“Always remember, your weapon was made by the lowest bidder,” were the words of wisdom my father sent me to war with. It was 1996 and I thought I was headed into combat in Bosnia. The reality was much less death defying but those words stuck with me through out my career. The reality of today’s military is that of a multinational corporation, not a self-sustaining source of national security. 90% of the Army’s equipment, supplies, uniforms and even our bullets are sourced from civilian contracts. The process should be simple… a contractor has an item the military needs. The contractor quotes a price to the Army to purchase said item. The Army sources other contractors with similar items and compares prices. The contractor with the best product for the best price completes a transaction with the Army and our soldiers get the equipment they need. If only it were the simple. The reality is that politicians, lobbyists and the contractors themselves often distort the quality of their product preferring to make money over the safety of our fighting men and women. Of course it’s easiest to blame the government for a product that causes the death of hundreds of people, because substandard manufacturing to cut costs and raise profits is the American way! Many corporations will excuse substandard products by claiming victimization- “We can’t possibly make a quality product with as little money as the Government is willing to pay for it.” That is when the blame game begins and little to nothing is done to ensure the safety of the soldiers in combat using the substandard equipment. And if it’s not the product that is substandard such as body armor or rifles, there is always substandard customer service. Delta Airlines recently provided a perfect example of substandard customer service to service members returning from Afghanistan.
For those of you unfamiliar with the issue, several soldiers returning from combat were on a Delta Airlines flight and received what can only be considered the worst customer service in the history of customer service. The soldiers’ orders stated they were authorized to return with four bags, while Delta Airlines’ policy is to only allow four bags in First Class and Business Class, all of these soldiers were booked in Coach which accommodates only three bags per person. What may be confusing for some is that although the soldiers’ orders allowed them four bags, the company’s policy differed from those orders. Even in times of war, government orders can’t supersede a company’s written policy… sad fact of the America we call home. Subsequently these soldiers returning from combat were forced to pay $200 each for their extra bag- money out of their own pocket for what was ironically their weapons case. Had the ensuing fiasco not forced Delta Airlines into changing their policy and reimbursing those soldiers- the government would have eventually paid them back for the extra baggage fee because their orders allowed for four bags. The government can’t override a company’s policy, but they will honor the orders by reimbursing the money spent by each individual soldier for the expense of their travel. Confusing isn’t it? Well a couple of these soldiers did the unthinkable- they actually complained via a video on YouTube. The video has been removed by their command- so don’t go looking for it. Although the video was raw and uncut… the footage was factual and professional. Let me be very clear in stating the “Government” didn’t remove the video because the soldiers complained about their poor treatment at the hands of Delta Airlines, the video was removed for reasons of OPSEC. The soldiers clearly stated the number of troops, where they were headed, and the date this was occurring- clear violations of OPSEC rules.
Before the video was removed thousands of people saw it via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The network news picked up the story, spreading the word like wildfire throughout the nation. Delta Airlines when into PR mode- issuing an apology on their blog that to me personally read as if they were standing by their policy and blaming the soldiers for not knowing any better. Eventually Delta Airlines back tracked and completely changed their policy and the “Government” is requiring Delta Airlines to reimburse the affected soldiers the money they wasted paying for extra bags. All is right with the world it would seem, except that it really isn’t. Two things really riled me, the first was the fact that the PR representative from Delta Airlines stated that her affiliation with the military entitled her to defend Delta’s policy. The second issue that angered me was Delta Airlines defending their actions by feigning victimization, they’d lose profits if they provided good customer service, evidently.
Here is my opinion- and let me be clear this is my personal opinion and in no way reflects the policies or opinions of the Homefront United Network or any of it’s sponsors or affiliates. If you are in the business of service… then service should be your business. Yes, you may have been the lowest bidder… but cutting costs should not be reflected in your customer service. Returning from WAR is stressful enough without having to deal with poor customer service. Delta Airlines does have to make a profit and I won’t begrudge them that. However, I have been on many other airlines who have provided far superior customer service than Delta. I have been on a flight where it was announced that we had service members on our flight, and thanking them for their service. I have been asked to take a later flight to accommodate a soldier returning for emergency leave- and gladly given up my seat to get him home. Why didn’t Delta Airlines ask their passengers in First Class and Business Class to give up their seats, or check to see if they could accommodate the extra luggage? I know many First and Business Class travelers that don’t travel with four bags- why couldn’t those soldiers’ bags have been counted on their service instead? Delta could have easily solved the problem with a little work and creative management- but because the bottom line of profit was more important- what should have been an easy transition back into civilian life became a slap in the face of these honorable men and women.
The “letter of apology” from Delta Airlines, which to me read as a letter of explanation rather than a sincere apology for poor service also angered me in another way. Perhaps this is elitist of me as a veteran and a spouse of a currently serving military member, but don’t use your affiliation with the military to excuse your bad behavior. I’m so tired of people who have a distant relative, co-worker or neighbor serving in Afghanistan or Iraq feeling as though that entitles them to some understanding of the sacrifices made daily by military members and their immediate family. I hate to say this because there are so many staunch supporters of our military who have no immediate affiliation with the military that do such good work. It’s those few people who have a very distant understanding of those sacrifices who use that tenuous connection to claim compassion or knowledge to excuse bad behavior that really piss me off! Just because your friend of a friend served in Desert Storm doesn’t meant you get how horribly you treated these soldiers returning from war. This behavior to me is the same as if I (a caucasian woman) were to say I’m entitled to use the N-word because my best friend is of African American descent. Seriously Delta? Military service does not entitle you to excuse poor customer service to our serving military, if anything your affiliation with the military should help you provide better customer service.
I will be honest in saying I haven’t paid much attention to the issue since the apology was issued and the change in Delta’s policy was made. I would have liked to have seen Delta Airlines do something more than just change their policy and reimburse the soldiers for their cost. A grand gesture such as a donation to the unit’s Family Readiness Group or free flights to the affected soldiers would have been a nice gesture. A letter of “apology” and a change in policy doesn’t seem like remorse to me. I personally will avoid flying Delta Airlines no matter what the cost from now on. It saddens me that our service men and women do not have an outlet for complaints against government contracted products and services that provide this immediate of a response. Yes it is possible to file complaints, but as we all know the Army is a big corporation itself and the wheels of progress turn slowly.
As a civilian I have the power to voice my opinion through how I spend my money and time. I won’t be spending money on a corporation that puts it’s profits ahead of good customer service. I have heard from a reliable source that none of the soldiers involved in the making and posting of the video were reprimanded for their actions. The video was removed only because of the OPSEC issues, but no one was punished or received any punitive actions against them. Let’s face it folks- it’s about time someone in uniform stepped up and demanded their basic customer rights be accommodated. We’re lucky in that there are countless other corporations and businesses that genuinely support the American Military… it’s sad however that Delta Airlines is not one of them! Let’s face it folks, until we get mad and refuse to take it anymore, it’s going to keep happening. Let’s stand up for our military, just as they stand ready to defend us!