirely by incompetent fools and I’ll never be using them again.
Our return from Costa Rica involved two Delta flights on Friday. DL245 from San Jose (the one in Costa Rica) to Atlanta and (after a four hour wait) DL12 from Atlanta to Gatwick.
The check-in in Costa Rica was horrible. The flight was full, so we queued for over an hour. And when we finally got to the desk they made us repack our bags as one of them was too heavy. In the rush to fix that, we repacked a bottle of Madeira (which we’d been carrying with us since Funchal) in my hand luggage – so it then got confiscated going through security.
I don’t remember much about that flight. We’d been up since 4:30am so I was running on autopilot. I’m pretty sure that we were about half an hour late taking off (for reasons I don’t remember). The plane was really old. No video screens in the seat backs, and Gill’s seatbelt was covered in what appeared to be the dried up remains of someone’s dinner from a previous flight.
Oh, and they charge ($5!) for alcoholic drinks.
The one good thing that happened was that our luggage was tagged all the way through to Gatwick, so we didn’t have to deal with it in Atlanta. But just as we landed, the crew made an announcement that we would have to collect all of our luggage and check it in again. They were wrong – as our orange labels proved.
I hadn’t been to the US since before September 2001. This has been a concious decision. I have no interest in visiting a country that doesn’t really seem to be interested in having visitors. I was only passing through because that was the route that was part of the cruise package. And having now experienced current US immigration procedures at first hand I won’t be rushing back. I’ve never before been fingerprinted or had my photo taken in order to enter a country. It’s like they’re assuming that all visitors are criminals. Another couple who were travelling with us were detained for twenty minutes because they had Lebanese stamps in their passports. I was grateful that we hadn’t had our passports stamped in Cuba!
But none of that is Delta’s fault. Let’s get back to the main story. Boarding for our flight was delayed for about forty-five minutes as the plane was late arriving, but eventually we got on. Then it got very strange.
Firstly, the pilot announced that there were some problems with the way the luggage had been loaded and that it would take twenty minutes to move some of the luggage into a different hold. Then, about twenty minutes later, he came back on to tell us that there hadn’t been a problem after all and that someone had just done some calculations incorrectly. All of which doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence. But we’d lost our take-off slot and when we eventually took off, we were an hour and a half late.
The flight itself was the usual long-haul, night flight hell. We landed in Gatwick about an hour later than expected, got off the plane, went through immigration and headed for the baggage reclaim hall.
We had three bags checked in. After twenty minutes or so, two of them arrived. After waiting another half an hour, the third bag still hadn’t appeared. And it looked like no other bags were appearing. We asked a Delta employee who was collecting bags and he confirmed that all of the bags had been unloaded and that they were all on the carousel. So we headed to the baggage enquiries desk.
There were about thirty passengers with bags missing. So the desk quickly turned into a bit of a scrum. The two employees there were completely bemused by the number of people they had to deal with and reacted by working as slowly as possible. They also gave up any idea of dealing with people in any kind of sane order and just spoke to the person who was shouting loudest at any given point.
It took about thirty minutes to get a form, fill it in, and give it back to one of the chaps on the desk. Initially they said they had no idea what had happened to the bags, but later they seemed to be pretty sure that the missing bags were on the next flight. Which made us start to wonder if the pilots messages to us were accurate. Maybe, as the flight was so full, they had solved their overloading problems by leaving some of the luggage on the tarmac.
Anyway, we eventually gave our form back and were told that they would deliver our luggage by 5pm the next day. We then went off to find our taxi and go home. Of course, he charged us an extra ten pounds waiting time, but I intend to get that back from Delta.
The missing bag did turn up the next day. But I still want to find out what happened. Everyone that we speak to at Delta seems keen to tell us that this kind of thing happens all the time to all airlines. But in the twenty-five years that I’ve been flying, I’ve never before before had a bag end up on the wrong plan. And I’ve never before flown Delta. Is that just a coincidence?