Last week started very badly for Delta Airlines, and it got much worse before it got better. According to Delta spokesmen, a “power outage” created a network issue that led to massive delays and at least 2,000 flight cancellations. Multiply 2,000 by the average number of people on any given flight and you can begin to get a picture of just how many people were “unhappy” with Delta.
And, for several days, the airline didn’t seem to know what to do to either fix the problem or stop the PR crisis from continuing to barrel downhill like a train off the tracks.
Thursday morning the company began to see the end of a three-day-long tunnel. By lunchtime, the company announced “only” 25 canceled flights, and these were being blamed on weather, not on computer glitches. How is 25 canceled flights a ray of sunshine? Well, the day before by that time they had ten times that many
So, the technical issues caused by the hours-long power outage are coming to a close, but the PR issues stemming from the incident are just getting started.
The bad publicity began almost immediately when scores of customers were told there would be no flight out. Stranded, they had nothing but time and a wide open social media opportunity to vent their frustration. And vent they did, as Delta’s issues continued to snowball.
See, when passengers are grounded, so are flight crews. So, when one group can’t get where they need to be, that creates a butterfly effect of missed flights, no-show crews and empty tarmacs where planes are supposed to be.
Delta thought they had the issue solved and brought the system back online. That’s when the other shoe dropped. Additional technical difficulties derailed programs even worse than before, creating more widespread cancellations and even more angry would-be passengers. Once again, social media became the gathering place for those looking to “discuss” their frustrations, beginning with not having an accurate or complete picture of what was going on and when The Problem might get fixed.
As these things do, the problems escalated online, where angry and frustrated passengers found ready “friends” to commiserate and share in the happy hobby of bashing Delta. By the time the airline had the issue mostly sorted – roughly 85 percent of scheduled flights were on time by late Thursday – the consumer public had been treated to a steady diet of “How Bad Delta Is” for half the week, a trend only magnified by the megaphone of social media and network news.
The jury’s still out on how bad this snafu will damage the brand, but Delta is working hard to climb out of the hole. Should be interesting to see what sort of consumer PR they try to win back disaffected fliers.
David Milberg is an NYC credit analyst.