Published Monday | September 10, 2007
Flight delays, diversions can be a drag — or delicious
It’s been an awful year for air travel,
with delays and cancellations at record levels, with passengers stuck
for hours on packed planes waiting to take off.
Against this backdrop, sending out for pizza is an act of customer service genius.
Passengers on three flights last month were astonished to see that
someone had thought enough to have pizza and soft drinks sent their way.
One of those passengers was Robynne Reiber, a frequent business
traveler who lives in New York and said every flier she knows has been
complaining about "the hassles of air travel and the lack of respect
given passengers by airlines."
That’s why the pizza at the airport in Syracuse, N.Y., was such a shock.
"I was astounded," she said. "I couldn’t believe how well I was being treated."
She was on Delta Flight 424 from Phoenix to Kennedy International
Airport. About 90 minutes after takeoff, the pilot made one of those
dreaded announcements that typically begin with the words, "Well, folks
. . ."
It was a Friday afternoon, and half the flights over the continent
seemed to be heading for the East Coast, where thunderstorms were
turning most of them away. The Delta flight had been instructed to
circle over Colorado.
With Kennedy closed, the flight was ultimately diverted to Syracuse.
There, according to Reiber, the pilot said, "I’m not going to keep you
on the plane. I’m going to pull up to a gate where you can get off, as
long as you wait there in case we have to leave. I know you’ve only had
cheese and crackers, so I called the Sbarro in the terminal and asked
them to keep sending pizzas out until the whole plane gets fed."
At the gate, tables were set up. "The pilot said it might take a while
to get everybody fed because this is probably more pizzas than they’re
used to turning out at a time, so please be patient," Reiber said.
Flight attendants helped serve while the pilot made regular
announcements from the departure desk about the prospects for getting
en route again.
"Finally, he said, ‘All right, everybody back on the plane, we have a slot,’
" Reiber said.
"On the plane, the flight attendants kept saying, ‘If anybody needs
anything, just ask and we’ll do the best we can. We’re all in this
Lynn Casey, a Delta customer service agent, paid for the pizza and did
the same thing for another flight from the West Coast diverted there
the same afternoon, a Delta spokeswoman said.
The same day, a Continental Express flight bound for Newark, N.J., sat
for an hour and a half at Albany (N.Y.) International Airport waiting
for the weather to break — with passengers passing the time eating free
pizza. Officials there had been held for hours on a plane themselves,
and didn’t want that to happen at the Albany airport.