Friday, June 27, 2014

Repost of my Delta Airlines review from 2009…

I'm reposting this review I wrote of Delta Airlines back in 2009.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't post such an old review, but this one has the dramatic story of how Bill, Flea, MacGregor, and I got out of Germany.  Since Bill and I are moving back to Germany and are facing moving our pets again, I want to put this story out there for those who think it's cruel to fly with pets.  I think it's a lot more cruel to abandon them or try to rehome them if you don't have to.  Besides, we know for a fact that dogs are much loved in Germany and, in many ways, it's nicer for them there than it is in the United States.  That being said, I wish we could postpone this move until the fall, when it won't be so hot outside.

Incidentally, we use Delta more than the other American carriers.  I prefer them to USAirways, American, and United.  I'm hoping we can fly on a European carrier this next time, since it appears that they are more prepared to deal with animals.

Delta did fine in the face of drama and disaster

 Sep 16, 2009 (Updated May 23, 2010)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Took good care of us and our dogs. Basically comfortable. Great flight attendants.

    Cons:Fare for dogs was high. Food wasn't that great. Entertainment system down.

    The Bottom Line:Delta performed admirably in the face of a disaster.

    Be warned... this is going to be a long review! Our dealings with Delta were such that I feel the long review is warranted.

    My husband Bill and I, as well as our two beagles Flea and MacGregor, very reluctantly left Stuttgart, Germany yesterday after having lived near there for the past two years. We enjoyed Germany so much that none of us were eager to board our flight to Atlanta, scheduled for September 14th at 11:00am. Nevertheless, Bill had his orders and I, as his bride, was forced to go back to the States a year sooner than expected.

    Bill tends to get very nervous about taking care of little details. This is one of the things about him that I alternately appreciate or am annoyed by, since the byproduct of all that nervousness can often be unwarranted stress. A week before our scheduled flight out of Stuttgart, we were in the airport after a flight from Budapest. Bill had to go double check with Delta for details about how they would deal with our precious canine cargo. He left the airport that day feeling reassured, but was still kind of nervous when we arrived for check in at 9:00am with Flea and MacGregor in tow, even though they had flown over with us two years prior.

    Checking in

    Many Germans love dogs and Delta's Germany based employees were no exception. Flea and MacGregor were in their carriers as we wheeled them up to the person who asks the vital security questions about who had packed our luggage and whether or not we had taken anything into our possession on behalf of a stranger. Those questions answered, Bill was allowed to use the Business Elite check in, since he has a Sky Miles card. The check in agent took three of our four bags and instructed Bill to deposit his bulky duffel back at the bulk luggage counter, the same place we would be leaving Flea and MacGregor. She filled out all the paperwork for the dogs' travels, charged Bill about $400 for the dogs' fares, and even came around to say hi to them. 

    Bulk luggage


    Another Delta employee walked us to the bulk luggage counter and helped us deal with the man working it, who didn't seem to speak much English. We took the dogs out of their carriers and sent their carriers through the x-ray, then walked them through the metal detector. After the bulk luggage staff fawned over our pooches, we stuffed them back into their carriers and said goodbye.

    Boarding

    It seemed to be business as usual at the gate as we waited to be called on board. Bill had gotten us seats in the so-called "preferred coach section". However, we were grouped into different boarding zones. Bill was in the second group, and I was supposed to be in the fourth. I can only guess this was because Bill is a member of Delta's frequent flyer program and I'm not. Anyway, no one said anything when we boarded together. We sat down in the leather upholstered seats 16C and 16E, located in the center three seated row. We also prayed that no one would take 16D.  No one did.

    The plane was clean, with two by three by two seating.  The flight attendants seemed very friendly, and we had blankets, pillows, eye masks, and earphones at our disposal. The seat pockets held in flight magazines, a duty free catalog, sick bags, and safety cards. There were screens on the wall and at intervals between seats that showed our planned route out of Europe. Those GPS updates are my favorite things about long haul flights. I generally hate most everything else about them. It seemed like we were in store for a run of the mill transatlantic flight.

    At approximately 10:50am

    Most folks had boarded the plane by 10:45am. We were listening to the usual pre-boarding announcements from the flight attendants, who delivered them in English and German. Another flight attendant was passing out newspapers in German as well as the Financial Times in English. Bill was fussing a little about the dogs, but then a flight attendant handed us little tags that assured us they were safely aboard. We were all set to get going when the captain came over the loudspeaker to let us know that a small situation had developed with a Lufthansa plane. It seemed there was a minor mechanical problem which would delay us a little bit. No problem. We sat back and relaxed, stealing glances at the monitors on the wall that showed the minutes ticking away. 

    11:15am


    The captain made another announcement, this time to tell us that the mechanical problem was worse than he first thought. The small Lufthansa plane (Contact Air) had landed with no rear landing gear. It had slid on its belly down the runway, leaving a trail of fire and smoke in its wake. The captain reported that no one of the 78 on board was seriously hurt in the dramatic landing, but the plane would need to be towed and all the debris would have to be cleaned up before we could be on our way.  He added that Stuttgart Airport only has one runway, so the delay would be between 2 and 7 hours.

    There was a chorus of groans from the passengers. Bill and I immediately recognized that the dogs would need to be liberated from their carriers at least once before we took off. Bill went to speak to a flight attendant about our dogs while I sat and waited with everyone else. A supervisor asked Bill to wait until at least the two hour mark before they took the dogs off the plane. She added that they had fresh air, light, and water while we were waiting. 

    Everybody off...


    Meanwhile, the captain invited everyone on board to deplane if they wanted to. Delta would be providing drinks and sandwiches for the wait. Bill and I decided to stay on board, since we knew it would be crowded at the gate and the seats in the airport were not more comfortable than the ones on the plane were. Only a few of us had decided not to deplane, which gave us a chance to chat with the very friendly flight attendants.

    We peeked out the windows and caught a glimpse of the maintenance vehicles that were dispatched to help clean up the mess left by the disabled aircraft. After we'd been sitting on board for a couple of hours, I told Bill I wanted to get off the plane because I was starting to get hungry. We went back to the gate and could see that we'd been smart to stay on board. There were few seats to be had.

    Delta deals with the disaster

    A smartly dressed Delta supervisor had a microphone in hand. She had just announced that she was about 99% sure our flight was going to be canceled. I grabbed a Coke and looked around at all the other folks, some of whom were eager to leave Germany because they had business or vacation plans. I was in no hurry to leave Germany, but I was eager to get out of transit.

    A few minutes later, the Delta supervisor announced that our flight was canceled and rescheduled for the following morning at 8:00am. She immediately started giving us information about what we needed to do. First, she told us we would not be able to get our checked luggage. Then she looked at Bill and said, "The only thing coming off the plane is this gentleman's dogs." That comment got a laugh out of everyone.

    Next, the supervisor addressed the fact that some people were losing a vacation day. She said Delta would be happy to change tickets for those folks, but they would not be able to change the destination. In other words, there would be no trying to score a ticket to Hawaii if the final destination was supposed to be Tampa. She told us Delta would put us up in a hotel for the night, provide transportation to said hotel, and give us meal vouchers. 

    Gone to the dogs


    When the supervisor was finished talking, people descended on her like a pack of vultures. I was concerned about Flea and MacGregor, who were no doubt scared and confused by all of this. After ten or fifteen minutes of confusion, I grabbed their leashes and went off in search of my dogs. I finally found them in the baggage claim near lost and found. Flea was pitching a fit, of course, while MacGregor was sitting quietly, taking everything in.

    A very pleasant baggage clerk asked me if they were my dogs. I said they were and she helped me take them out of their carriers and put them on leashes. I was very impressed by how much care and consideration this lady showed toward me and my dogs. I'm not sure if she worked for Delta or the airport, but she was uncommonly kind. She directed me to leave the carriers with her and take the dogs outside so they could do their business. I happily took her up on her suggestion and started looking for Bill. 

    Reunited...


    It took Bill some time to get our vouchers. Meanwhile, I was trying to find him and walked our pooches all over the airport in my search. Finally, I decided it made the most sense to wait near the baggage claim. I went back there with my dogs and waited, trying to keep Flea from being too disruptive.

    Flea is a tiny beagle, but he has an enormous voice. He has no qualms about sounding off, especially in a busy place like an airport. He immediately got to work attracting attention to himself while I tried to keep him quiet. The lady from the baggage claim came out and asked me about the dogs' carriers. I said I still hadn't found Bill, so she offered to bring the carriers out to me. She even asked me if we needed food for the dogs, explaining that she lived on the other side of the airport and her dog had recently died. She had some food we could have if we needed it. Bill, being an excellent planner, had food for the dogs. What he didn't have was Flea's medication, which was stuffed in my suitcase. That, of course, was my fault-- Flea's pain medication for his cancer is in a 100ml bottle, which I thought might have given us trouble through security. I'd like to thank the liquid bomb plotters for that... Flea let out a few air horn like barks, which led Bill directly to us.

    Together again... and trying to escape the airport

    Our next problem was finding out if both the taxi and the hotel would accept our dogs. The very kind baggage clerk helped us out with that situation as well. First, she found out that the hotel would take our dogs. Next, she helped find a sympathetic cab driver. The hotel had a shuttle bus, but it was not suitable for carrying the dogs. Most of the cab drivers wanted nothing to do with transporting our dogs. Finally, one driver said he wasn't supposed to take dogs, but he'd do it anyway. The baggage clerk then helped me, Bill, our dogs, and one lady in a wheelchair, get settled in the cab. She even asked Bill to look in on the lady for her.

    Accommodations

    I will write a separate review about Delta's choice of hotels for us. For now, I will just say that it was a relatively nice four star business class hotel. The food vouchers covered a buffet meal and water. 

    Flight to Atlanta take two


    So our trip back to America got started bright and early yesterday morning. At 5:30am, the same kindly taxi driver was waiting for me, Bill, the dogs, and the lady in the wheelchair. Our group was ready, but the lady in the wheelchair was late coming down. We finally got to the airport at about 6:00am, but then it turned out the lady had left some of her luggage behind. Somehow, she managed to get it before we got on board. 

    Check in, part two


    We had to check the dogs in again and get new boarding passes. Flea let out a howl or three while we were in line, which alerted the super nice baggage clerk who had been so helpful the day before. She came up to say goodbye to us and even told us about the airport pharmacy, which had over the counter medicines for dogs. I wish we had known about that before, but it's useful information for next time. The baggage clerk seemed irritated for us that we had to go through the check in process again. I was sorry to say goodbye to her.

    The lady who checked us in the second time was not as efficient as the first agent was. She didn't seem to know what she was doing in regards to the dogs. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to get through it. We dropped the dogs off at bulk luggage, once again letting them charm the staff there.

    Getting on board, second go

    The Delta official who tore our tickets for us let us know that our dogs were on board the aircraft and ready to go. We all got back in our seats and took off with no problem at 8:00am.

    The flight

    Our flight lasted about 9.5 hours. Unfortunately, the entertainment system wasn't working, so I couldn't watch the progress of our flight. That was kind of a bummer. Otherwise, the flight was very smooth and efficient. We even landed in Atlanta a few minutes early. 

    Food and beverage


    This was one area that I wasn't as impressed with. We were served a brunch not long after takeoff and had a choice of a cheese omelet with hashbrowns or chicken and rice. I decided to go with the cheese omelet, because I figured it was less likely to be gussied up with my least favorite food in the world, mushrooms. Well... unfortunately, the omelet did include a mushroom sauce. Luckily, it came with a roll and butter, a stick of cheese, fruit salad, cookies, and orange juice, plus an additional drink. I didn't get a good look at the chicken, but it looked like it came with a salad.

    The drink cart came through a second time, as the flight attendants offered water, coffee, and tea. I saw them pour soft drinks for some folks as well. Throughout the flight, they offered water, which was very welcome. I don't remember any other carrier doing that, even when I've flown transatlantic. A couple of hours later, the drink cart came through again along with free peanuts and snacks that could be purchased. Bill was all set to pay for some wine, but it turned out the wine was complimentary. I'm guessing beer was free, too, though spirits were not. We bought a $2 bag of peanut M&Ms.

    Toward the end of the flight, we were given little cheese pizzas, which were a bit salty, but edible. I washed mine down with another cup of wine. I guess I should be glad we got offered anything at all, given the state of the airlines these days. On the other hand, food that doesn't taste good is kind of a waste of resources. I would rather pay for better food than get free food I don't want to eat.

    One thing I noticed

    People seemed to have real trouble figuring out how to open the lavatory door. I watched person after person try to figure out where the door was and how to open it. It was pretty funny to watch. 

    Happy landings


    Our dogs arrived safe and sound in Atlanta and quickly made their presence known with a few sonic yelps. Thankfully, folks in Atlanta seem to know about beagles. A few people even admired Flea's hunting prowess as he tried to bag a pigeon in the pick up area. 

    Overall


    I really think Delta did a fine job in taking care of us after the disaster in Stuttgart. Just about all of the flights going out of Stuttgart were canceled on Monday and I noticed there was another big Delta flight that was supposed to be going to Birmingham (England or Alabama, I don't know) that was also affected. Delta took care of them, too. I haven't used this airline enough times to know if it's better or worse than other American carriers, but I was impressed with them this time. I would definitely try them again

    For more information: www.delta.com



    Footage of the "crash" on September 14, 2009.

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