The Mets have a day game today and I have a podcast to record. So in lieu of any lengthy original post today, please accept this extremely lengthy letter I wrote to Delta’s subsidiary Song Air Lines almost exactly eight years ago. This was up on a now-defunct resume website I had, and I’ve been meaning to re-post it here for posterity. Fueled with punk-rock spirit, 23-year-old me intended to write a series of mockingly petty complaint letters to big corporations. Instead, I wrote just this one, then fizzled on the idea and focused on playing the bass and eating Taco Bell, the main things I did at 23. Also, I learned shortly after writing it that Jet Blue uses Airbus planes, which weren’t alliterative. Finally, http://www.jamesvanderbeek.de — which really existed — now redirects to the Beek’s German-language Wikipedia page.
July 21, 2004
Song Air Lines, Inc.
1030 Delta Blvd.
Atlanta, GA 30320
Dear Mr. Selvaggio,
Several weeks ago, a few friends of mine began planning a trip to West Palm Beach, Florida, from our hometown on Long Island in New York. My friends, who make slightly more money than I do, were dead set on flying on Jet Blue airlines, and, to be honest, I could not blame them. After all, I’d flown Jet Blue several months prior and immediately fallen in love with its on-board amenities, not to mention its reasonable fares. Besides that, I’d become enchanted by its beautiful, blue bellied Boeing 767s, which reminded me of the lovely red-breasted robin, except blue, and not a bird.
Despite this predilection for another airline, I was intrigued by the services offered by Song, especially since I am a Delta SkyMiles member (#XXXXXX) with just shy of the 50,000 miles needed for a trip to North Africa (and, Lord, I hope Mauritania counts as part of that region). One of my friends, a fellow frequent flyer, had saved the Song “Happy Guide” from a previous flight.
You’re about to see how it’s possible to have a great experience at a great price. (Really)…. You’re about to see how many different ways you can experience your trip. Because at Song, we believe you shouldn’t have to check your personality with your bags. Flying time should always be, well, your time (Happy Guide, pg. 2).
After reading a manifesto so wrought with benevolence, cute colloquial language, and egalitarian ideals, how could I not Fly Song? Besides, the flight was actually slightly cheaper than the JetBlue flight to West Palm Beach that was leaving New York around the same time.
My flight to West Palm Beach, flight DL 2066, left John F. Kennedy International Airport at 4:30 PM on July 8th, 2004. Most of the flight went swimmingly, or, I suppose, flyingly. The flight attendants were polite and helpful, and instructed me in the appropriate emergency landing protocol, which was actually quite different than the plan I had in mind, which consisted of panicking, running, kicking, and screaming like a wet-pantsed toddler.
After takeoff, under the pseudonym of ICEMAN, I began my dominance of Song music trivia. I won nine straight games, with unprecedented scores of up to 7950 points. As it turns out, I know way more about Journey than your average Song traveler, and I would like to take this time to officially dedicate my string of victories to Steve Perry. Clearly, you folks at Song Airlines could appreciate the man who wrote, “Anyway you want it, that’s the way you need it.” My joy in slaughtering my fellow passengers in the trivia game was enough to allow me to completely ignore NORMA, the woman sitting in the row behind me, who was very obviously cheating off my screen.
When it came time to instill my own personality into my flight, however, things started to go awry. My personality can best be described as “nacho-loving.” Thus, because I was not expected to check my personality with my bags, I ordered the “Ole Feast” from the Song Happy Guide.
The Ole Feast arrived, and I was charged five dollars. I paid with a twenty-dollar bill, but the flight attendant did not have change and told me she would pay me back before the end of the flight. To my utter dismay, the Funacho Cheese that came with the Ole Feast was ice cold, and clearly not up to my normal nacho cheese standards. I understand that heating up only the nacho cheese would be relatively difficult, considering that the rest of the Ole Feast was kept cool, but, after the pleasant experience on the flight thus far, I was holding Song Airlines to a high standard, hoping that the company might be part of that rare upper echelon of airlines that actually heats up their nacho cheese. I guess I was hoping for too much. On top of that, the Tostitos chips that came with the Ole Feast had clearly been around the block, albeit not necessarily in the promiscuous sense, but in the sense that the bag was essentially just a collection of chip fragments, rather than the large, round, unadulterated chips I was hoping for. Naturally, I am not sure if you are as regular a nacho eater as I am, but all nacho lovers know that it is nearly impossible to dip a tortilla crumb into nacho cheese, no matter what temperature. The chips, salsa, and cheese were accompanied by Hot Tamales, which no one in his or her right mind would eat.
On top of my general, and admittedly superficial, complaints about the Ole Feast, the flight attendant never returned with my fifteen dollars. I realize that I am at least partially responsible for the oversight, as I should have pursued it, but, to be honest, I got caught up in music trivia and was unable to focus on anything else. The ICEMAN does not have time for trivial issues of change for nachos. His alter ego, me, does.
One can buy many strange and wonderful things with fifteen dollars. It is an amount of money that is generally overlooked since it is not a standard denomination, but if you consider it, it really can be a quite valuable amount, especially while traveling. More on this later.
After landing in West Palm Beach and enjoying some of that airport’s wonderful amenities, most notably foosball, I realized my error in getting off the plane without my change, and went immediately to the Song/Delta Airlines check in line for help. Although the two Delta employees could not immediately refund my fifteen dollars, they were extremely helpful. They gave me a twenty-five dollar Delta gift certificate and acted as though they were putting wheels in motion for the return of my fifteen dollars. I was grateful for their help and for the gift certificate, despite the fact that, as they explained, I could not “go down and spend it at Publix.” It was true: Publix did not accept Delta travel certificates.
Fifteen dollars could go a long way at Publix.
I was told, however, that my gift certificate could be used for anything purchased through Delta. This interesting theory will be revisited later.
My stay in Florida was nice, though I really could have used a little more spending cash while I was there. Not too much, maybe just fifteen dollars would have made the parasailing cost seem more reasonable for my budget. But, alas, I was short fifteen dollars.
I returned to the Delta/Song check-in area at West Palm Beach airport a few hours before my flight home, hoping that the calamity involving my fifteen dollars would have been rectified. This is where my Delta/Song experience took a serious turn south, and not in a physical way, as I was actually planning to fly north. The woman at the desk was impatient, and essentially scolded me for leaving the airplane without my fifteen dollars. Naturally, I had already endured a great deal of internal strife regarding my egregious mistake, and her public humiliation certainly did nothing for my psyche. She not only did not have my fifteen dollars, but she could not even provide a phone number I could call to pursue my fifteen dollars. She only gave an address to which I could write. I explained to her that, in this technologically advanced age, traditional mail is inefficient and inconvenient, but she was unresponsive. I told her that, in my busy schedule, it would be difficult to take the time to write and mail a letter to Delta and Song higher-ups, but she maintained that it was my only hope of ever seeing my fifteen dollars again.
When boarding the plane, I was horrified to learn that I would, indeed, have to check my personality with my bags, despite what the Happy Guide had promised. This flight, although it was technically a Song flight, would be on a Delta plane without any of the Song signature amenities. Not only was the ICEMAN unable to continue exerting his unbelievable supremacy in the music trivia circuit, but I was without the Song flight’s excellent selection of mp3 channels to listen to.
Fifteen dollars can be used to buy a CD, which could have more than made up for the lack of mp3 selection.
Instead of having a wide selection of satellite TV channels, I was told that our only option for in-flight video entertainment was a movie, The Rules of Attraction. I had not seen the movie, but I knew that it starred James Van Der Beek of Dawson’s Creek, one of my favorite visual media artists. My interested was piqued, and I prepared to tune in.
To my great dismay, I had again been misled. The movie was not The Rules of Attraction at all, but The Laws of Attraction. The latter features the ever emasculating Pierce Brosnan, and was thus humiliating for all of us non-incredibly-charming-and-delightfully-British men on the flight. Anyone sane would agree that James Van Der Beek is far more reasonable looking, and his presence broadcast over a large screen on the airplane would not make me feel, in any way, like less of a man.
Fifteen dollars can be used to purchase a glossy photograph of James Van Der Beek, available from the German fansite www.jamesvanderbeek.de.
As so many of my fellow overweight Americans are wont to do, I decided to drown my sorrows in spreadable cheese. I ordered, from the flight attendant, a “Song Picnic,” along with a package of Pringles and a Song Candy Crunch Cookie. I told her that I intended to pay with my Delta travel certificate. She was resistant to this idea, first arguing that I should be using a Song travel certificate. When I explained that I was given the Delta certificate because of a mistake made on a Song flight and that we were, after all, on a Delta plane, she agreed to accept it, but said that she could not offer change. This arrangement, while clearly unfair, seemed acceptable to me at the time, so disappointed was I with my flight thus far. She went away, I assumed to get my order, and returned with another, more important seeming flight attendant. They, together, explained that the travel certificate could not be used for food. This was surprising to me, since nowhere in the Terms and Conditions of the travel certificate was this made clear. They pointed out that, while it did not say that it could not be used towards the purchase of food, it also did not say that it could. I countered that it said it could be used for “travel related services,” which, in this case, clearly included food. Naturally, since Delta flights do not charge for food, there would be no reason to list food as something for which the travel certificate could be exchanged. They wanted nothing of this argument, and returned my gift certificate unredeemed. I have included a copy of the Terms and Conditions of the travel certificate.
Fifteen dollars could have been used to buy a variety of fine meats, cheeses, and crackers at any supermarket or grocery store, which would have more than sated the desires that led me to order the Song Picnic. Fifteen dollars could have purchased at least four cans of EZ Cheez spreadable cheese product and a box of crackers.
Though the rest of my trip went without incident, I am, needless to say, disgusted by the quality of my second flight and the larceny on my first. Despite my wealth of SkyMiles and my desire to accrue more, it will be extremely difficult for me, in good conscience, to fly Delta or Song again, especially if I am not refunded my fifteen dollars.
Fifteen dollars would have covered the difference between my ticket and the ticket on JetBlue.
D. Ted Berg
To my surprise, I heard back from Song Air Lines a couple weeks later: