Amid Thousands of Canceled and Delayed Flights, Delta Quietly Solved the Worst Thing About Travel. It’s the Best I’ve Seen Yet

If you’ve flown much lately, you know it’s been a little rough. Since the beginning of the year, airlines have canceled tens of thousands of flights. Over Memorial Day weekend alone, more than 2,500 flights were canceled, and it has only gotten worse.

Some of it is due to bad weather, but a lot of it is due to the fact that airlines are facing staffing shortages. Those two things combined make for what every air traveler dreads–showing up at an airport only to find out your flight is delayed or, worse, canceled.

Those disruptions couldn’t come at a worse time–either for airlines or for travelers. Experts have long predicted this will be the biggest summer travel season ever as people get back on planes after two years of mostly staying home during the pandemic. Revenge travelthe idea that people are making up for lost opportunities, is a real thing.

Airlines can’t control the weather, and it takes months to hire and train staff. That means that disruptions are often outside of their immediate control. What they can do, however, is choose how to respond when something goes wrong.

That happened to the six of us, coming home from a family vacation this summer. We were flying through Minneapolis when our flight was delayed almost three hours. If you’ve spent two weeks away from home with four young children, the last thing you want to do is unexpectedly spend three extra hours in an airport waiting for your final flight home.

When we got to the gate, however, we saw that Delta had brought out a large cart stocked with food and drinks for passengers waiting for the delayed flight. There were chips and water and candy, and the gate agent kept reminding people they were welcome to come and get whatever they’d like. It’s amazing how much happier people are when you start handing out snacks.

Obviously, free snacks don’t entirely make up for having a flight delayed three hours, but it does make a difference. It’s a small thing that communicates that Delta cares about its customers. And it wasn’t just that Delta was giving away free snacks, it was that this was obviously something the company had thought through ahead of time for moments like this.

Delta started rolling out what it calls Care Carts in May in Salt Lake City, and has started expanding it to other airports. Before then, gate agents were mostly left to figure out how to keep frustrated passengers happy on their own. Some might order Domino’s pizza or try to find some snacks. Now, Delta is giving them what they need.

“Details matter–especially when things don’t go quite as planned,” Allison Ausband, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, told Inc. in a statement:

Our teams have long delivered carts stocked with bottled water and snacks to help customers refresh at the gate while waiting on a delayed flight. We’ve recently upgraded the look and feel of these carts because we know that extra comfort and care can go a long way when you’re in the middle of your travel journey. When I saw the new carts in action and the positive impact the experience was having on our customers and our people, I knew we had to put them in as many airports as possible, and quickly.

Obviously, passengers would rather just get wherever they’re going. Most people would rather spend as little time in an airport as possible–especially if the reason they’re in an airport is because their flight has been delayed. But when things go wrong, you have a choice to make, and the choice to do what it takes to make the experience better for your customers is always the right one.

By the way, one of the most remarkable things was that when we finally boarded our flight, there were still a lot of snacks left on that cart, and it wasn’t because people weren’t taking anything. It was because the cart had more than enough to go around. This wasn’t a simple token “have a bag of pretzels for your inconvenience.”

That’s the lesson here: If you’re going to do something to try to make up for a bad experience, you can’t just do the minimum and expect to solve the problem. You have to go above and beyond. When you do, you might be surprised how far that goes.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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