How Delta Lost 40 Passengers on DL80

The Flight

Monday 3/21 18:35 (EST) – DL80 Gets ready to depart on our flight to Brussels with. I am joined on the flight with 2 Red Pill Now colleagues Keith Strickland, and Bob Kadrie along with Bob’s wife Sandy. A total of 151 passengers are on the plane.

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Tuesday 3/22 8:00 (CEST) – DL80 lands 10 minutes early at Brussels airport. It had been a pretty uneventful flight. I enjoyed Wifi access on an international flight for the first time allowing me to stay in touch with the rest of the world during the 8 hour 25 minute flight.

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8:05 – After a short taxi, the plane stops short of the gates and the captain advises us that we will be delayed while we wait for some vehicles to be moved blocking our approach to the gate.

8:10 – Flight crew advise us that an explosion has occurred inside the terminal and we would be held on the plane while they investigate the cause of the explosion.

8:11 My first tweet. It occurred to me that I had friends and family who are going to hear about this. Wanted to stay ahead of the message and let everyone know I was OK. The plane seemed quite calm as a growing number of people now had their phones in their hands.

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8:15 Pilot announces that two bombs had exploded inside the airport. We were probably going be to held on the plane for quite a while. The pilot actually said “bomb”! It is usual for Delta to use obscure language such as “event” or “incident”. In a strange way it was actually quite comforting in a time of potential stress  that we were being told the truth. This triggered many of us to use the power of social media to find out more about what was going on outside the plane.

8:22 The first contact from mass media (Daily Mail) to speak to me about what was happening. I was surprised how quickly somebody had tracked me down. Oh the power of social media.

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8:45 It was becoming clear the flight crew were having difficulty establishing contact with ground crew to get a clear picture of what would happen next. We were to be towed to a nearby commuter terminal for deplaning but first we needed to access to the necessary equipment (stairs) before we were moved.

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I was starting to receive a lot of requests from media companies to connect via twitter to set up possible interviews. Before the day had ended I had completed 26 interviews on 3 continents.

8:50 By now we were starting to see photos, videos, and reports via social media or what was happening inside the terminal. Phones were being passed back and forwards between passengers to share what was going on. The cabin crew didn’t seemed too impressed with how we were keeping each other informed. I retweeted a few of these so that those following me could get a feel for what we were experiencing. The mood on the plane remained quite calm.

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8:58 It is announced we will be towed to another part of the tarmac

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9:24 After a lengthy delay the plane starts moving and we taxi for a few minutes before stopping. It is announced that a Delta “representative” will be boarding the plane.

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9:29 Strange man starts walking up and down aisle with a large video camera. No explanation is given. The man does not appear to be wearing any identification. He stops to shoot video out the window towards the terminal. The word “CIA” comes to mind.


9:35 (The Mistake) Suddenly the announcement we had been waiting for. Cabin crew request that we are to get off the plane via the forward doors as fast as we can. The noise level on the plane rose as people quickly jump from their seats scrambling to gather belongings. It is here that Delta probably made their biggest mistake. Everyone was now focused on getting off the plane they were no longer listening to anything else the cabin crew were saying. I am not sure if they said anything more. There was no indication if we were to take all our cabin luggage with us. It appeared that most people did.

What should have happened: As a parent I understand the importance of managing a transition. The crew should have made their announcement by giving several minutes notice before we got off the plane. This would have allowed everyone the chance to pause and hear the rest of any message (if there was one), ask questions and to collect their thoughts before they got up and off the plane. The second mistake Delta made was that they did not appear to communicate anything other than the need to get off the plane. There was no mention made of where we would be going and what it was that we should do when we got there. It was to be nearly two hours before I heard from anyone at Delta again. I was not prepared for what was about to happen next. Neither was Delta, as I am almost certain this is where they (according to Delta representative later) had lost 40 passengers.


Hanger 1

9:39 – We are taken by bus to a nearby hanger.

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9:45 – We are ushered off the bus into a hanger. There is nobody from Delta in view. Keith, Bob, Sandy and myself gather together absorbing what is going on around us trying to figure out what it is that we are doing. We noticed a few others from our flight are following a larger group of people heading towards a door near the rear of the hanger. We follow and soon form part of a long line of people moving along a path cordoned off by a large number of people in orange jackets.

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9:59 – Nobody seemed to know anything about where we are going, as we just followed the people in front. People seemed in good spirits considering the ordeal they had all been under. Once outside the hanger we had a much better understanding of the chaos. I became aware for the first time of the many sirens and the flashing lights from emergency response vehicles. The smell of sulphur was in the air and we could see ambulances departing from the terminal area. I started for the first time noticing many of the people around us were carrying suitcases. I assumed we had merged together with people who had been inside the airport at the time of the bombings.

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After a while we found somebody who suggested we should head towards one of the nearby hangers.


Mistakes Made: I now know that Hanger 1 was most likely the place were international arrivals were being processed by immigrations and customs. Only somebody forgot to tell us that. There were no signs anywhere and nobody from Delta was visible to us when we got of the bus. If announcements were made, they were made too late for us to notice. There was no apparent separation between those that had been processed and those that had not. With so many people coming and going it was too easy for people like us to head in the wrong direction. It didn’t seem to matter to us, but it probably mattered to Delta and Belgian officials trying to control the flow of people into the country at a time of high security risk.


Hanger 2

10:00 – We arrive in a large hanger. By this stage we seemed to have lost contact with everyone from our flight. There were no representatives from Delta to be seen, so we just waited to hear further instructions on what we should do.

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There were several hundred people with us, including a number of people in bright yellow jackets who seemed to have no answers for where we needed to be or what we needed to be doing. I also also surprised to see that flight crews from many (non-Delta) airlines were also there. For now this appeared to be the safest place to remain until we were able to find out more. We spoke to a few of these people and it was suggested to us that if we remained, airlines would eventually arrange hotel accommodation for us overnight. At the time this seemed like the best option. We would be late for our conference but once at a hotel we could get a clearer picture of what was happening and how best to make our way to Eindhoven, Netherlands. By this stage the IBM Collaboration Community gathered at Eindhoven for the Engage conference were aware of our situation and provided us with a few suggestions.

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10:56 – Finally after being in the hanger for almost an hour somebody climbed a set of stairs with a megaphone. Her first statement to us was that she “had no additional information”. Our hopes were dashed. I think at this point we decided that it was probably going to be up to us to figure something out. As CEO of the company everyone was looking to me for leadership. I suggested everyone take a bio break while they still can while we tried to gather information from the Internet as to what was happening inside Brussels. News reports suggested that all public transport in Brussels had been closed down. We assumed it was going to be difficult to find a rental car or a hotel on our own.

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11:20 – We were now being told about buses that were available to take us to a nearby train station and then on to the town of Leuven (Google maps is your friend at this point). This seemed to conflict with our information of the public transport system being closed. We decided to wait until we better understood the situation. Our situation was somewhat complicated because we had yet to get to an ATM and withdraw the euros we were likely to need on our next journey.

12:09 – We finally found a Delta agent. She recorded our names and contact details on a piece of paper and told us that somebody from Delta would contact us as soon as our luggage was released. By this stage we had already decided we would take the bus to the train station. It was only by luck that we found the Delta agent before we left.


Lost, Found, and Lost Again… On reflection it was crazy that having lost us a first time, Delta really allowed us to go a second time without making sure we had been correctly processed. At the time we did not know that passengers from our flight were supposed to clear immigration before leaving the airport. We dd not know that Delta had lost track of 40 of its passengers from DL80. It is surprising the Delta agent was using a piece of paper to record details about Delta passengers. Armed with an iPad and an application developed for this sort of situation the agent could have recorded our details into a tracking application. Our boarding passes and baggage claim tickets could have been scanned, our photos taken, and full details of where we were headed recorded. Those coordinating the Delta effort could have also gotten any message to us about our status. This was an opportunity lost.

What I needed at the time, and didn’t get, was an opportunity to connect to others. What I needed was some form of persistent chat room that allowed me to check in with my fellow passengers allowing Delta to track where we were and for them to get messages to us about what we were doing. They could have provided information as it became available as well as share options for travel, accommodation, food, and any medical needs. This was also a lost opportunity for Delta.


The Trains

12:17 – We exited the hanger and boarded a bus. It was clear people were attempting to record the names of people as they were leaving. Having just provided our details to Delta I didn’t see the need for a duplicated effort. We were tired, and hungry and just wanted to get away from the scene to join our friends in Eindhoven so we just walked onto the bus.

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12:23 – The bus had a police escort as we were taken away from the cordoned off area around the airport. We were able to see glimpse of the terminal and the chaos that remained. As we passed through a barricade we could see the large number of reporters gathered to take photos and videos of the scene.

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We arrive at nearby Zaventem station which appears to have been shut down to regular train services. There is a strong police presence and lots of people standing around. We are quickly ushered off the buses into the station where special trains were waiting to take us to Leuven.

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13:00 (Zaventem – Leuven) Leuven is a city located 25km (16 miles) outside of Brussels. It appears that while trains in/out of Brussels had all been canceled, it was possible to take trains operating between other destinations. We asked for directions on how best to get to Eindhoven and advised to catch a train south to Liege, and from there we would find trains that would take us (towards) Eindhoven.

13:35 (Leuven – Liege) – We take the our first IC train from Leuven to Liege. While waiting at Liege for our next train we encounter some other American travelers. They had been on a flight scheduled to arrive at Brussels around 8:30 am. They ended up circling Brussels for a period of time before being diverted to Liege. They were heading the other back into Brussels.

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Flights

14:30 (Liege – Maastricht) From Leige, in Southern Belgium, we established we needed to head across to Maastricht (Netherlands) and then up through the Netherlands to Eindhoven. There was now little signs of the chaos that we had seen at Brussels airport. The stations were quiet, and the people nearby all seemed to be going about their lives as normal.

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15:37 (Maastricht – Sittard) – Our fourth train was pretty uneventful. By now we had started to worry less about what had happened at Brussels and we started to focus more about Eindhoven, and the many friends there who had been concerned about us.

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16:00 (Sittard – Eindhoven) – Our fifth and final train was also uneventful. We were looking forwards to our journey coming to an end and enjoying a cold drink (or two). In some ways it was perhaps a good thing we did not have our luggage as we rushed up and down many stairs to ensure we made connections between our trains.

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18:00 Eindhoven – Finally we had arrived at our destination.  There we met our colleague Nathan Freeman who had travelled from Mexico via Amsterdam. We ultimately settled for a meal together at the hotel restaurant joined by IBM Story teller Louis Richardson, also from Atlanta. It was a strange feeling. After all we had shared together that day we felt very close. It seemed we needed some time together for some closure on a very very eventful day.

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Engage.Ug (23-24 March)

Over the next two days my focus switched to the business at hand of sponsoring and presenting at Europe’s premier User Group for IBM Collaboration Software. We were very busy for those two days but were also fortunate to have Sandy with us to help coordinate with Delta. Sandy made contact with a Delta rep. named Pam who was very helpful in keep us informed over those two days on the progress being made to release our bags. We were informed that Delta would cover reasonable expenses associated with replacing items still inside our checked luggage.

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At this stage everything seemed about as normal as could be expected in the circumstances. We had re-established connection with Delta and was expecting to be reunited with our baggage soon. I received four separate calls from Delta while I was at Eindhoven all wanting details about my baggage and where to have it delivered. This was on top of having left details with Delta at the airport and Sandy’s discussions with Pam.


20:30 – Delta calls to confirm that our bags had been released and could be collected immediately from Brussels. I explained our travel situation and asked to have them delivered to Bruges the next day. Things were looking up.

Bruges (25 March)

9:00 Our 2-Day Red Pill Now strategic planning conference starts at the beautiful Dukes Palace in Bruges.

Bruges

11:47 I received an email from Delta informing me our luggage had been released and we could either travel to Brussels to pick it up or it would be sent via courier to our Hotel. This seemed to be in conflict to my call the previous evening so I hoped that the bags would still show up to our hotel during the day.

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Around the same time Sandy had a strange conversation with Pam at Delta. Pam’s supervisor had informed her that Delta did not believe we had been on that flight and she was instructed to stop communicating with us. When this information was relayed to me I was in complete disbelief.


Delta, this is where you lost four of your passengers yet again. You lost 40 of us in Brussels. Some of us had reconnected with you and now we were being cut off again. There is only one thing worse than receiving bad customer service, and that is being denied that you are even a customer.


18:19 After our own Red Pill Now conference had ended for the day I established that our luggage had not turned up as we had hoped. So I started to make enquiries of my own. Without Pam’s assistance each and every time we called Delta we had to call in to the general number and try and explain our situation. Each time we would end up speaking to some completely different person who almost always gave a completely different answer. According to one person our bags were still available for collection in Brussels.

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Bruges (26 March)

7:35 Received a message from Delta that bags were being held until Monday. This is concerning as I was scheduled to fly back to Atlanta on Sunday. I was already trying to imagine all the difficulties I was going to have trying to arrange for the return of my luggage from Brussels to Atlanta.

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During the day Sandy got increasingly exasperated with what had been happening. She had important medicine in the luggage and was concerned as to  when she would be able to get access to it. One person she had spoken to had indicated my bags had already been delivered. Another person had no knowledge of me at all suggesting nothing was being done to process any baggage for me. Out of sheer desperation Sandy decided to reach out to the US Embassy to seek their assistance. On hearing our story they were very angry about the way we had been treated by Delta. They promised to contact Delta to see what could be done to expedite the delivery of our bags.

14:45 – Total disbelief now as Delta seems to be taking four different positions on the status of my bags.

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19:00 – We head to enjoy our last meal together before we started our separate journeys home the next day, still not knowing the status of our bags. We had an awesome waiter, Robert, who helped turn the Delta debacle into a magical evening together.

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21:49 – Nathan Freeman went back to the hotel to check on the status of our bags. When he arrives he is happy to report that the bags have been delivered.

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22:30 – We return to our hotel to be reunited with our baggage. Just before arriving I receive a call from Delta. They had rang to inform me that my bags were not going to be delivered until Monday at the earliest as they were still being held in Brussels. I expressed confusion given Nathan had just reported our bags had been delivered. Perhaps mine had missed out! I entered my room still on the call and was able to explain to Delta that the bag their system was showing to be scheduled for delivery had in fact been delivered.

Later when I opened my bags I found they wipes that had been used (I assume) to test for explosives. For some unexplained reason the person doing the check decided to leave them inside my suitcase.

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I tried to explain to this person at Delta the cause of my frustration. Why is it that Delta was not delivering bags to customers until Monday unless you contacted the Embassy. Why is it the Embassy could arrange for their delivery when customers couldn’t. I asked why we had been told we were not on the flight and people instructed not to help us. He had no answers and promised to speak to his supervisor about it. I explained what we do for a living and how we would be happy to sit down with Delta to help them understand how they had lost 40 passengers and consistently failed to keep an accurate track of the status of our bags. All I asked was that somebody from Delta reach out to us and talk to us…. Of course they never did.

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Home In Atlanta (28 March)

15:57 – I call Customer Care.  I am on hold for 21 minutes before speaking to Hansa in their Corporate Office. I ask who I should speak to about getting reimbursement for expenses while being without my luggage, given we had not been processed correct in Brussels and had no claim number. I am given another phone number. I ask  who I should speak to in order to get reimbursement for the train ticket from Brussels to Paris after it became necessary to reschedule my return flight the previous day. Again I am given a number. I then asked how best to complain about the way I and my baggage had been treated during the whole ordeal. I was informed I needed to go to their web site and fill out a complaint electronically. I expressed surprise that Customer Care doesn’t actually field complaints directly. Hansa explains again I needed to fill out the electronic form.

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16:32 – I call baggage services on the number provided. After a 12 minute wait time I speak with Garcia only to be told I needed to fill out another form online to submit a claim for my “reasonable”out of pocket expenses.

16:48 – Next I call the number provided to request a refund for my train fare. After a 20 minute wait I speak to Dawn who tells me I need to be transferred to the International section. She transfers my call and I am then placed on hold for another 18 minutes. I asked the next person if they were in International and they replied no, they were in Domestic!! (but they would transfer me if I wished). At this point I lost it…. I explained how long I had been on the phone and how I was being transferred from one person to the next. They offered to help me directly. When I explained that I wanted to file a claim for reimbursement of my train ticket I was informed Delta doesn’t reimburse the cost of train tickets. She said Customer Support should have told me that in the first place. I agreed. But I was far from happy in having wasted so much time to have accomplished so little. I asked whether it was possible to file a complaint verbally with somebody in a position of responsibility at Delta. I was told my only option was to fill out a form electronically on their web site (Yes I kind of knew that already — Delta seemed to have a service culture based on avoiding direct contact with its customers wherever possible).


At this point there would seem to be no redemption for Delta. We were lost, found, and lost again by Delta at Brussels airport. We endured an endless amount of random stories about our baggage, which ultimately required the assistance of the US Embassy in Brussels to resolve. YOU GAVE US A HELPFUL REPRESENTATIVE TO WORK WITH, ONLY TO LATER TELL HER TO STOP HELPING. We made our dissatisfaction known on social media and we were informed that Delta were following closely. So you knew about our concerns Delta but decided not to act in a proactive manner to accept any responsibility for the confusion and distress created. We were not asking for much, just somebody to take responsibility and work with us to resolve the situation. That seemed the least Delta could have done having tried to deny we were even on their flight. A seat upgrade would have been nice, but given nobody at Delta felt they should actually get out of the bubble they live in and actually engage a customer directly, I guess the best I can hope for is that at some stage over the next 14 days somebody at Delta may read the complaint I filed on their Web site and send a reply. It will probably read “we appreciate your business and regret the problems you had blah blah blah We hope you will chose Delta again the next time you fly”.


17:20 – I now needed to book a flight for my daughter and I to travel to Irvine, CA  next week to visit our new home.

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In closing I would like to thank the many family members and friends who reached out to us over the week to express concern and wish us safe travels. I want to thank everyone at Engage who treated us so well after we arrived. A big thank you to the many people we met along the way and helped us out. One local in Eindhoven simply gave Keith 20 euros to purchase toiletries when his credit card didn’t work. To Pam at Delta a big hug. To the US Embassy staff who helped secure our luggage thank you… To my travel colleagues Bob, Nathan, Keith, and especially Sandy, I cannot thank you enough for helping to ensure we always made great decisions along the way and still had so much fun.

And finally a word to ISIS. If you think your actions are going to terrorize people like me you are sadly mistaken. I refuse to let that happen. (After all we already have to live in a world with Delta!)

 

Published by

Peter Presnell

Father, husband, CEO – Red Pill Now. Dual citizen (Australia/USA) living in Atlanta, GA. Grew up in NW Tasmania, studied/worked in Melbourne becoming an avid Saints fan before moving to USA in 2000. Outside of my family my passion is connecting technology to innovative new solutions for business problems. Former IBM Champion for Social Collaboration, regular presenter and occasional blogger. #nevertrump.

9 thoughts on “How Delta Lost 40 Passengers on DL80”

  1. I apologies for our political leaders who refuse to see a threat in the rise extremist cells. This has of course nothing to do with religion, although the persons active in these cells have religious beliefs. I think I should be thankful for the peaceful time I had in my youth which I can not guarantee to my children.

    1. Hi Patrick… I think (most) political leaders understand the threat. Its just that (in the US) nobody wants to admit to potential voters that is going to take a long time before the issues will ever be solved. I was struck while in Europe how better prepared European politicians were to avoid simplification of the issues and showed a willingness to work as part of a united coalition over the long haul to introduce change. No one country is going to solve this alone. We especially need buy in from those countries in the Middle East and Africa. Contrast that with the views of some US politicians vying for the presidency that portray the solution as bombing the crap out of some areas of Iraq/Syria. What is even scarier is the number of voters that seem willing to accept that as the answer.

  2. Peter, your post is spot-on. Thank you for taking the time to let our community know what happened and Delta Air Lines’ abysmal response to this tragedy. We will never fly Delta again. This is the second time I’ve said this in my lifetime — it will not be said again.

    It’s good to call you my business partner, even better my friend. Yet, there needs to be another word that elevates those who are there for each other through events like this we will never forget. For now, I will just leave it at that.

  3. Via Sandy, I knew it was a long time till the luggage came but had no idea Delta was handling it that way. I hope they use this as an opportunity to learn how to apply new protocols in emergency situations.

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