I don’t get to travel very often, but I sure do love new adventures and new places. I was very excited to have the opportunity to represent Best Buy at the Bear to Make a Difference Gala for the Matthew Shepard Foundation this year. If that doesn’t ring a bell, take a moment to check out the site here. Matthew and I even ended up with our picture in Denver Magazine. You can check out the photographs here and specifically ours here. Extra points if you can pick out all the Best Buy folks in the photographs. I guess I should also point out the fact that I was in Best Buy blue and yellow, and Matthew was in Geek Squad orange and black.
Like I said, I was ecstatic at the chance to go. At a time when activism has become more propaganda than meaningful work, I feel strongly that the Matthew Shepard Foundation still has a strong mindset of real change that affects real people. Also, I had never been to Denver, and I love exploring new downtowns. It was sure to be a hit!
We arrive at the airport early, but only about an hour before we were scheduled to be taking off. It seemed strange to me that no one was at the gate, and there wasn’t even a plane waiting. I’ve seen an empty gate more than one time in the early morning, but it was getting very close to boarding time and there was no plane in site. Then, a man in jeans, a hoodie, and a knit cap walked behind the desk and announced the plane we were supposed to be on had a dead battery, so they were finding a replacement and we would be delayed. No reason to worry – we didn’t have plans until that evening for the event, so a delay wouldn’t matter that much. It did seem odd that the person announcing this had not one Delta logo on his person apart from his ID badge on his lanyard. I guess staff was just short. At least he was kind and informative, even when delivering bad news. We find ourselves sitting next to another employee and his guest going to Denver for the same reason, and decide to share a car rental to make things easy.
We arrive in Denver after an uneventful flight, get the rental car, and I navigate using the GPS on my phone – Gladys as I like to call her. She takes us down the freeway and into downtown Denver. I had no idea the airport was so far away from the city, but it was quite an easy drive without a lot of traffic. We arrive at the Hilton Garden Inn where Matthew and I will be staying, and give directions to our friend and his guest to get to the Brown Palace where their rooms are booked. We walk up to the front desk, and I started to wonder if I somehow ruined the day for the lady behind the desk by my walking up. Her face said she was unhappy, and the tone in her voice said she wished I would go away forever. She tells me she has no reservation for anyone under my name and that I should double-check my information.
So – it’s over to the lobby to boot up my laptop and find out what’s going on. After about 15 minutes, I finally get into my email and find the confirmation. I provide her the confirmation number, and she informs me my booking is actually at the Hilton Garden Inn by the airport, a 40 minute drive back in the wrong direction. I explain that I have an event to attend tonight downtown, and ask if my reservation can be changed to this location.
“We are fully committed for the evening,” she said. “I won’t be able to accommodate you.”
“Is there another one closer than the airport?” I ask hopefully.
“There is one about 3 miles away. Here’s their number if you want to give them a call.” She wrote the number on a blank piece of paper and handed it to me, already looking away before I took it from her hand. The phone rang, and she answered it curtly and said if they were needing a room, they’d have to find another hotel as this one is fully committed, and hung up.
That’s the moment I realized she wasn’t just having a bad day. There was something different at the core of her social behavior that I just wasn’t used to. There was another employee behind the desk now, and he seemed just as annoyed to be awake as she was. If I was in Minnesota, or even back in North Carolina where I grew up, I would have expected nothing less than her to make the call for me. After all, it’s the same hotel company – shouldn’t she jump to my rescue and sweet talk the other location into providing me a room? I would for her if the tables were turned, even if she wasn’t as nice to me as I was to her. I had left the bubble of Minnesota Nice and entered the rest of the world, and I didn’t like it.
I ended up canceling my reservation with Hilton and finding a room at the Brown. It took me 4 tries though, because I had 1 bar of cell signal, and every time I called my phone decided it had better things to do than maintain a cell connection. Nonetheless, it cost less to cancel the reservation and pay for a more expensive room than to taxi back and forth between the airport and downtown for the next two days. Although the Brown didn’t go anywhere out of their way to be nice, they at least didn’t start off with a default annoyed personality, and never failed to be hospitable.
Throughout my trip I saw many examples of people behaving in a way that would turn every head around if it happened in Minnesota, but nobody noticed in Denver. Once I understood the different social climate, it stopped bothering me and became more of a people watching excursion. From restaurant servers to people in the street, things were just different. Even though I’m not native to Minnesota, I have hospitality and a concern for humanity engrained in my psyche having grown up in the South.
I really enjoyed the gala and my Sunday free to roam Denver. We walked around taking a few pictures, and had some good food that wasn’t as boring as the Pale Food Polka in Minnesota. By the way, if you’re ever in Denver, you MUST try The Delectable Egg for breakfast. I recommend anything with chorrizo.
I had only gotten used to dealing with people who did not have nice as a primary expectation, and it was time to return to the airport for the trek home. A quick shuttle ride there, an hour through security, and we would be on the way. What happened at the gate bothered me more than a hotel employee being immune to the emotions of a stranded traveler who had already paid her company money.
One of the gate agents started yelling through the loudspeaker for a particular passenger to come to the desk. “Pocahontas, come up to the desk. I need to talk to you.”
She was at the point where the speaker starts to cut out – a point that should never be reached when you’re dealing with paying customers. As we sat at the gate, this happened no less than 7 times, with more names being added to the list of passengers she was looking for. It was nothing new to me to hear passengers summoned to the desk, but the condescending tone and sheer volume of her voice only got worse each time. In between, she bellowed about the plane being full and anyone with oversized or multiple bags should come up now to gate check their luggage, or they were going to hold up the whole plane and make everyone late.
Now – I’ll admit my job requires me to consider tact with everything I say, as my everyday responsibilities include me representing the company in the social web which puts my words in a crucible ripe for scrutiny, so maybe I am a little biased. But I expect a gate agent to have at least a little bit of respect when dealing with people who are mostly annoyed with having to travel at all, are probably tired, and feel they had to pay way too much just to catch a ride. Shouldn’t you ask people to check large or extra items to help things run smoothly, and note they will not be charged for checking at the gate, rather than talking to them like a child and giving them a guilt trip for ruining everyone’s flying experience? I’m sorry, but she was the one ruining the experience for everyone. If I had been Pocahontas, the name she kept yelling, I would have walked right up and spoken to her in exactly the same volume.
I caught her eye as she scanned my boarding pass, and she didn’t utter one single word. No greeting. No thank you for flying Delta. No enjoy your flight. Just bitter cold silence even after making eye contact. Now THAT’s an experience that makes me want to fly Delta again *sarcasm*.
I’m happy to report my flight home was fast, friendly, and pain free. We had been delayed by over an hour when we took off, but landed only a few minutes behind schedule. The pilot warned us that he wasn’t slowing down very much to land, and there’d be quite a jolt. He was right – but as I’m one for thrill rides I actually enjoyed being thrown around a bit when we landed. The experience with this flight crew was so good in fact I would have flown Delta again – had it not been for them never noticing I was tweeting my feedback to them throughout my experiences, and they either had no idea I tweeted them or chose to ignore me. Either way, it’s obvious they didn’t value my opinion or my satisfaction.
After I got back home, I grieved the wonderful airline that had been Northwest Airlines. Always friendly, always accommodating, and always worth flying. It’s amazing how different the merged company is. One would think Northwest might have rubbed off a little on Delta, but there’s not one hint that the newly massive company contains even a shred of what humanity we Minnesotans would consider the price of admission. Speaking of which – I saw a billboard the other day for Delta that informed me I could choose my payment method for my vacation. Thanks so much, Delta, for earning a “Meets Expectations” in that regard. Now tell me what you do that would make me give enough of a damn to pay you my hard-earned money for a flight I’m certain will mean putting up with people who seem to hate society. If there’s further context I’m missing from the sign, I’ll give you that. But I didn’t catch the context, so it’s not of any real difference. Never mind – you’re not listening anyway. I’ll choose to pay more, and even suffer a long layover with another airline rather than give you my business.