A Renaissance of successes saves a Delta fail

After a wonderful week in Pennsylvania with her family, Tricia Kalinowski learned that her Delta Air Lines flight from Philadelphia’s airport back home to Blaine, Minn., seemed hopelessly delayed from mechanical snafus.

She was exhausted and in pain from surgical and chronic difficulties.

As the day faded into evening with an uncertain outcome, Delta eventually sent her to their preferred airport hotel. But that is not the good news.

It was simply how the hotel cared for her with unlimited niceness.

Kalinowski refuses to let her difficulties keep her down, or home. With years of customer service experiences under her belt, she would need to be exceptionally impressed by a particular business to want to tell us about it.

She was, and she did. And the winner is … Marriott’s Renaissance Philadelphia airport hotel. And not just for poise and congeniality.

Marriott is no stranger to the Good News Guy. Their hotels found their way into previous stories about restored missing Rewards points, saving a once-in-a-lifetime family reunion, , and an exemplary experience for this writer at a Fairfield Inn. Perhaps it is because employees tend to treat customers as their management treats them, as Fortune.com suggests? And not to rest on any laurels, USAToday.com reports how the “Renaissance hotel brand is having a renaissance”.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Kalinowski didn’t let her situation deter her from executing an overdue, lifelong childhood promise by her parents to take her brother (and now her nephew) to Hersheypark. “I knew the trip would tax my reserves and provide a struggle here and there,” she began.

But goal set…and goal met. Good for you.

“I arrived at the Philadelphia airport ready to head home and upon boarding the plane noticed the on-time status next to the jetway door changed to delayed,” she went on. “I knew we were in trouble when they offered us drinks and first class.”

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Groan.

“The cause was due to a panel falling off the plane,” she added. Okay, okay, before inserting a dry and drawn out “nice,” the positive Good News Guy way to view this is, if a flight delay is inevitable, better to have it for this reason.

Why?

A delay from weather or other factors outside of Delta’s responsibility only requires they get you safely to your contracted destination on the next possible flight with an available seat — and nothing more.

Until Delta could figure things out, the passengers were told they were on their own to make alternate travel arrangements if they wished via their 800 number. Can you say hold?

“The chaos at the gate by both passengers and employees pushed me over the edge,” Kalinowski continued. “I definitely enjoyed my week in Pennsylvania but was totally exhausted and in considerable pain. I broke down in tears after which I finally found a supervisor who approved a hotel voucher and rebooked me for the next day.”

Sounds good, right? Maybe, maybe not. While even Delta’s own criteria acknowledge their obligation, the airline may be the one determining where you stay and how much money to spend — if they do. Sometimes you just have to ask, and sometimes not everyone may know all their own rules.

Kalinowski was well aware of this when she eloquently lamented, “It was a holiday weekend, and I was worried that the only rooms available would be crappy. I expected I was even going to have to add some money to the voucher to get a decent room.”

But not here and not this time. She was in the best of no-reservation hotel hands.

“Upon arrival, the hotel management upgraded me to a room away from airport noise even though I had a Delta voucher,” added Kalinowski. “They even asked if I needed any toiletries knowing I didn’t have my luggage, even offering to run to a store for me.”

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Wow.

“The staff kept asking me about my day, offering to carry my backpack for me and telling me to call if I needed anything else,” she went on. “Later, after lying down a while, I went to their restaurant with my two miniscule $15 meal vouchers and the waiter simply added whatever additional value I needed for dinner (and breakfast next day). As I was leaving the restaurant, the front desk staff asked me again if I needed anything and to have a good night.”

There’s more.

“I burned my finger on my in-room coffee maker next morning and the front desk staff brought first aid supplies to my table at breakfast,” she said. “When I went to check out, the desk clerk asked if I needed anything else before heading back to the airport.”

Hold on. Shouldn’t a quality hotel be doing some of this anyway as a customary and courteous business practice?

Well, yes and no. Unfortunately, “friendly, happy, and helpful” can be lacking in many travel experiences — but not here. There are ways to do something technically correct, and then there are ways to do it right.

The staff clearly cared about their actions and accomplishing them to the best of their ability to make a challenging experience comfortable for someone who needed it, and well, made Kalinowski feel special. And who couldn’t use a little of that?

“Every person I encountered at the hotel went out of their way to be kind to me beyond normal expectations,” Kalinowski elaborated. “Some of what the staff did maybe wasn’t all that special but was refreshing. It really came down to simple niceties, pleasantries, and actually caring.”

They listened to her. So, is her hotel experience really good news if pleasantly surprised when things go well? Or is it rather a bittersweet testimony to some travelers’ lower expectations of a mediocre norm today? The Good News Guy previously wrestled with this exact debate regarding an Air New Zealand experience.

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If Kalinowski was impressed enough to take the time to recognize the hotel and tell us about it, then I am too. Positive travel experiences are not just about getting more for less. They are about how humans treat other humans.

“Maybe it’s unfortunate that showing kindness and compassion while doing one’s job stands out as unusual, but I believe it is just as important to tell a company when they do a good job,” she added.

And in fairness, let’s not leave Delta too bruised from their bit of bashing because they did in fact choose the hotel.

There is another lesson that might remain incomplete if Kalinowski had not completed it. We can all do our part to encourage this type of business behavior by thanking those who deserve it. And if you think it may be their job, so what? How do you feel when someone appreciates your efforts?

Never underestimate the power of a thank-you letter to even the biggest of the big guys. It is not only the right thing to do, but paying it forward may well increase the likelihood of a similar outcome for the next person.

“I wrote to the hotel manager after I got home to let him know and that it wasn’t just one person,” Kalinowski said. “He responded immediately by saying he will eagerly share my letter with his staff.”

“The Renaissance Hotel at the Philadelphia airport is run by exceptional people who got it right, and deserve recognition,” she concluded.

We agree. And may you have many more years of travel.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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