Dear Delta airlines,
Oh what a tangled web you weave! You, Delta, have achieved an oxymoronic height of customer (dis)satisfaction I didn’t know existed. Who but you could get me across the country twice, safely, and without hitch or delay in my flight, and yet still manage to make me feel like I’d rather never fly your airline again? Could it be that this is all part of some Grand Marketing Plan, a word-of-mouth viral campaign premised on the notion that “there’s no bad press” and the surprising, even counterintuitive revelation that coupling on-time arrival with terrible customer service will create stories that spread and a groundswell of interest in experiencing this impossible cocktail of joy meets frustration?
How else could one explain that, for the second time this month, I’ve booked flights on your airline and been denied a seat assignment? That twice in the last month I have been seated in the very last row of coach, in a seat that doesn’t recline, optimally placed to have my head bashed by the beverage cart that cheerfully offers Delta’s signature $7 “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” cocktail, a coy mixture of Bacardi Rum, Minute Maid Orange Juice, and a splash of Minute Maid Cranberry Apple, served over ice, created by Delta Flight Attendant, Linda Kelly (product placement home run!)?
Yes, it’s true, I was one of 30 confused, nearly irate passengers who, without a seat assignment, eschewed going to the bathroom or grabbing a bite to eat and instead queued up for 45 minutes for the gate agent in JFK. What a tantalizing possibility it was (“Might we get bumped from the flight?!”). And then, miraculously, like Scotty on the Starship Enterprise, you saved the day and (drumroll please) got us all on the flight! Ah, the market research must have shown that we would appreciate it so much more, appreciate YOU, so much more, if you snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Now I’m beginning to see the contours of your master plan, now I’m beginning to understand why, heading to San Francisco, my video screen would turn on but not play any movies; why you’ve simultaneously added Wi-Fi to your flights while ripping out the power jacks that will fuel our laptops and our power-hungry 802-11g Wi-Fi cards. You can fool me no longer! You want us to know what is possible and then take it away, to whet our appetites and leave us wanting more!
So here I sit, in seat 41F, just three rows from the back (“You like me! You really really like me!”) no longer confused or perturbed that I’m one of only a handful of people told that I couldn’t bring my small rolling carry-on onto the plane. Now I understand why I was made to check this oh-so-tiny bag and pick it up at baggage claim at 8:30pm in JFK, where I, shifting my weight anxiously under the flickering lights of a cramped airline terminal, will wonder if I’ll see my wife before she heads to bed. Yes, there was plenty of space in the overhead bin, yes the stewardess told me it made no sense to her and suggested that I should try to get my bag back. But now I understand that ever elusive happy-yet-melancholy state you hope I will achieve.
This even explains why your tray tables don’t slide, so that when the person in front of me reclines his seat (as he did an hour ago), not only am I almost hit in the nose by my video screen (Will it work this time? Ah the mystery!), but my laptop literally is pushed onto my lap, testing the very flexibility of my shoulders and daring my now-gnarled, aching hands to keep on typing.
Oh Delta, your mysteries elude me no more!! You are the yin and yang of airlines, the sweet and sour pork that makes flying across the country an adventure. You deposit me where I want to be when I want to be there – nay, sometimes even arriving early! – and yet you find a way to leave me just a little bit crabby, annoyed, and yet, strangely, elusively, wanting more.
A clever strategy indeed, and it’s working.
Melancholy in Seat 41F