Monday, June 26, 2017

Flying the Not So Friendly Skies: A Report on One Same-Sex Couple's Experience with Delta Airlines

The following is a report about how businesses — in this case, an airline — now routinely treat their paying customers in the U.S., and get away with it. Because they can do so — and all the more so with the Republican party totally controlling the federal government. Don't want the healthcare system ripped apart and millions having their healthcare coverage torn away from them? Too damned bad. We can do it, and we will do it, no matter how many of you make your voices heard in opposition.

This is also a report about how businesses can treat gay couples, and get away with it, even as they make high-profile statements about their support for LGBTQ rights. I'm convinced that homophobia plays a role in this story.

On May 24, Steve and I flew on Delta from Little Rock to Charlotte. Flying from Little Rock to Charlotte requires a stop in Atlanta and a change of planes. Prior to this flight, the following happened the last three or four times Steve and I booked flights on Delta: we made our tickets well in advance, via Delta's website, and chose seats side by side.

On each of those three or four flights, when we printed our boarding passes, we found that Delta had separated us from each other — assigned us new seats that were not side by side. Each time as we checked in, we asked the check-in people at the Delta counter why this was happening and if they could correct it. They told us it was strange to them, but, no, they could neither explain nor change it.

When we flew from Little Rock to Atlanta, our names were called in the waiting room and we were told Steve could be upgraded to comfort class but not I. Fine with us. I told him to take the good seat and enjoy it, that I'd be fine.

While we were sitting in the waiting room in Little Rock, with my computer hooked up to the airport's free wifi service, I tweeted and shared on Facebook a story about Southwest Airlines refusing to allow a gay couple and their family all to board a flight together. Immediately after I shared this story in the Little Rock airport, my computer's security system began to inform me that some unknown computer was trying to connect to my computer. This happened repeatedly. I repeatedly told my computer not to accept the connection. This has never happened to me in any airport waiting room before. 

We then made the flight to Atlanta, with our boarding passes assuring us that, from Atlanta to Charlotte, we'd be side by side in the comfort section — the seats Steve had booked for us when he made the tickets.* When we got ready to board the flight from Atlanta to Charlotte, as my boarding pass was scanned right before we walked onto the plane, out popped a new seat assignment for me — something that has never happened to me before.

Steve remained in comfort class. I was now stuck back in economy and separated from him. When we got onto the plane, we asked a flight attendant why this had happened and what could be done about it. She said she was baffled, had never seen anything like this. She advised us to file a complaint with Delta's customer service folks after we made the flight.

The reason for the separation was quite clearly NOT that there were not enough seats left in comfort class for the two of us to sit together, or for one of us to be required to give up his seat. In fact, there were a number of empty seats in comfort class for this flight. In the seat that had been assigned to me, a very large man was now placed between Steve on the window and the passenger on the aisle, and at a certain point in the flight, the woman sitting on the aisle pointed out to him that there were several emtpy seats and he might be more comfortable in one of them, so he moved.

On May 25, I sent Delta a report/complaint about all of this through its online customer service office. I immediately got back an email. The reply I got from Delta is at the head of the posting with my email address blacked out. As you can see, it assured me that I would hear back from Delta — "What you have to say is important," Delta tells me — within 30 days from May 25.

When it became apparent to me that Delta was choosing to blow off my complaint — and why, I wonder? — I sent them a reminder on June 21 that they had not replied to my complaint and had told me they would do so by June 25. I got another assurance — "What you have to say is important" — that I'd hear from Delta about the second complaint.

Today is June 26. I never heard from Delta about the complaint I filed on May 25. The way in which Delta has responded to me gives me strong reason to suspect that, yes, in fact, Steve and I were targeted by Delta on that flight from Atlanta to Charlotte, and probably in retaliation for the fact that I tweeted out the story about Southwest Airlines and a gay family from the Little Rock airport, which Delta and Southwest "own."

We discovered when we printed our boarding passes for the flight back from Charlotte to Little Rock, by the way, that once again, though we had booked side-by-side seats, Delta had separated us. Since we caught this before going to the airport, Steve called Delta to ask if it could be straightened out. He was on the phone for a solid hour, over an hour, we think, being given a runaround and transferred from one agent to another, with the first agent to whom he spoke flatly lying and telling Steve he himself had chosen to "separate" us whenever he booked flights for the two of us together, and had entered such a "separation" record in their system.

I think this is harassment. Of gay couples. And there's honestly not a lot we can do about it except publicize it far and wide, since, as I say, Delta "owns" the Little Rock flight system and if we want to fly anywhere from Little Rock, we almost always have to choose Delta. And since Delta has obviously chosen to blow off my complaint without even doing me the courtesy of replying to it, as their own acknowledgment said they would do within 30 days.

Yesterday, I called Delta to ask why I had not heard back in response to my May 25 report. I was given a runaround and told to call a customer service number they provided for me today. I just called it. It ended in a menu telling me they could not serve me. And that's that.

P.S. I'm adding this later, since it occurs to me it's an important part of the story that I didn't think to mention: in the complaint I sent Delta on May 25, I asked Delta for nothing at all except to tell me why this happened to us on the flight on May 24 (and has been happening with Delta flights for some time now), and to see that the switching of our seat assignments stops happening.

* A correction: we were told we'd be upgraded from economy to comfort for this flight; Steve had booked economy seats for the two of us.

Later, on June 28: Delta finally responded to my complaint the day after I made this posting. I received a response yesterday on June 27. Information about that response is here.

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