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Pizza and Pilots and Planes, Oh My!

August 29, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick

Yesterday, I mentioned the delayed Delta flight that was rerouted to Syracuse and the pilots and customer service folks that made sure the passengers were well taken care of and well fed. Well, we were lucky enough to talk to one of the Delta agents that went above and beyond the call of duty.

Your flight has been delayed and then diverted; the weather is bad, and you know you’ll be stuck for hours. Terrible, huh? Well, if you happen to be flying Delta and you’ve been diverted to Syracuse, it’s not so terrible: in fact, its pizza party time! The Delta team in Syracuse has been throwing such parties for stranded passengers, for more than a decade.

The latest was held August 17. As always, the party is preceded by a problem that calls for an imaginative pilot who can think outside the plane. In this instance, the Delta pilot decided his passengers would not be subjected to another summertime-hell-flight-saga, so he made 2-simple decisions:

  • He let the folks off the plane.
  • He ordered pizza for all.

Then, the Delta folks inside the airport sprang into action (well, they sprang over to the local Sbarros, anyway). According to customer service rep Lynn Casey, Delta team members hauled out a big folding table for the 30-or so pizzas they ordered, and began serving them up to a whole bunch of hungry passengers.

“We’re a small outfit here at the Syracuse airport,” she said, adding that Delta only has 2-gates there, “but because we’re small, it helps us foster a real family feeling. Which is good, because we’ve had to do something like this dozens of times over the past ten years.” Casey is quick to point out that some news reports got it wrong, that she didn’t pay the nearly $400-pizza tab out of her own pocket (Delta did, as always).

Well, why go to all this trouble? “We and our management team believe in this,” said Casey, “and we believe in being all about customer service.”

Eh? Call a doctor (or better yet the corporate head of customer relations at the major airlines) — for a second there I was a bit woozy…

I applaud this fine group at Syracuse, last time I was in SyracuseI was installing software for a new weather radar in 1999 at a TV station (in cooperation with Niagara Mohawk). I am now going to make it a point on my next visit to stop by and shake their hands — they deserve it.

43 Responses to “Pizza and Pilots and Planes, Oh My!”

  1. Gale says:

    What an amazing story! This needs a lot of publicity so the other airlines (and even Delta in other cities) can see what true customer service is. It’s time that passengers are treated like human beings and not like cattle!

  2. Maritta says:

    It’s great to know that customer Service has action with it, not just lip service. concur with the Thanks to the local crew and believe the nudge to the other CEOs in the form of a pizza Coupon would be appropriate–with the rest of the story of course!!

  3. eric m. says:

    I agree– what a terrific story, and three cheers for the Delta team there in Syracuse. Smart thinking!

  4. Barbara says:

    We were recently delayed at Chicago Midway. The flight attendants passed out water to help us deal with the heat. Then after nearly an hour parked at the gate, the ATA flight attendant announced, “Until we’re in the air, we don’t get paid so you’re getting off the plane.” Pizza? I was just happy they let us off the hot plane.

  5. Nina Wolsk says:

    Just experienced a 7.5 hour delay from Syracuse to JFK on Delta, a slice of pizza would have helped! I bought my own.

  6. Paul H. says:

    Let’s complement them for a nice thing, just as we citicize when things go bad.

  7. Larry Adams says:

    Wish I’d been stuck in Syracuse instead of Dayton last time I flew. We sat on the tarmac for nearly three hours, delayed because of bad weather in Chicago. Got NO information as to the delay for for the first hour, then we were merely told we’d be underway “shortly”. Shortly turned into another two hours with the reason for the delay given only a half hour before we were able to take off. I guess we were lucky that the American flight attendants did pass out water and soft drinks, and that the lavatory didn’t overflow.

  8. norbert leute says:

    Send actual pizza to each of the CEO’s with a little not explaining what delta did and with the comment you can do it too. Challenge them. Let them know that the people know.

  9. Robert Taylor says:

    Yes, send “pizza coupons to the CEOs of other airlines.” – do it?” The more staff on the ground or in the air are allowed to think outside the box without fear of not following the rules to the letter the better!

  10. Fran P says:

    Three cheers for the team in Syracuse! Delta, you should make this the subject of your next advertising blitz. An airline that shows compassion and not just weary demeanor….how unique is that?!! Please make sure Northwest sees this story!

  11. Jim says:

    Our recent experience with Northwest Airlines out of Syracuse New York was not pleasant. After arriving at the gate, the notice said our flight was on time, we waited an additional hour beyond scheduled take off before boarding. After boarding hydraulic issues were found and we waited an additional hour on the plane. We were finally ready for take off and knew we would miss our connecting flight in Detroit. Shortly after take off at approximately 5,000 ft we leveled off and were informed by the pilot we had hyrdraulic issues again and we would need to land back at Syracuse. Fist we would need to burn fuel so we circled for an hour and when we proceeded to land the runway was lined with firetrucks and ambulances. We were praying that God would get us down safely. The landing was successful with no mishaps. We had the option of staying on the plane and taking off when the problem was fixed or try to secure additional flights. We chose to search for additional flights. We received a card with a toll free number for us to call to secure flights. There was no assistance at the gate. The same people checked you in, arrived at your gate right before boarding, and we also saw them load baggage onto the plane and to direct the plane to leave. Are they also mechanics? I will not fly Northwest again. At this time we have not received any compensation or even an e-mail or letter of apology for the trauma we experienced and the delays. Unfortunately we fly again this weekend with another airlines and I am not looking forward to it. Needless to say I now have a fear of flying.

  12. George Wilson says:

    By this action Delta took a cue from Ken Blanchard’s book “Raving Fans” and by going that extra 1% has set a standard for customer service. Let’s see if Delta will maintain or increase this standard and which of their competitors will emulate Delta’s actions.

  13. Dick D says:

    This is great! Where is the media on this one? I was on one of the notorius Jet Blue flights and this would have been our dream!

  14. Ram Suntha says:

    Good idea, but how are you and I are going to entice them to let us out of the plane in the first place?

  15. Karen Daniel says:

    Yes, please do send pizza coupons to the CEO’s. Or maybe Subway coupons or anything else that my get their attention.

  16. Barb says:

    Having sat on the tarmac for hours in other circumstances, or in the airport where I had to BEG for a food voucher as only token compensation, I have to praise Delta employees for being human. I only wish they had a decent flight between my residence and my hometown.

  17. Warren says:

    Yes, give this major pr work anywhere, everywhere, as most times we as customers feel the air lines don’t give a hoot about us except for our dollars.

  18. I absolutely would like you to send a pizza to every CEO of every airline with this story. If the other airlines would have the mentality that this group did, even though we might not get free Pizza, we would be treated with dignity and respect.

    I think that South West Airlines comes closest to this goal, probably because the way that the empolyees are treated by the management and the management by the top executives.

    Let the CEO’s See the comments made also.

    Hooray to you in advance.

  19. Andrea S says:

    There was a very recent similar situation in Albany, NY and the passengers were also treated to pizza. At first they were going to take the pizza out to the plane but when the pilot had to come back for refueling they let the passengers off and took them to the pizza restaurant in the terminal. Guess Upstate NY can be a very nice place to be delayed. I just wish other cities were as great.

  20. Flagger says:

    I once worked as a gate agent for FlyI (Independence Air), a low cost carrier that is no longer in business. When the last flights out of IAD were delayed, we often fed and watered the passengers while they waited in the boarding area. Occasionally, we would de-board the plane and do it, and very rarely we would back the plane off the gate to get our place in the ATC line, take the passengers inside, and then board them up in time to make the wheels up time. The passengers loved it and were very loyal, but jet A prices killed the airline.

  21. Nan Holleran says:

    I feel strongly about making both positive and negative comments regarding any type of service. Often, the positive experience doesn’t rate a comment. BY ALL MEANS…..hold the spotlight on these people, they thought out of the box, used some common sense, and were human. My guess is that they treated others and they’d like to be treated. What a concept!

  22. Robert Wheaton says:

    I think a lot of it has to with the Syracuse ‘people’. I fly quite a bit between DTW and SYR (about twice a month) and the people there are just all around nicer! I gurantee if that plane pulled into DTW or a larger airport, they would not have received the same treatment. God forbid a gate agent do something more than scan your ticket.

    Small town folks just seem to care more. I also find this true when traveling to Minot or Grand Forks North Dakota.

  23. Barb says:

    What a great idea, please do send food coupons to the head of each airline with a note explaining why! The most important part though, is letting the passengers off the plane. If the passengers deplaned with the knowlege they would have to be ready to reboard quickly (or be left behind) I’d rather wait in the airport than on the tarmack. I understand time is money but it is inhumane to trap passengers onboard for hours on end. Also, why don’t airlines board back rows first? This seems to be a faster method, no one blocking the front aisles storing luggage with a whole line a people waiting. Thanks

  24. Don Lundy says:

    Delta has been my preferred carrier for over 20 years! I was stuck in between a snow storm and my home at Salt Lake City. The entire Delta team got games for the kids and food for everyone. Several of the gate agents sat in a circle with the kids and kept them occupied so the adults could have a few minutes peace. I had never seen anything like it and I have flown with them ever since.

    Have things happened that weren’t that great? Sure, but they have always made it right. I have never seen an airline that was so customer oriented as Delta. Way to go!

    Don Lundy

  25. Vicky Binder says:

    I had a very similar experience on American a year ago. I was flying from Springfield, MO to Dallas, TX. There were horrendous storms in Dallas so our flight was delayed. Our flight was the last flight out for the day out of the airport. The airport cleared our flight to take off, only for us to be told after take off that the storms still had the DFW airport closed, so we were diverted to Texarkana airport which was also closed.

    We landed at this closed airport until DFW reopened. The pilot asked the tarmac crew to go to Wendy’s and he ordered and paid for burgers for everyone on the flight which was probably 40-50 people.

    I received a letter of apology from American about a month later. But kudos go to the pilot and crew – they were amazing.

  26. Julie Lagoey says:

    No, Please don’t send coupons. I really struggle with this notion of you being generous when it’s the CEO’s that need to be generous… Perhaps your demonstration will make a difference, but I am skeptical.

  27. Tony S says:

    Absolutely, send them coupons (pizza, Subway, Wendy’s, Taco Bell,…) along with the Delta story. Change the world one bite at a time. ;)

  28. Alberto in Ottawa says:

    Send the CEO’s of the other airlines some pizza coupons and let’s see if the rest of them can get to share with their stranded passengers that “family feeling” started by Delta.

  29. josefm says:

    This is the kind of treatment one gets with smaller establishments of any kind. Be it airports, local markets and banks, even the IT helpdesk at a small company.
    There are things you CAN’T commoditize and one of those things is service and the flexibility to provide it. I’ll admit that there’s a lot of times where I know exactly what I need and go to Walmart (or the airline equivalent) to get it. In the end, the choice is the consumer’s.

  30. Kimberly says:

    Forget sending them coupons~send them copies of all of these responses! I would be willing to pay more to fly an airline whose passengers get this kind of treatment versus one whose passengers swelter on the runway for hours…………

  31. Angel says:

    Amen! Amen to the common sense of the working people on the airlines! I’d like to know where I could send my pizza coupons!?! As a matter of fact, I’d like to know where I could send a small donation to help out someone with that common sense for the next time!

  32. Judy Uridge says:

    Please send to other airline CEO’s – these employees and the management that supports these kinds of things should get lots of kudos and be rewarded.

    Please make sure that you send it to the CEO’s of Northwest and Spirit – in my opinion they are the bottom of the barrel when it comes to customer service, and demonstrate it again and again. Unfortunately, I book over 100 trips a year out of Detroit and we don’t have a lot of options other than Northwest. In my opinion, the best for service from Detroit is Southwest.

    Please let the Delta CEO’s know that, in the future, this will make me try to work harder to see if I can book within the Delta options available to me.

  33. bill tracy says:

    A few years back, due to a thunder storm, our American Airlines flight going into DFW was diverted to an outlying airport. After about hour on the ground, the pilot came on the intercom and announced he had some bad news and some good news. The bad news was the flight would continue on ground-hold; the good news was he had ordered pizza. 20 minutes later a pizza delivery car, loaded to the gunnels with pizza boxes, wheeled up to the rear stairs and we bucket-brigaded them on board. The flight attendants opened the bar and all of us enjoyed pizza and beer/colas. Needless to say, our pilot appreciated his airlines customers and made sure we were as comfortable as possible, considering the conditions.

  34. Mollie says:

    On my last flight from PHiladelphia to MIlwaukee, we wered elayed enough that there was no way that we’d make our next flight to Appleton. However, Midwest held the ATW flight for us and made sure our luggage was loaded. That’s an experience I’ve had many timew with Midwest. Makes me very reluctant to fly with the other carriers.

  35. Megan B. says:

    I echo the resounding sentiment. Rick, send those pizzas with the explanatory note. Issue the challenge for OUTSTANDING customer service. As a mom, I’m willing to bet there were a few parents with kids on-board who thought that crew were angels from heaven!

  36. Sandy Pallot Klein says:

    Yes — you should absolutely send pizza coupons and the Delta story to all the President/CEO’s of all airlines doing business in the US.

    The one person for sure you should send them to is the Pres/CEO [I forgot his TITLE] from American Airlines who was on the Today show this morning as he blamed all their problems on either the weather or the flight control tower personnel –SHAME, SHAME!!!

  37. Cheri says:

    I think that is a wonderful way to handle it. Please send the coupons to the CEO’s.

  38. Hannah says:

    Wonderful! Wish some of the other airlines would get a clue, especially here in New York (JetBlue, anyone?) I’ve avoided Delta for a while beacuse I had a bad flight about 10 years ago, but if that’s how they’re treating their customers now, I may have to give them another try. By all means send the other CEOs the coupons. Treating people like human beings, what a novel idea….

  39. eddie says:

    I would send the CEO’s a report about the delta employyee’s, but I would not send them any pizza coupons, they would use them for their own use, or throw them away.


  40. Danielle says:

    ATTA BOY, DELTA!! And SPOT ON, Fritz, for your comment regarding SOUTHWEST AIRLINES’ culture. Yes, we, the internal customers, LUV one another and believe we are just as important as our external customers – and you’re are exactly right; it starts at the top :D

    Allow me to spread some LUV…
    Years ago, I was sitting at home (in between trips) all toasty warm during one of the most ugly, frigid storms that had hit the east coast in years. The local news had just aired a piece showing some of our SOUTHWEST family all bundled up & jumping around on the tarmac just to keep the liquid in their veins from changing form. Well, this “Stew” had to take care of her SWA crew, so I telephoned the closest pizza place, ordered 20 piping hot pies and delivered them straight to the Ground Ops break room ASAP!

    Now, I have no idea whose veins nearly solidified that blustery night, but I AM CERTAIN of two things: ONE – the pizza they devoured was the best tasting pizza they ever ate! TWO – there’s at least one customer whose evening improved as a result. I tell you… it’s all about the LUV!

  41. as a former EASTERN AIRLINE GATE AGENT employee…..I want to commend the DELTA EMPLOYEES OF SYRACUSE…..for
    thinking of those passengers, giving them PIZZA….thats what makes GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE a gesture like that goes a long way……many times when flights were delayed…passengers were angry…but during my time with the EASTERN….management, supervisors and agents
    all pulled together to make the passengers comfortable…providing food, drinks etc…..whatever it took….what happen to those days???….ABSOLUTLEY….do not send any pizza coupons to the other airlines CEOS..THESE 6 figures individuals should be giving each airport such coupons for these delays to be handed out as a compasionate gesture……thanks for sharing this
    wonderful story about those DELTA EMPLOYEE WHO CARED…
    My husband and I will be traveling ON DELTA in October for our vacation and its comforting to know that DELTA has trained its employees in the customer service area to
    think of the traveling public….

  42. Michelle Isom says:

    I think Delta USED to be about customer service, but not anymore. I was on flight 5036 July 18, 2006 – on the Tarmac in NYC – 7 hours, no food, hot water, wouldn’t let us get off of the plane. So, they issued me a voucher for $50. and in letters so small I couldn’t see it, there was a 1 year expiration date. Great, it cost me $50. to get home from my destination airport at 2 in the am!! I asked if they could give me an extension on this as I will be traveling in November and am not fortunate enough to be a “frequent flyer”.

    In a letter from Mr. Stan Pereira, Manager, Customer Care @ Delta Dated Sept. 15, 2007: “Delta tickets and other travel-related documents are valid for one year
    from the date of issue. Once a ticket or other document has expired, it has no further value and cannot be refunded, extended, or exchanged. We fully understand that everyone faces unique circumstances and
    adversities. We have received numerous requests for waivers and exceptions, and there has been no simple way to address the various situations. As a result, we established a consistent policy that ensures
    that Delta is equitable to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request.
    Again, thank you for writing. We recognize this was not the response you expected to receive and trust you will understand our position. We value your business and hope you will continue to choose Delta.”
    WHAT A JOKE, no wonder they went BANKRUPT!!!

  43. Bill says:


    By all means bring this to the attention of the other airline’s CEO’s. It may help them see the light – that good deeds will be noticed by the public.

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