katie. Delta. Bravo - 2016
In a day where customer service is almost non-existent, Katie Sanders, Ticket and Gate Agent for Delta Airlines saved my one-day-family-excursion by getting me to Chicago on short notice when the OTHER airline failed me! In fact, she was so good that I gave her a new nickname. Here’s our story.
It was all set. My 18-month-old grandson, Emmett and his parents, were about to embark on a pilgrimage that was exciting, familial and downright traditional in Chicago, and for Cubs fans around the world. It was the day that Emmett would attend his first Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and I was invited. My son, Aaron, also a huge Cubs fan, had made the arrangements. All I had to do was get to the game at Clark and Addison Streets in Chicago before game time. Aaron was going to meet me at the gate with my ticket.
I scoured the airlines for tickets that would allow me to fly out of Little Rock early on game day, and return the same day after the game. I found one that was barely in my price range but when I considered that this was Emmett’s first trip to Wrigley Field so I gladly reached for my credit card and made that purchase online. I was so excited that I could barely sleep the night before.
The Little Rock Airport was about a 45–50-minute drive from my house in Searcy, especially on a Saturday at 5:00 in the morning. I knew I had to be ready to wake-and-go, so I had everything ready, short of me sleeping in my Cubs jersey, to walk out the door when my feet hit the floor. But, alas, I had what my family always called, “anticipatory-insomnia.” You know, when you have to get up early, so you go to bed early only to wake up every hour of the night to check the clock and make sure you didn’t over sleep? I also had my phone next to my bed with an extra alarm set on it so as not to oversleep. By the way, I NEVER oversleep, but for some reason I was worried I was going to do so and miss this monumental event in my life.
About an hour before I was supposed to arise and get out the door, there was a dinging on my phone that a new message had arrived. When I looked and barely understood what I was drearily seeing I realized that it was from my scheduled airline telling me that my flight was not delayed, not postponed, but that my flight was CANCELLED, (as in it’s not going to depart at all), to please call and reschedule.
I threw back the covers, ran to my laptop, and checked to see what was the matter! I had the same catastrophic message there. It was not just a sleeping-nightmare, it was a real-life nightmare! Cancelled! On the day I needed to be in Chicago for my grandsons first game at Wrigley Field. I called only to be told that there was a large back-log of calls and that my wait time was 90 minutes. I decided to go to the airport anyway. I knew that I could drive to the airport and get answers from a real person from across the counter and that any way of rescheduling would be faster and easier than on the phone. My fears of not getting a fight were confirmed when I saw the LONG line of disgruntled passengers waiting in line to do the same this I was trying to do.
I decided to bite the bullet and at least see what it would cost me to get a flight on a different airline, even at the last hour. As I perused the limited but various other airlines schedule board, I saw nothing going to Chicago that would get me there before the game started. Until I arrived at the Delta Airlines ticket counter with nobody in line! I stepped up and asked an agent about the cost and availability of getting to Chicago? I explained to the agent a little bit of what had happened to the other flight. The agent looked intently at the screen in front of her for what seemed to be forever. “Hmmm, I don’t see much,” she mumbled, then looking back again, and finally turning around and asking Katie to come look at this with her.
A smiling young agent came over with a name badge that said, Katie. She flashed me a warm and beaming smile, and asked playfully what I needed to get to Chicago that was so important that I was buying a last-minute ticket, while never breaking her smile? After I took a minute or so to explain my dilemma she said, “Oh, so that’s why you’re wearing a Cubs Jersey! Well, we don’t want you to miss that game with your Grandson, let’s see what we can do here.” While she was looking, she mentioned that the “other” airline would be giving me a full credit, so if she could find something I wouldn’t be paying for both tickets. I started to feel like something was good was about to happen.
After another tense minute or so Katie turned, looked at me and said, “Here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to put you on a flight for 6:00 o’clock tonight at a much cheaper flight than the one that is taking off in 30 minutes” – I said, Wait, WHAT? “No,” she continued, “then with a change fee I can get you on the next flight costing you only about $50 more than you would have paid the original airline and the plane is now boarding and doors are closing soon.” I have never handed over my credit card and drivers’ license faster in my life. I then playfully asked her if her father owned this airline? Now she was confused. “What do you mean” she said? I replied, “Well, any one that can do what you just did must be related to Mr. Delta himself, Is your real name Katie Delta?” We both laughed and I thanked her profusely! I told her, "I have no words to say that expresses my gratitude." Katie Delta handed me back my credit card and a boarding pass and simply said, “All I ask is that you have fun, and snuggle that new grandson during the game!” To which I, stepping back and saluting her, said, “Let me just put this in Airline Jargon; Katie, Delta, BRAVO! That’s your new name!” I turned to scurry up the escalator and she shouted, I’ll call and tell them you’re on the way, but hurry! As I arrived at the gate the attendant smiled and said, “There you are! We were told you were coming and to make way for the Cubs fan!”
Whew, I sat in my seat and exhaled! I was soon experiencing wheels up and clouds below. I made it to the game, sang at the 7th inning stretch, and had a wonderful time. But I never could think beyond what a wonderful service that Katie-Delta-Bravo had provided to me and how lucky Delta Airlines was to have her. When I arrived back home that evening, I think I babbled on more about my Delta Airlines experience than the game itself.
Thus began a seven-year relationship with the best customer service agent I’ve ever experienced, professional or personal. Katie-Delta-Bravo became my go-to concierge of airline travel arrangements. I went out of my way, and spent extra money to go with Delta because of her.
Every time I needed some travel help, I contacted her and she helped me from near and far. It was like Katie Sanders was like my own personal Delta Travel Concierge.
Who do you know? I know Katie-Delta-Bravo!
Just a few short weeks later, my family went on a wonderful vacation together to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. My children and their families were going to meet us at a VRBO for the week. Everything was wonderful, except the flight home became problematic. When my wife and I arrived at the gate for our flight, about two hours early, we found out that it was going to be delayed. Not unusual for any airline I suppose, but this delay was going to cause us to miss our connecting flight in Atlanta, and thus would require us spending the night in ATL as there were no other flights back to Little Rock later than our new scheduled arrival. The answer was to get rebooked on an earlier flight to ATL that had seats available. We were at the airport and the process seemed to be simple. The problem was that the Delta computer system for rescheduling and seating in the Philadelphia airport was down, and unless I had a boarding pass couldn’t get on that flight because we had no way of scheduling that switcheroo at the gate. What was I to do? The agent at the gate seemed to be indifferent and nonchalant. He didn’t seem to want to help us. He just kept giving us the same answer until he said, “I suppose you could call the 800 Delta number and get it switched there.” I made that call only to find out that my wait time to speak to an agent was another 90 minutes, and we would miss the connecting flight I needed to get on.
A light bulb went on over my head! Call Katie-Delta-Bravo! I did not have a phone number for her, but we had connected on Facebook, becoming friends on social media after my initial excursion getting to Chicago about two months earlier. I messaged her saying that we were stuck in Philadelphia airport and needed her assistance, and that if she was at work to please call me on my cell phone. I figured, what they hay, if she was working, and got my message she’d probably call me. If she was at home or somewhere other than work, or simply never saw the message in time, I’d just deal with it myself. BUT - she did call me! She was at work at the Delta counter in the Little Rock airport. I quickly told her again what the problem was and she said, “I think I can help you, hold on just a sec.” I could hear her tapping on her keyboard for a minute or so (her computer system was apparently not down), until she finally said, “Yes, I found you and your wife and I switched you both to the earlier flight, I’ll text you boarding passes and you should be good to go! KATIE-DELTA-BRAVO! I walked back up to the gate agent as they were boarding the flight we wanted and flashed our boarding passes. “Wow” he said, “Who do you know?” I proudly said, "I know Katie-Delta-Bravo!" He looked confused and waived us on.
Cubs Victory Parade:
Roll forward to later that year, November 4, 2016, I was flying to the Cubs World Series Champion Victory Parade in Chicago. I had made my flight itinerary online as I usually did, and to my delight, when I arrived at the gate to check-in there was Katie-Delta Bravo! She flashed that big smile and said, “I was wondering when you were going to get here!” While I was in Chicago, I bought my friends and family T-Shirts to commemorate the new champions of baseball. I even bought one for KDB, (my shortened nick name for her). This was another day that I flew to Chicago and back the same day. Upon my arrival back to LIT I went by the ticket counter and asked if Katie-Delta-Bravo, er, I mean Katie Sanders, was still there? She wasn’t, but I was told she would be back in the morning. I asked if I could leave her a gift and was assured that the agent would see that she got it by leaving it for her in her locker.
And finally, from the other side of the world:
In 2018 I made my every summer trip to Asia to teach in a visiting professor program in China. This year I had quite the busy and lengthy itinerary that took me to Beijing, Xi’an, Lingbao, Wuhan, Hengyang, Xinhua, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and back to Beijing, all in a little over three weeks. I also was one of the keynote speakers at an international conference in Zhuhai. Plus, I had plans to go by Hangzhou for a few days after my conference gig on my way back to Beijing to fly home. It was near the end of my time in Zhuhai that I was confirming my plans and itinerary for my next stop in Hangzhou that I was told that my tour guide and teaching colleague would in fact not be able to meet me thereby cancelling my plans! I was OK with that. I had been away from home for three weeks. I was tired, and missed my wife. But I had three days to go before my scheduled flight departure from Beijing to home.
When my Hangzhou plans were cancelled there was little doubt about what I wanted to do – go home – three days early. I called the Delta Airlines to start making the arrangements to switch my flight, but between me being in China, my limited Mandarin language skills, and a time difference I had a difficult time communicating those needs to make that departure change. I called my wife and asked her to call Katie-Delta-Bravo to see if she could help make those plans. She did. KDB actually texted or called me with the news that it would cost a $300 change fee. Would that be OK before she proceeded. I quickly did the math and figured, three less day in Hangzhou, with three less days of hotel bills, food and other excursion expenses, it didn’t take me long that by going home early I would save more than $300. So, YES KDB, get me home please! Katie-Delta-Bravos sent me a new Delta itinerary with the flight change and the next morning I headed to Beijing to make my connection home. I never would have been able to pull that off without her
I consider myself a grizzled veteran of international and domestic travel. There were so many other times that she guided me on flights, SkyMiles, Delta AmEx credit cards, (because she knew I went to China every year), and lots of benefits that she could help me navigate a more pleasant travel experience.
I’ve had many other customer service opportunities with her and others from Delta for which Katie-Delta-Bravo has connected me. She and others have helped me and my travel plans with ease and grace. All of her work and interactions really showed the passion and professionalism she had for her career.
Katie-Delta-Bravo is simply the best customer service representative for whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. She loved her job almost as much as she loved helping travelers that came her way. She loved Delta Airlines and was a great Ambassador for them.
I retired in 2020. The Pandemic came and went. I hadn’t traveled much during those 2-1/2 years. Imagine my dismay when I recently read this message that she posted in her own words on her Facebook page:
“I was fired from Delta Air Lines for sitting in the wrong seat on a 1-hour flight from Little Rock to Atlanta. There. I said it. Most of my friends don’t know about this because I’ve been in shock for almost a year after 11 years of perfect employment.
I took a flight using my benefits in May of 2022. Through a misunderstanding of my seat assignment, Delta flight attendant, Kay Elvis-Heick, perceived that I self-upgrading myself when I truly thought the gate agent told me to sit in 1A. It was last minute, the plane was nearing a delayed departure, and my travel companion and I were still standing in the aisle waiting on her to reseat another passenger that would create the seat she originally told me to take. However, she failed to change my name in the system and Kay felt that a medallion passenger on the flight was served injustice by not giving them an upgrade. Fun fact- the medallion passenger in question was my non-rev traveling companion who was a Diamond, but status doesn’t matter when you’re traveling on company benefits.
After being questioned twice about why I was sitting in that seat (including a conversation with a red coat in the jet bridge in Atlanta who concluded I was not in the wrong), I was met at my connection with an Atlanta station manager who said my actions were grounds for termination. Instead of communicating with my station manager who was all but begging him to call her so she could clarify what happened (and avoiding her call 3 times) he emailed multiple higher authorities suggesting immediate termination- which they did 20 days later.
I’ve appealed it twice to no avail. I filed a complaint with the EEOC, but by the time I found a lawyer interested in the case I was out of my 3-month time frame.
So… that’s the story of my &%$#* last year. It just goes to show you should never ever put your job above your own life and family. Someone can rob you at any time, for no reason, and you’ll be left with nothing.
I have since created a business making t-shirts and am a vendor every weekend. It has been fun, but it’s definitely nowhere I would have ever thought I’d be. I truly messed up by having all of my eggs in one basket, respected by so many colleagues and passengers, but unable to gain the respect needed from one guy, Brandon Witta, before he sent a life altering e-mail.
Cancel culture… it’s your time to shine.
Now I appeal to Mr. Delta, the president, the CEO, the whoever made this horrible decision… please fix this debacle and injustice. At a time when the credibility of airlines is hemorrhaging customers and cash, make this right!
I have no doubt that Katie Sanders will get another job in the airline industry. Please don’t necessitate me changing her nickname to “My American Hero!”
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3/12/2023 02:20:23 pm
Katie is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Horrible the way she was treated when she treated everyone else so great.
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Steve Shaner is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also check out Steve's other blog, www.yeyegoestochina.com