A Delta customer asked for basic service. Instead, a raving Twilight Zone

The failure of airline customer service is the failure of technology. But only partly.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Technically unsound?

(A screenshot from a Delta ad)

Chris Matyszczyk/Screenshot

I admit I've been collecting them.

There seem so many stories of airline customer service that go beyond the norm and toward a place that Franz Kafka would reject as excessively absurd.

Not so long ago, it was the tale of the Delta customer who tried to ask a simple question by text. It was about using Fast Track Security at Heathrow airport.

One of the airline's replies went like this: "I am sorry but this of things [sic] not come with Delta tickets."

Today, though, we're gathered to hear another tale of woe begotten customer service. Oddly enough, it also involves Delta, an airline that has somehow managed to besmirch its brand image lately to the levels of chest-beating, manly senators.

What's the answer? Pass.

This time, the Delta customer was Techdirt's Mike Masnick. His was also a simple motivation. He was staring at his Delta app and wanted to find his boarding pass.

Surely an easy one for customer service, this. There must even be some kind of automated answer, you might wonder. Then again, you might also wonder how airlines have sunk to their current state of withered witterings.

Masnick did what many a wise customer would do. He took to Twitter to ask the question, reasoning it might help others in his situation too. Where, oh Delta, could he find his boarding pass on the app?

In return, he received this: "Hi! My name is Cara with Delta. Please send me a private message using the link provided to continue our conversation."

This is a regular response from many businesses. They prefer to launder their imperfect linen in private.

I very much hope you're sitting, though, and that you're not a friend of Cara with Delta. Or, indeed, with anyone responsible for Delta's customer service.

You see, Delta's response via Twitter private message was this: "Thank you for contacting Delta Air Lines. We are now servicing our Social customers through our secure messaging service."

Masnick gently observed: "So @Delta's response to me asking how the hell to find my boarding pass is to tell me to contact them via DM, at which point they send an autoreply that they don't use DMs anymore, but you have to go to their website to message them some other way."

Ah, perhaps the DM service was canceled at the last minute due to a staff shortage.

Secure in its lack of utility.

You'll be glad to hear, though, that Delta's secure messaging service is a technological marvel.

Why, to Masnick's "I am trying to find my boarding pass, and it is not appearing anywhere I can find," Delta's secure messaging service replied: "You can get your boarding pass when you check in on the Fly Delta app or via Delta.com."

Also: Delta Air Lines just made a callous admission that customers may find galling

I can only dream that the next message was one of those helpful was this response helpful? Sort of things.

In essence, though, this was the sort of virtual assistance that might best be described as virtually useless.

Here was more than one technology being used -- an app, Twitter and a secure messaging service. None was remotely helpful. All were, in fact, distinctly aggravating. It all demonstrates a couple of ravingly clear implications.

One, the airline let go of too many good customer service people, and now it can't get them back -- and, perhaps, hire anyone else who's trained enough to know what they're doing.

And two, please don't tell me that customer service technology, populated by supposedly all-knowing, all-comprehending bots, is anything but a cruel joke played on customers for Botworld's personal pleasure.

Eventually, Masnick says he worked out for himself how to get his boarding pass. Would you believe by checking-in all over again?

There's little hope such encounters will become distant any time soon, especially as airlines will shortly plead recession and, who knows, start laying off some of the people they've just hired.

Yet if the smallest, simplest customer questions can't be answered without this level of otherworldly, how can passengers hope for anything resembling airline customer service?

Oh, what am I saying? They don't even think it exists anymore.

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