When brand loyalty goes a little bit too far

I am extremely loyal to brands. I study and analyze all the available options, then I pick the best one and commit to their services. For brands that are ex­tra favorites of mine, I even go as far as to purchase their publicly-traded stock. The most obvious brand I’ve committed to that is apparent from my re­cent cross-country road trip is Marriott. I stay only in Marriott hotels, I am Titanium Elite in their Bonvoy loyalty program, and I own thousands of dol­lars’ worth of stock of Marriott International, Inc.

Delta has recently become one of these brands too. I also own thousands of dollars’ worth of stock of Delta Air Lines, Inc., and if possible, I always take a Delta flight instead of a flight with a different airline. For my recent trip from LAX to ORD, I had the option of flying non-stop via American Airlines. Instead, I chose to fly Delta Flight 937 from LAX to MSP, take a layover, and fly Delta Flight 3582 from MSP to ORD.

The connection was a little bit tight, but I was fairly confident I could make it. Flight 937 would arrive at MSP at 6:44 PM CDT. Flight 3582 departs MSP at 7:25 PM CDT. Boarding doors generally close 15 minutes prior to take-off. That would mean I have a 26-minute window to deplane, go to the next gate, and board my next flight. Hashtag doable.

An interesting flight path from LAX to MSPThat is, unless the crew is late, and then the pilot decides to take a very strange flight path. A 1:05 PM PDT on-time departure turned into a 1:14 PM PDT late departure, and a 6:44 PM CDT on-time arrival turned into a 7:04 PM CDT late arrival. Instead of taking a nice, smooth arc from LAX to MSP (or a straight line, if you’re a flat-earther, I guess), the pilot started flying due east out of LAX, presumably to avoid some California wildfires, then went off-angle for a bit, decided to add a nipple to his flight path (probably to avoid a storm in Iowa), then approached MSP from the wrong side and did a circle around the airport.

We deplaned out of the D gates, and my connecting flight was boarding from Gate C20. With a 20-minute arrival delay, that gave me a 6-minute window to make it to my next gate before boarding doors closed. I’ve pulled off some pretty incredible feats at airports, like running two-thirds of a mile with a backpack and luggage in six minutes at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The unlucky part is that, you’d expect the D gates to start when the C gates end, i.e., it goes from C1 to C25, then D is after C25… but that’s not the case. The D gates are before Gate C1, so getting to C20 is a bit of a trek.

But I wasn’t discouraged. This was still doable.

Flying into Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport

… My entire six minutes was used up by the flight crew opening the doors and letting us out. We arrived at the gate at 7:04 PM, but the doors didn’t ac­tu­al­ly open until a few minutes afterwards, and I wasn’t off the plane until a few more minutes on top of that. I checked the Delta app hoping for a de­lay on my connecting flight, but it showed an on-time departure. There was no way I was going to make this one. I didn’t even bother running.

Walking from Gate D4 to Gate C20 at MSP

I made it to Gate C20 by 7:24 PM CDT, just in time for the gate agent to tell me that the plane had already left several minutes ago for an on-time de­par­ture. I sort of shrugged it off and asked her where the closest Delta customer support desk was, but others didn’t handle it as well as I did. A couple showed up moments after me; they clearly didn’t understand that boarding doors close prior to the scheduled departure time, and were infuriated that they had made it “just in time,” but the plane was already gone. In their rage, they pulled off their face coverings and started yelling at the gate agent. Did you know that the COVID-19 pandemic stops existing if you’re mad about missing your connecting flight?

Anyway, I managed to find my way to a Delta customer support desk between Gates C1 and C2. There was no representative at the desk so I used the support phones to get my replacement flight booked and sorted; by the time I was done with that, a representative had shown up, so I asked her for a hotel voucher and a toiletry/amenity baggie. I made my way downstairs to ground transportation and hopped on a hotel shuttle bus to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bloomington – Minneapolis South, my assigned complementary hotel.

It was a packed shuttle going to the DoubleTree. After about 20 minutes (a bit longer than expected because we went to the other terminal too to pick up more passengers), a group of ~8-10 parties exited the shuttle and walked into the hotel with vouchers for check-in. Ahead of this group were a few guests who had already checked in and needed assistance with their stay.

One of these guests was a man who went up to the counter with two ice cream bars. He had apparently just purchased them for $4 each, but noticed on his receipt that he was overcharged and wasn’t quite sure where (I imagine the receipt wasn’t itemized). The Hilton representative looked up the trans­ac­tion and let him know that, although the sign said the ice cream bars were $4 each, one of them was actually $5 and the other was $8 (even though they were both the exact same ice cream bar).

The guest requested a refund of the difference in price, and justifiably so—if the ice cream bars are labeled as $4 on the refrigerator, it would make sense that he should only pay $4. The representative tapped on his keyboard a bit, then said “I will refund you $1.52.”

That clearly was not enough to make up for the difference in price, so the guest sort of stood there in confusion and didn’t say anything. Moments later, the representative said “you have been provided with a full refund, please return the ice cream bars back to the refrigerator” … which is obviously not what he just said he would do, and is not what was requested.

The guest clearly had enough. He had mentioned earlier that he was down here to check on the price because he was sick of getting screwed over by this hotel, so I imagine this was not his first incident with the Hilton. I don’t necessarily agree with his methodology, but I definitely don’t blame him for what he did next. In a fury of rage, he crushed the ice cream bars, walked over to the refrigerator, threw them back in, slammed the door, tore off the “$4 each” sign, and slammed it on the check-in desk, pointing out that it was false advertising. He then went to the elevators and returned to his room.

The Hilton representative’s bald head began shining with sweat and his panic ensued. The representative paced back and forth for a bit, then grabbed the phone and called who I presume to be the security office. He acted like there was an active threat, even though the guest had already left. He hung up, picked up the phone again, and made some more calls. Eventually, a few more Hilton staff members, one of whom appeared to be dressed the part for being a manager, came out from the back to see what was going on.

The representative who was involved in the incident pulled up the irate guest’s personal information on file and started reading it aloud in front of the 8-10 parties still awaiting check-in—the ones who had just gotten off the shuttle with me—presumably so another employee could write it down. He then began explaining to the manager what was going on, pointing out that he had basically been assaulted by this guest.

I couldn’t help myself.

I, as the witness closest to the incident, informed the manager that the representative effectively provoked the guest by overcharging him for his pur­chase, then literally saying he would do one thing to resolve the problem (which wasn’t even an appropriate resolution) and then proceeding to do some­thing completely different. Needless to say, the representative was not happy.

Things eventually settled down. After the manager deescalated the situation (and by “the situation,” I mean “the representative,” because the angry guest had been long gone by this point, and there wasn’t really a situation to deescalate anymore), I was next in line to check in.

Seeing as I had just ratted out this representative to his boss, I wasn’t expecting much. I let him know that I’m Titanium Elite with Marriott Bonvoy, and asked if he would be able to do a status match in benefits for this stay, to which he said “no.” I asked him if I could at least get a complementary bottle of water or something, to which he replied “no.”

My response was, “this is why I stay at Marriotts.”

With an ever-so-barely visible scowl on his face, he put me on the lowest guest room floor of a 22-story building with a nice view of concrete.

After a passable night’s rest, I woke up in time to catch the 8:30 AM shuttle to the airport. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was full, and it was on a first-come, first-served basis, so I was out of luck. My rebooked flight was at 10:30 AM; the hotel’s airport shuttles operated once every hour, and I didn’t want to take the risk of waiting for the 9:30 AM shuttle, so I just called an Uber.

Five minutes into my Uber ride, I got an email from Delta saying that my flight was delayed, with a new departure time of 11:37 AM. That obviously would’ve been nice to know before I had already left the hotel, but it was fine. I’d just spend an extra hour at the airport eating some breakfast and people-watching. … Shortly after I arrived at the airport, I got another email saying the departure had been delayed again, this time to 12:09 PM.

I bought a protein shake and went to an empty gate with nobody around so I could take off my mask and enjoy my drink. I got very lucky with my gate selection, because I happened to pick one where they were running training exercises for the airport bomb-sniffing dogs.

Bomb-sniffing dogs under training

Bomb-sniffing dogs under training

Bomb-sniffing dogs under training

Upon the conclusion of my entertaining dog show, Delta emailed me yet again informing me that my flight had been delayed to a 1:07 PM departure. I looked up the inbound flight for the plane that was sup­posed to take us to ORD, and apparently it was still grounded at OKC, hours after it was sup­posed to take off. I assumed it was some sort of mechanical problem with the aircraft (which I later confirmed was correct), so I walked around MSP un­til I found a power outlet, pulled out my laptop, plugged in, and started getting some work done.

Delta must have thought that this was a great idea, because they delayed the flight again to 2:16 PM.

As the time approached closer to 1 PM, I took another look at the status of the inbound flight and saw that it was en route. I realized that this is likely go­ing to end up being the last delay, and I will finally make it to Chicago. At 1:46 PM, I packed up my laptop and made my way to Gate C14 for boarding. I scanned my boarding pass and got on the plane. Everyone else boarded, the flight attendants closed the boarding doors, the airport crew retracted the jet bridge, and we were ready to leave. My travel day was finally coming to an end.

Awaiting departure from Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport

Then the pilot announced that ORD was grounding all inbound flights at their origin until at least 3 PM due to severe thunderstorms.

Honestly, it would be more surprising if I was surprised.

I pulled out my tablet, opened my Kindle app, loaded up a Stephen King book that I’m in the process of reading, and re­clined all the way back in my seat, thank­ful that I got upgraded to first class.

Awaiting departure in a Bombardier CRJ900

I was fully prepared and expecting to be told that ORD extended the postponement of inbound flights, but we were actually cleared to depart at 3 PM. We set off, and in under an hour of air time, we arrived safely at ORD. I’m sure you can guess how excited everyone was when we flew into Chicago and saw no trace of the thunderstorms that delayed us for an additional 44 minutes on the Minnesotan tarmac.

Flying into Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Delta is still my favorite airline, and if possible, I will continue to always fly Delta Air Lines. Prior to the past two days, Delta has provided me with no­ta­bly smooth and high-quality service for years.

However, after this experience… I may possibly consider taking American Airlines in the future if they have a non-stop flight available while Delta does not. 🙂