I recently had the unusual (for me) occurrence of booking two one-way ticket on two different airlines to make my own customized round-trip itinerary. Talk about two completely different experiences.
My outbound flight (CMH-ORD-DFW) was delayed by about an hour because the flight crew arrived late the night before. Despite this, the gate staff did amazing things making sure passengers with connecting flights were booked on later flights or even on different airlines to get them to their destinations as quickly as possible. Having Silver Premier status (thanks to the MR/UA reciprocal arrangement) allowed me an upgrade from Cattle Class Economy to Economy Plus (I admit to being a cheapskate and purchasing a rock-bottom priced ticket, so the upgrade was nice).
Since the crew changed in Chicago, everyone deplaned (even those of us continuing on the same flight to DFW). It couldn't have been more than 20 minutes and we were boarding again. Even with the hour delay out of Columbus, I arrived in Dallas only about 30 minutes behind schedule. With no checked bags, I was in my rental car and on the road in about half an hour after landing. I'll detail my travels in a blog entry soon.
Overall, my experience was great, even with the slow start. Watching the gate agent working diligently to address other passengers connecting needs gave me a good feeling about how things would be handled (since I was on the same plane all the way, I didn't need assistance).
The trip home had a few bumps. Due to an accident on I-635 leading to an hour-long traffic jam and a slow line at the TSA pre-check , I missed my flight from DFW-ATL by a couple minutes. I arrived to see the jetway pulling away from the plane. The gate agent was awesome. She got me on the next flight to Atlanta (about an hour later) and rescheduled my ATL-CMH flight. So far, so good. I took the opportunity to have one last BBQ sandwich before leaving Texas.
Atlanta was where things got ugly. I noticed that my original flight to Columbus was still boarding, so I thought I'd see if I could get back on schedule. The gate agent (trainee) was all set to get me a seat (my original boarding pass, though still on my smartphone, had been canceled and replaced by the printed copy I received at DFW). When she called her supervisor over to assist, he refused to make the change unless I forked over a $50 change fee. Now admittedly, Delta did not cause me to miss my flight out of Dallas. That was all on me (maybe a little on the TSA). The agent at DFW rebooked me making no mention of any additional fees, doing everything possible to get me to my destination (much as the UA agent did at the beginning of my trip).
What bothered me most was not the amount of the fee, but the treatment I received in Atlanta. I'm sure the supervisor could have waived the $50. From a customer service standpoint, it would have been the sensible thing to do. I'm just as sure that there were seats available or the agent-in-training would not have tried to get me on the earlier flight. She wanted to help. I hope for the sake of Delta, she never loses that desire to assist the customer. Had I gotten on, I would be telling anyone who would listen about how great the people at Delta are and how likely I am to fly with them even though I don't have any status (I'm not even a member of their FF program, but instead earn miles with Alaska Airlines through a partnership agreement).
Instead, I'm passing along the rotten treatment I got from a Delta supervisor over a lousy $50. I could have paid the fee, but on principle, I refused. Returning home just over an hour late is not worth it to me to compromise my principles (I can imagine a few cases in which I might pay up). Admittedly, it was my fault I missed my plane. Just the idea that $50 would somehow make it okay for me to board a plane going to my destination and hour earlier than the one I had been rebooked on irked me. It felt like I was being asked for a bribe. I realize fees are the future of airline travel, but I don't have to like it. I miss the old days when it was easy to get on standby for an earlier flight and if there was room, you got on.
So as I make more flights across the country over the next few years in pursuit of my county collecting quest, I will remember this trip and consider carefully which airline I will fly. Whatever the reason I interact with the ground crew (due to my stupidity or not) I expect to be treated with courtesy or at least respect. Having spent years in customer service myself, I know that the customer is not always right, but the customer always has the right to choose whether to spend money with your company or with your competitor.
I've flown Delta often since moving away from AS territory. Despite whether the supervisor was right to stick to company policy, I may reconsider DL for future travel because I felt I received poor treatment. (BTW DL, AA also partners with AS so I have options). Until recently, I hadn't flown UA since the 1970s. Perhaps after this experience, I'll give them a more serious look.