Delta Air Lines just insulted customers. Then it insulted employees

The mask mandate on planes has been cast aside. But are airlines all reacting in the most productive way?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Delta Air Lines Boeing 767 airplane at Munich airport

A little too giddy?

Lukas Wunderlich / Getty Images

I sense a little rejoicing among airline executives.

Off with the masks and onto the planes. And into our coffers comes money.

Despite the fact that the mask mandate was struck down by a highly intellectual judge, many feel this is the right time to gingerly re-enter the world of what used to be called normal.

Somehow, though, Delta Air Lines took this sudden arrival of normality to a difficult destination.

You've been downgraded to ordinary class

It said it was immediately lifting the mask mandate.

But then, for reasons that can only be known to those who concocted it, Delta instantly emerged with a statement that COVID-19 had now transitioned to "an ordinary seasonal virus."

Oh, I'm not sure how ordinary 40,000 cases a day truly are.

I'm also not sure why Delta would want to spread such a false sense of security. Unless money is the motivator.

I respect Dr. Bob Wachter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, in all things Covid. His sane light guides me.

He does believe it's about time the mask mandate disappeared. He adds, though, that his biggest fear isn't death, but long Covid, something science currently knows relatively little about.

I'm not sure there's quite the same concern over, say, ordinary flu.

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I also respect his colleague Dr. Monica Gandhi who, among other scientists, says research shows that vaccines work, but masks not so much.

One can imagine, though, that some Delta customers -- those with compromised immune systems, for example -- didn't take kindly to Delta's downgrading of Covid to Ordinary Class.

One can imagine, too, that customers still wary of getting Covid may have looked at the statement and wondered about Delta's (commercial) motives.

In a peculiar burst of wisdom, the airline amended its statement the following day to call it "a more manageable respiratory virus."

You made our lives a misery? Welcome aboard!

Delta, however, wasn't done. With its profoundly questionable PR releases, that is.

It then announced -- following United's equally dubious lead -- that it'll show mercy to the shunned.

It will allow some passengers who had exhibited mask-related misbehaviors and been put on the no-fly list back onto its planes.

Please think back to those giddy times when passengers staged protests on planes. Remember when some recalcitrant dude decided he wasn't going to wear a mask and became blisteringly belligerent? Remember how flight attendants were at their wit's end, begging their management to do something about these people who would hold up flights and even resort to assault?

Well, Delta has decided instantly to offer them a new hope. (Should they ever want to fly the airline again, of course.)

More precisely, the airline said: "With masks now optional, Delta will restore flight privileges for customers on the mask non-compliance no-fly list only after each case is reviewed and each customer demonstrates an understanding of their expected behavior when flying with us."

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A flight attendant who'd been insulted and perhaps even assaulted -- verbally or otherwise -- might read those words and consider whether it was really worth being a flight attendant.

Placed, as they so often are, in the role of enforcer, flight attendants may now feel a touch bitter.

What if they again encounter one of these passengers who made their life a misery? Will they again have to smile and say: "Oh, hi, it's you again! Welcome onboard."

The former head of United's pilots' union, Todd Insler, surely spoke for many airline employees when he tweeted: "Asking for a friend. Can we get a list of all the rules and laws that we can selectively ignore? Crew members have been literal punching bags for enforcing the law, and now @united shows the world how little employees matter and how little management really cares."

It seems to be the same way with Delta.

Please agree to say sorry. We'll agree to take your money

What might these offenders have to do in order to win back the airline's favor? Just say sorry? And add, promise and pinky-swear, I'll never do it again?

Or perhaps sign the sort of online "I agree" that so many do every time they crave an app?

It's not that forgiveness is such a terrible thing.

The curious element in all this is why Delta chose to make this announcement now. Why not leave the issue for some point in the future? Why not focus on making employees and decent, human customers comfortable first?

2,000 customers were barred by Delta during the full throes of the pandemic.

This doesn't include another 1,000 "who demonstrated egregious behavior and are already on the permanent no-fly list."

Still, most of those 2,000 customers disrupted a flight because they were making what they twistedly thought was a political protest. They all knew precisely what they were doing. Goodness, now they may come onboard with "I didn't wear a mask and got away with it" t-shirts.

After all, if Delta is so painfully keen to begin the process of forgiveness, maybe they really did nothing so bad at all.

The airline says business is booming.

Perhaps, though, the revenue from the rebel 2,000 will make all the difference to senior executives' bonuses.

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