My Comments to Delta

One of the changes the world is getting used to with Twitter, YouTube, and ubiquitous cameraphones is that one person’s experiences can be shared with the entire world, immediately, and unfiltered.

Arthur C. Clarke predicted this (can’t find it with a quick Google search, but it’s probably in one of my copies of When All the World Was One). He was thinking of war correspondents behind enemy lines, uploading footage directly to comsats. That happened in 1991 during the first Gulf War.  But now it’s available to basically anyone.

Like these soldiers returning from Afghanistan:

I tweeted about it last night, read a bunch of comments, and finally registered on Delta’s blog to state my disapproval more fully this morning.  Turns out that my comment didn’t pass muster with Delta’s moderation police. In the unlikely event that anyone cares, I’m capturing a screenshot of it here for posterity, typo and all:

Here’s the 2008 policy I referred to:

And, yes, after a day of public outcry, Delta publicly reversed themselves. But the reversal should never have been necessary, since the front-line employee should have been empowered to interject some common sense and say “You know, policy is you only get three bags, but I’m going to waive that in your case. Thank you, and welcome home.”

Yes, there could be some abuse. As I shared with Monday morning breakfast companion Joe Landon,

@joe_landon The cost of checking a 4th bag for every soldier, forever, doesn’t approach PR cost of this screwup. THAT’S “running a business”

And my last tweet on the topic was:

@joe_landon Bingo. Empower your employees. If you don’t trust them, hire better employees.

More companies will find themselves vulnerable to the instant-firestorm that Delta just experienced. If you create the right corporate culture, you have nothing to fear.


“It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.”

Wondering about the broken link at ? Since I posted that an hour ago, Delta has removed from their website a 15 August 2008 release waiving all baggage fees for returning military personnel. Scrambling for damage control?

Luckily, a contemporaneous WSJ story still exists:

And I was able to snag a screenshot from the Google cache:

(Click the image to embiggen.)

Because I want the text to be Google-searchable, I’m reproducing the first two paragraphs here:

Aug 15, 2008

ATLANTA, Aug. 15, 2008 — Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) today announced that effective immediately it will waive all excess baggage fees for active military personnel travelling on orders. The fee waivers apply to baggage quantity, weight and size, allowing active servicemen and women to travel with optimum flexibility.

“Delta has a long tradition of supporting our troops and it is important that they find travel with us welcoming and flexible,” said Steve Gormen, Delta’s executive vice president – Operations. “We respect the courage our military men and women display every day and the people Delta find it an honor to serve them.”

Except for a little bafflegab around “optimal flexibility,” this is a straight, admirable, and to-the-point policy. What changed at Delta between summer 2008 and spring 2011?

And who removed this press release from their website today, and on whose authority?


  1. Jacqui Chew says

    Someone’s losing their job tomorrow or at the end of this week. I can imagine the gnashing of teeth in the corp comm department.

  2. Marc Sedam says

    And comments like yours are why corporations are so bland and never extend themselves. The Delta agent made a mistake. Sure. News got out and DL fixed it. That’s what they’re supposed to do. But you want to hold them accountable for this error time ad infinium? I’m a Diamond medallion and flown about 500,000 on DL after flying about as many on AA. have seen AA treat customers like garbage and even saw a gate agent throw someone off the plane for merely questioning the communications for a plane that was 60 min late. As for the “cover up” I’ll bet they’re refreshing the links to the policy restatement.

    Would you like to have been given a scarlet A by your LPs for every good e
    Investment you missed? How about the first one?

    It was an error quickly repaired. Mistake was triply compounded by doing it to the military. Personally i think all airlines should upgrade servicemen and women to first class if seats are ever available As in all things, he who casts the first stone…

    P.S. If you’re going to gi

  3. Wow. So much fail in one comment.

    “Error quickly repaired”? No. “Quickly” would have been before the fourteen troops boarded the plane.

    “News got out and Delta fixed it.” And what if news HADN’T gotten out? Indeed, how many troops encountered this attitude a month ago, or a year ago, and we never heard about it, so it wasn’t “fixed” for them?

    “As for the cover up.” They’ve had 48 hours. They’ve posted two new policy statements already. The second one looks like it’s going to stick. There’s NO conceivable reason to remove the August 2008 press release, except to cover up the fact that even the more-generous new policy isn’t up to what they announced on their own website two-plus years ago.

    “Would you like to have been given a scarlet A by your LPs for every good
    Investment you missed?” That’s exactly how the venture capital business works. Collect enough of them and you stop playing. What’s your point?

    “He who casts the first stone” Well, I don’t think I was the first, nor the hundredth-and-first, to throw stones at Delta over their policy, management, and communication failures here. Doesn’t change the point: I’m right, they’re wrong, and their lousy crisis response shows that they have no clue how to deal with the new world of social media. Neither do most large companies. I hope this experience is salutary for some of them.

  4. This is what happens when accountants and lawyers run companies instead of the management and the employees on the front lines. Products and services are less differentiated when you don’t let your employees use the brains and judgement you hired them for.


  1. […] That is a feature of the internet – being able to rewrite history.  Except that other features of the internet may prevent you from doing so, and in this case, if you scroll to near the bottom of this blog entry you can see a copy of Delta’s original press release. […]