Delta Strands Passengers in Atlanta While Devaluing Award Chart

Airlines, Delta Airlines, Unique Experiences 7

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After an amazing Spring Break vacation at the new Kimpton Seafire Resort in Grand Cayman, it was time for Timmy and me to fly home… or so we thought. Turns out, we were just starting a 48-hour disaster of a journey while Delta strands passengers in Atlanta (and so many other airports).

 

Our Spring Break Stay at Kimpton Seafire

We were visiting the Kimpton Seafire Resort to celebrate Kimpton’s first Caribbean resort. And it was the perfect excuse to enjoy some warm water and explore the island. It was the perfect trip!
Upgraded room with ocean view. Check.

Kimpton Seafire Resort Ocean View Queen Queen view

Drinks while lounging poolside. Check.

Kimpton Seafire Resort pool and drinks

Kissing a stingray at Stingray City. Holding a turtle at the Turtle Farm. Feeling the feet of a starfish grab you at Starfish Beach. Exploring the caves at Cayman Crystal Caves. Quadruple Check!!!!

Grand Cayman Islands activities

There are so many wonderful things to do on Grand Cayman with a child.

However, when we tried to leave, all I could think of was the Eagles’ Hotel California song… “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

 

Trying to leave Grand Cayman

We were scheduled to leave Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport on Thursday at 1:37 pm. We arrived at the airport a little before noon to check-in and grab lunch before our flight. Little did we suspect we’d be at the airport for another 9 hours!

GCM airport waiting

The first delay came in, pushing our departure to 2:41 pm. Then another came in. And more and more until our final proposed departure time was 9:50 pm. This was well after our scheduled flight from Atlanta to Orange County, California (SNA) was supposed to leave at 8:17 pm. That’s ok because that Thursday night ATL-SNA flight was canceled at 3:27 pm anyway.

Everyone that was supposed to fly to Atlanta held out hope that Delta could somehow overcome several hurdles.  Mechanical difficulties which led to swapping out a plane in Charlotte. And the timed out flight crew that had been sitting around all day.

Ultimately, our flight to Atlanta was canceled at 7:05 pm.

Delta put us up at the Holiday Inn Grand Cayman. Bused us there. And gave us meal vouchers.

We were told to be on the bus at 6 am in order to make the 8:30 am flight to Atlanta.  Dutifully, we complied and arrived at GCM Airport at 6:30 am to find out that the Delta desk didn’t open until 7 am.  Come on, really?

GCM waiting for Delta desk to open

Not to worry because the 8:30 am flight was also delayed until 10 am.  What a surprise.

We finally got on the flight to Atlanta and arrived around 1:30 pm.

Since our flight home to SNA wasn’t until 8:15 pm, we headed to the Delta Sky Club lounge in Terminal E for some free food and drinks. Although we weren’t flying Business or First Class, we were able to access the lounge because I have the American Express Platinum card, which grants access when flying Delta.

Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal E

 

Will Delta Fly Us Home?

We headed to the gate for our Delta flight to Orange County from Atlanta with an 8:15 pm departure. As Delta scrambled to build a crew, our flight got delayed an hour.

Normally, that’s not a problem, but SNA has a curfew of 11 pm due to noise restrictions. Apparently, the rich people who built homes in the airport’s flight path didn’t realize that airplanes can be loud. Money and connections solved their issue… but created problems for the rest of us.

Delta ultimately found a plane and pilots but had trouble finding flight attendants. Two volunteers stepped up, but we were still two short because they need four to fly.

Canceled again… let chaos reign!

 

Delta Strands Passengers in Atlanta

To try to get booked on the next flights, we stand in the mother of all lines. It was stretched halfway down the E concourse and barely moved.

Delta Atlanta waiting to talk to agent

Luckily for us, a Delta staffer was handing out pilot wings to kids in line. Perfect idea… let’s give tired, stressed out kids something to play with that contains a sharp, pointy metal object.

I tried calling Delta’s customer service number, but there was an estimated 90+ minute hold time. Because my buddy Rene at Rene’s Points knows Delta better than anyone I know, I reached out to him via Twitter. He sends me a link that contains the Singapore Delta customer service number. I call this number via Skype and get on with an agent in less than a couple minutes. Success!!!

While the Singapore Delta agent is looking at flight options, I ask my writers Charlie & Tyler and friend John to help search for potential flights to assist the Delta agent. Every flight option for Friday night and Saturday night is either booked already or gets booked moments before my agent is able to secure a seat.

So, she continues searching for options on Sunday. While she does that, my friends and I start exploring options with other airlines. I found options on American Airlines, but every time I tried to book one via the AA app, the seats would evaporate just before I could book them. AHHHHHHH!

The Singapore Delta agent finally is able to book me on the first available flight Sunday morning. Except, this one arrives in San Diego instead of Orange County, a 90-mile distance. Better than nothing since the first options at the other Southern California airports are either Monday or Tuesday flights. I thank the agent for re-booking me on the Sunday flight.

My friends and I continued searching other airlines, and I finally found an American option for late Saturday night. However, with AA’s $75 per ticket “close-in booking fee”, I didn’t want to pay $161 and 60,000 miles for the two of us to arrive home 12 hours earlier than the Sunday morning Delta flight.

After 2 ½ hours in line to speak with Delta for food vouchers and a hotel stay, we had moved up in line, but still had 20+ families ahead of us. And the snack cart was empty.

Timmy was not happy. But, he behaved so well during this whole ordeal. He either read his books, played on the iPad, or did Sudoku, word search, or crosswords in the puzzle books Delta handed out. Timmy behaved better than many of the adults around us, so as a reward, I promised him a huge Lego set when we got home.

Delta Atlanta snack cart empty

Delta showed up awhile later and replenished the snacks, but those were quickly snatched up as well.

 

Southwest to the rescue?

I also searched the Southwest app for flights, but the options were either sold out or pretty expensive. For example, 40,000 points each to San Diego on Saturday.

Since I’m an A-List member and have held the Companion Pass for 11+ years, I figured I would call and see what the agents could do for better options and lower fares. It couldn’t hurt, right?

While talking to the agent, she found a few seats on an ATL-LAX flight through Vegas for only 17,450 points each. I was elated!!! I told her to book the flight for us.

She booked my ticket, then attempted to book Timmy’s ticket, but Southwest sold out during that process. WTF!?!? I thought she was booking BOTH of our tickets. Well, it turns out that she could only book one ticket at a time due to system limitations. Sounds weird to me since you can easily book two tickets at a time online.

I pled my case for the agent to make an exception and overbook the flight so that we could fly together. Otherwise, we’d have to settle for the 40,000 point each San Diego option Saturday evening.

She said that she couldn’t, which I understand. The agents have rules that they have to follow. But that’s why they have supervisors… to override the rules in situations like this. Especially for loyal customers.

The first supervisor said no. I said that wasn’t acceptable, so please ask again or connect me to the supervisor so that I can speak with them. A few moments later, the Southwest Agent Mylynn came back and said that another supervisor granted the exception! We were now booked for 17,450 Southwest points each to LAX on the first flight Saturday morning.

We’d now be home 24 hours earlier than what Delta could do. And now I won’t miss my Citi Prestige golf reservation at Monarch Beach on Sunday morning. Woohoo!

Monarch Beach golf April 2017

I made it home in time for my Sunday 7 am tee time!

 

I made sure to Tweet to Southwest thanking them and Mylynn for their help. I always try to give workers kudos to their company when they do something great for me.

 

But we’re still stranded

Now that we have flights home, we’re good to go, right? Well, not exactly. Timmy and I were still stuck at ATL airport until the Saturday morning. Hotel options are basically non-existent, and it was so late already (after midnight), it probably isn’t worth the travel time and going back through security to leave the airport if we found a hotel.

So, we headed back to the Delta SkyClub to find a place to sleep. Except that the Terminal E Delta SkyClub was closing. We had to head to Terminal E for the SkyClub that would be staying open all night.

Upon arrival to the SkyClub, we were greeted with another long line. Are you kidding me?!?!?

Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal B huge line

Luckily, we were able to scoot past everyone because we were just checking in and didn’t need to speak to anyone.

Inside, the SkyClub looked liked a low-rent European hostel with everyone sleeping anywhere and everywhere with all of the comfy spots already spoke for.

Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal E everyone sleeping

We found an empty corner and squeezed a couple of chairs together for Timmy to create a makeshift bed for him. It was now 1 am … and we’ve been up since 5 am.

Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal E Timmy sleeping

Timmy was exhausted and feel asleep quickly.

I, on the other hand, had a horrible time falling asleep. I tried sleeping on the floor for awhile, hoping that laying horizontal would be better, but couldn’t make it happen. Eventually, I climbed back into the chair and finally dozed off for a “solid” 3 hours of sleep. Better than nothing.

 

Yay, we made it!

Since we knew the Southwest flight was oversold by 1 thanks to the kind Southwest supervisor and Mylynn, we wanted to arrive at the gate early to ensure we got on the flight. We grabbed our boarding passes from the desk agent at our gate and we were golden.

Well, as golden as you can be after sleeping in the terminal overnight.

Southwest flight after Delta strands passengers in Atlanta

Somehow I was able to smile, but Timmy looks like an extra from the season 7 finale of The Walking Dead.

Our Southwest flight was non-eventful. We made it to Las Vegas and had a couple hours to make our connecting flight to LAX. Anna and Scarlett picked us up at the LAX Southwest terminal, and we got home safe and sound.

 

Delta makes matters worse by devaluing award chart

During all of the “fun” of our adventure trying to get home, I had plenty of time to review email and check out other blog posts.

I read Rene, Gary Leff, and Lucky’s posts showing that Delta devalued their award program yet again. This time, they increased the redemption rates for partner airlines by about 20%.

Talk about bad timing.

Why would Delta take advantage of a bad situation that everyone is focused on to make unpopular rule changes in the hopes that nobody would notice?  In fairness, Delta would have had these changes in the works for months leading up to “flipping the switch.”  There has to be a way to delay these types of changes until after this negative situation passed.

 

Lessons Learned

There is no doubt that this was a crappy situation, but some others had it far worse than we did. One family we spoke to in line was just beginning their Spring Break. They were considering canceling the whole trip because they wouldn’t get into California until Monday.

I’m a big fan of learning from a situation to position yourself for success should something happen like this in the future. Here are the takeaways:

  • Be flexible and consider alternative airports
  • Use alternative methods to reach customer service
  • Have multiple options (miles and points in multiple programs) to book other flights.
  • Engage your friends to help you find solutions
  • Explore every option.
  • Be persistent. The first offer isn’t always the best or final solution.
  • Know the benefits available to you from status and credit cards.

And if you’re offered to bump off a flight, it may be an inconvenience, but you could also make $11,000 like this family did.

 

The Bald Thoughts

Timmy and I created some awesome memories at the Kimpton Seafire Resort in Grand Cayman during his Spring Break. Then we encountered a crappy situation trying to travel home from Grandy Cayman through Atlanta on Delta. Delta’s best option was to get us home 4 days later than our original arrival date, which obviously wasn’t acceptable. So, we involved our friends and explored alternative options to find a much better solution to our dilemma. We finally arrived home 36 hours later than planned, but much earlier than what Delta could offer. Our persistence and creativity worked to our advantage to salvage an otherwise great vacation.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? What steps did you take to overcome the delays and cancellations? What would you have done if you were me?
Delta strands passengers in Atlanta pinterest1

The opinions expressed here are the author's alone and have not been reviewed or endorsed by any company or third-party, unless clearly stated otherwise. The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the advertiser. It is not the advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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About the author / 

Lee Huffman

Lee grew up loving to travel with his parents. Now he explores the world with his wife, Anna and his two children Timothy and Scarlett. He enjoys being spoiled as a Kimpton Inner Circle Member and taking full advantage of Southwest's Companion Pass. Lee wants to teach his readers how to 'Travel More. Spend Less. Live Better.' using miles, points, tips and tricks.

7 Comments

  1. John the Wanderer April 10, 2017 at 7:34 am -  Reply

    It definately was a bad weekend for Delta. I am sorry you guys got caught in the cross fire and I wasn’t of much help finding you flight options you could book.

    Just some suggestions for future issues. You mentioned you were in the Skyclub in E and then B. Were the lines for the service desk there long as well? I’ve found that you can save time working with them and frequently you can leave them your information and they will work for you while you are relaxing in the lounge. Perhaps with the meltdown over the weekend it was a bit too much.

    Hopefully Timmy will remember the great fun you had together in Grand Cayman and the two of you can laugh about the travel situation.

    • Lee Huffman April 10, 2017 at 7:38 am -  Reply

      Thanks for all your help John. Yeah, the lines were long at lounges too, but not AS long as in Terminal. There’s a pic of line at Terminal B lounge for people trying to get rebooked.

      I can already laugh about it now. Does nobody any good to get bitter and pissed off at a situation you can’t control.

  2. Byron April 10, 2017 at 9:39 am -  Reply

    Good article until you ridiculously and quite unnecessarily bashed our president. I stopoed reading there.
    I guess you and your sponsors have no need for the tens of millions of people who voted for him. Adios.

    • Lee Huffman April 10, 2017 at 10:55 am -  Reply

      Byron, you make a good point. Sorry to have lost you as a reader. Even though we may not agree on all topics, it is a shame that you’d stop reading just because of 10 words out of about 2000. Wish you the best.

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