Not Clear For Takeoff: Delta’s PR Snafu

by Todd Shriber

It’s not uncommon for big companies to make public relations gaffes, and airlines are certainly the butt of a few jokes. But Delta Airlines (DAL), the largest U.S. carrier, probably needs to retake Public Relations 101 for reportedly charging  baggage fees to U.S. military personnel on their way home from overseas deployment.

The airline charged some troops traveling home from Afghanistan $200 each for a fourth checked bag, according to The Associated Press. One of the troops astutely exercised the right to free speech he so bravely protects and posted a video on YouTube about the incident. The video has since been taken down.

U.S. military personnel are reimbursed by the Defense Department when they have to pay baggage fees, the AP reported, but it doesn’t change the fact that Delta generated some pretty bad publicity for itself. Not surprisingly, the incident touched off a firestorm in the blogosphere, keeping Delta’s social media manager quite busy. As of 10 p.m. eastern time Wednesday, Delta’s blog had 248 responses to the issue, almost all of which supported the troops and chided the airline.

On Tuesday, the airline announced a new policy that would allow personnel traveling on official orders in first class or business class to take on five bags at no charge; four bags in economy class.

What’s ironic about Delta’s willingness to charge the troops is that less than a decade ago, the company and its brethren were happy to take a government bailout following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to CBS.

Showing this fiasco is a real slap in the face to the troops. Delta raked in $1.65 billion in baggage fees last year, according to the Airline Reporter. That was more than enough to cover the airline’s aircraft maintenance materials and outside repairs, as reported by Delta.  Maybe this year, Delta’s baggage fees will pay for a new public relations firm.

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