Everyone in the accessible travel community is buzzing about the $2 million fine levied against Delta Air Lines by the US Department of Transportation for violations against disabled travelers. Here’s Candy Harrington’s detailed blog post about it, including several of the specific issues that Delta’s been ordered to fix.
I don’t fly Delta too often, but last time I did so, I did notice that the wait for a wheelchair after I checked in was long on one leg of the trip. I didn’t miss my flight, nor were there problems after the wheelchair showed up, so I didn’t file a complaint about it.
Scott Rains and other big names in accessible travel are asking an interesting question: what now, Delta?
In my not-so-humble opinion, Delta’s got an amazing business opportunity. Instead of making the absolute minimum efforts to upgrade to current legal compliance standards, they could take this ball and run with it. Delta could turn this situation into a tremendous positive by creating best-in-class service for people with as many different ability levels as possible. Get a fleet of new modern transfer chairs for airports. Employ at least one medically skilled attendant per airport. Train wheelchair attendants to create a great customer experience, making sure that each wheelchair passenger gets offered a restroom break, a chance to stop for food and drink on the concourse, and a comfortable place to sit once at the gate. (Some wheelchair attendants do this on their own–these folks have gotten some pretty good tips from me.) Offer complimentary in-flight items like lumbar support foam blocks, u-neck pillows, and heat and cold packs (perhaps purchasable if passengers prefer to take these items with them). Change current menus, consulting nutritionists to so as to offer foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory and hormonally stabilizing. Offer water at each seat upon boarding for coach as well as 1st & biz class passengers. Heck, have one flight attendant on long-haul planes who’s certified in chair massage, and offer in-flight massage for 1st and biz class!
Then do an enormous media blitz advertising the living heck out of all of these services. Advertise within the disabled community (with whom Delta should consult when putting together its new service package), but communicate about these products and services mostly to the mainstream. The vast audience of Baby Boomer travelers who are starting to feel more aches and pains do not self-identify as disabled. Nor do many of my comrades in the world of chronic pain and hidden disability. And we’re the majority of the audience Delta could reach with these changes. We’d value them endlessly, and become loyal customers beyond Delta’s wildest imaginings.
Who’s going to pay for all this? The travelers with diminished levels of ability ranging from mild lower back pain to quadriplegia, who number in the tens of millions. Delta–think about it. If you become known as The Most Comfortable Airline in the World, you will see significant profit gains, and a kind of customer retention that no major airline has seen in decades.
Delta, there are millions of passengers begging for an airline, ANY airline, to offer this kind of service. You’ve got a chance to slide into this slot, turn negative publicity into positive, and then re-create yourself as something totally different from your competitors. Go for it!