Delta’s Toronto Meltdown

Summer weekend trips from the New York area are a gamble against weather and air traffic control delays. We are addicted to Toronto and either that or New York manages to have Sunday thunderstorms all summer. I would take early Monday flights back, however my wife prefers chancing it on Sunday evenings rather than have a cranky Monday on a pre-dawn flight.

Yesterday was splendid in Toronto. New York was a mess that prompted flights from morning to night to cancel or experience severe delays across the board to all three area airports. A few got out in the evening. With all airlines canceling, rebooking options quickly evaporated. I don’t think Delta could have done anything much better yesterday. Where they crumbled was the little things on the recovery today.

What I screwed up as a lesson for others, and Delta’s goof.

My wife and I usually travel on separate tickets. We manage our finances and frequent flyer accounts separately, and there are times where it is cheaper in cash or miles to buy one ticket, then another. We are both Diamond Medallion, so status/upgrade concerns are not relevant.

We get into issues with irregular operations when rebooking systems treat us separately. I can call Delta to link the reservations, which seems to be of limited utility. I don’t know that system processing changes much, rather, alert agents see the link. This trip I forgot to call in to do the link.

Delta’s systems are fast at rebooking. So fast that unless you get immediate notice and take action, the system rolls through all the rebookings and a whole day of flights vanishes. As Diamonds we get priority processing and the first alert was for rebooking a flight that was delayed to night, the first still-scheduled departure. Within moments that was delayed a further 3 hours to 10:30 pm and we figured it would cancel, so called to get on a flight the next day.

When I gave the agent my reservation and my wife’s, she said, “Oh, you are rebooked on a Monday 6 am flight.” In the 3 minutes to get her our prior flight canceled and we, according to her, had been rebooked. This one we never got phone or email notice.

Delta’s Diamond agents are usually awesome. This agent, maybe filling in for Diamond calls, was a rare dud. Somehow she did not see we that while I was on the Monday morning flight as she said, my wife was now on a Sunday flight rescheduled to take off within the hour. Hard to believe she could not she this when she manually put us each on standby for the Monday 10:30 am after I said we do not want a 6 am flight.

I only realized the issue a half hour later when using my phone to attempt to check us both in. Yikes! My wife was going to miss her flight and the mess would grow.

I called back and got the ‘ATC delay, it is not our responsibility,’ line. That applied to the cancels, not the  agent goof. Options were an all-day Monday connecting itinerary or a Wednesday nonstop. Claims, more or less correct, that all alternate airlines sold out. It took escalating to a supervisor for a seat to open on the same morning flight. Without Diamond status we would have been told to pound sand. With Diamond we were, too, until we escalated.

Recovery was where Delta let everyone down.

I am big fan of Delta’s flying experience. It has reached levels I thought not possible for a US airline. Operationally, I seldom have issues and am impressed with Delta’s handling of irregular operations. Then there is Toronto.

Toronto YYZ is a US preclearance site which serves to inconvenience all US-bound passengers with claims that it makes the US safer. Preclearance compounds irregular operations. Just getting out requires the airline to arrange an escort. YYZ’s Terminal 3 does not have Air Canada. Translation: the US Preclearance terminal sucks. There is a grim American Airlines Admirals Club, limited dining, limited restrooms, flight monitors that do not show flight status, and long rows of desolate halls.

YYZ T3 A Gates

We arrived at 5:15 for our 6:00 departure ,then showing on the Delta and airports websites as 6:45 at gate B11. The US gates are all A so we knew B11 was bogus. We found a monitor showing A9 (and still 6 am ‘on time’), a collection of ground-level gates used by American. No Delta representative and the American agent was not in the mood to help. Part of the issue, we later heard claimed, was that this was a special additional flight scheduled because of the prior day cancels.

Delta App YYZ Status Delta App YYZ

By 6:15, out of frustration I walked all the way to the Delta gates and found a manager at A14 overseeing the Minneapolis flight. He said the posted gate was wrong, he had no gate or departure time and would only make an announcement when he had definite information. What about all the confused, worried people at A9? An announcement will be made when he knows something. How do they know that? An announcement will be made when he knows something. I walked all the way back and made the announcement myself.

Why do so many airline employees refuse to provide the ‘no update, please wait another X minutes to next update’ announcement? I have been in situations where gate agents individually answer questions from nearly every passenger rather than make an announcement.

Around 7 am the gate switched to A6 and still showed 6 am ‘on time.’ We all walked to A6.

The first PA announcement in terminal on the flight, originally scheduled for 6 am, was at 7:20. Then followed several rolling delays.

The bright spot was a Delta agent at 7:40 bring in Tim Hortons on a ‘Have one on us’ cart. Small comfort for people who had been delayed a day and had eaten the cost of accommodation with no compensation.

YYZ Delta Have One on Us

At 8:30 we started boarding. The agents had no control of the zones. You had people in high zones blocking boarding and the agent calling additional zones not realizing that even premium had not boarded because they could not get around the other passengers blocking the way.

Then you had start and stop for passport verification of all the people who used the app or online check-in. On several recent flights we have had this issue, it may be tied to Delta’s new SNAPP system, where the process to verify is slow and gate agents are not doing it in advance of boarding as in years past. Instead of doing it the hour-plus the agents had waited for the plane to pull up, they were interrupting boarding. A lot of furious passengers erupted when, after 12 or more hours of delay they were told to step aside and wait for verification.

The flight itself was uneventful. It is an interesting customer service strategy that Delta crews apologize for delays at departure, but at arrival give the chipper ‘We hope you enjoyed your flight and fly us again’ speech as if to brush away the problems. This was a New York-bound flight, remember, so when the flight attendant said the ‘fly us again,’ she was answered by a baritone, “Bullshit!” That provided the laughs that sent us all on our day.

A few small things within Delta’s control would have gone a long way:

  1. Timely announcements, even if no update
  2. Get correct info on Delta and airport monitors, websites and apps
  3. Send a representative to the posted gate that was wrong, several passengers were frail and would have benefited from assistance
  4. Verify passports before boarding

Oh well, we still did better than our JetBlue 75k Boston run, that post will have to be next. The issue there certainly wasn’t fast rebooking!

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  • John

    OT, I have never been to Toronto and honestly never had an interest, but you’re post intrigues me. What is it about Toronto that makes you “addicted” especially since you are from NY? How would you compare Toronto to Montreal, which seems to be more interesting from a tourist perspective? Cheers

  • mark

    Is the term “pound salt” or “pound sand”?

    And, I read the following line five times and not sure what it means: “In the 3 minutes to get her our prior flight canceled and we, according to her, had been rebooked. This one we never got phone or email notice.”

  • Ang

    John – Toronto and Montreal are very different. You should go if you can. They are both foodie cities, but different types of food. Toronto is more so for some authentic Chinese food without having to fly all the way to Hong Kong/China. Like Stefan, I am also from NYC and go to Toronto often to get my Chinese food fix. =) Very addicting. We go for the food alone and that is worth it =)

  • der

    I think do not fly is the answer here.
    ……………

    Or check out NetJet or JetSuiteX

  • john

    Wow, sounds like a third world airline/airport. Nice to see the downward pressure created by pre-clearance.
    Getting delayed from Sunday to Wednesday for a <400 mile flight? wow sounds like the third world again!
    Its shocking how bad things get when it drizzles. I recently had a similar experience with AA.
    Looking very much forward to your Jetblue story. I have so many issues with them and they are all related to ground experience not in flight and it makes me cringe when I see them advertising their in flight experience!

  • @Mark – I think it ‘pound sand’ though I have heard ‘pound salt’ as an alternate usage. On the confusing line, sorry, I should rework, typing over-tired and later into the night. The sitatuon was confusing and not sure what exactly happened. The steps were (1) first rebook notification said we were put on the flight that was originally Sunday 10:30 am and now to be 7 pm . (2) Checked flight status and it had moved to 10:30 pm. (3) Called Delta planning to say we want a Monday flight because we assume that now 10:30 pm flight will cancel. (4) in the 3 minutes on hold to get an agent, we were rebooked again because that 10:30 pm did cancel, this time no email or phone notifications went out about the rebooking. (5) Agent got on and said we were on 6 am. (6) I asked agent to put us standby for 10:30 am since we didn’t want to get up early and face another likely delay.

    Somewhere in that, either system did a different rebooking or the agent somehow did, that put my wife on Sunday original 2:30 flight that rescheduled for 6 pm and did indeed fly then. Agent never told us that and we had no notification coming in. When I did see it later, that’s where the battle heated up just to get on the same flight.

  • @John – as Ang says, we go for our Chinese food fix and also the innumerable, delightful parks. Our current favorite is Toogood Pond Park followed by a stroll in adjoining historic Unionville. Our first visit in June we say rabbits, ducks, geese, a skunk and a muskrat. We now stay in Markham with the Chinese restaurants and bypass Toronto city. Toronto downtown is great if you stay downtown and don’t go out. There are many lakeside parks and interesting ethnic neighborhoods. The big problem in Toronto is traffic in and out, all-day delays, so a trip from Markham to downtown is often 1 hour+ when without traffic would be less than half that. New downtown light rail lines and airport train (expensive) have helped the downtown visitor.

  • John

    @Ang, @Stefan, Toronto has better Chinese food than the various Chinatowns in New York?

  • Ang

    John – in my opinion, I think the Chinese food in Markham is better than NYC Chinatown. Like Stefan, I also go to Markham/stay at the hotels there instead of staying downtown. It’s great for weekend trips and not too long of a plane ride from JFK/LGA. I’ve even driven up for the long weekend just for the food.