Born and bred in Atlanta, GA, I have always been a classic loyalist for Coca Cola and Delta Airlines. I have always chosen water if Pepsi products are the only option, and I’ve always flown Delta if the price is even close.
But as a mother of a gluten sensitive family, I am deeply, dangerously, disappointed in a series of recent encounters with Delta’s Food Service and Customer Service departments. As a constituent, I am angry. As a native Atlantan, I am embarrassed. As a Gluten-Free mother, I am activated! Here’s our story.
On a Delta intercontinental flight we ordered Gluten Free meals for the family, which is a great service that Delta offers. Unfortunately, the meal – clearly labeled “Gluten Free” – contained a packaged breakfast cereal that is NOT gluten free, and is clearly marked as such on Kellogg’s website.
My husband was halfway through his breakfast when I awoke and screamed for him to stop! He had presumed – rightly so, I believe – that the meal was safe for him to eat since it was so clearly labeled. We all know that increasingly more standard products are changing their formulas to comply with GF standards, so it seemed a safe bet, right? NOT.
The flight attendant immediately brought us a very large bottle of water (fortunately, for him, flooding it out helps to limit the reaction). Following the water, they sent the airline Purser, who has a GF family member and knew, herself, that the cereal is not GF. She apologized, offered to compensate us with frequent flier miles, and told us that the new CEO of Delta, Richard Anderson, is a “buck stops here” kind of CEO. She assured us – repeatedly and adamantly – that he would want to know about this!
When we asked her to report the incident, she said she would, but she did not think it would get as much attention as if we reported it ourselves. Now, here’s the catch. We have reported it ourselves -- on the two prior occasions that something like this has happened to us. Yes, this was the THIRD time we’ve encountered this on a Delta intercontinental flight, which is pretty pathetic considering we’ve only been GF for 7 years, and we actually don’t travel all that much!
But if Delta Food Service’s lack of due diligence isn’t embarrassing enough, wait until you hear about Customer Service’s (lack of) response. Forget the bureaucratic ridiculousness: “I’m sorry, sir, you will not get a response for a minimum of 30 days.” Delta has taken an “it’s not our fault” stance, leaving us to conclude that their policy around food allergies recklessly endangers the health and lives of their passengers.
Much like a parent feels when a teen breaks curfew to help a friend, I wanted to believe that Delta’s irresponsible policy was based in good intentions – that, once the company knew what was happening, they would readily, eagerly, make the necessary changes to provide safe food for their passengers. The first response to our complaint was unacceptable, so we posted another complaint and started climbing the veritable food chain. To our shock, in the weeks, now months, since this incident, Delta’s response has not changed. Here’s what one Delta Customer Care Coordinator wrote:
“I am genuinely sorry you were dissatisfied with my response.” (Note, no apology for serving us poisonous food). “I understand you feel I did not adequately address your concerns. Further, I recognize that you are dissatisfied (dissatisfied?!) with the products that were included in the gluten free (gluten free?) meals you and your family received.
Again we recognize that passengers may have different requirements depending on individual gluten sensitivity. Passengers are encouraged to refrain from ingesting any product if they feel it does not fit within their dietary requirements, and select other food products included in the gluten free entrée served…”
Now, I would have no problem with Delta telling us that they cannot accommodate a gluten-free meal. It would be disappointing, bordering on pathetic in this day and age, and most certainly backwards ... but it would be tolerable. What is NOT tolerable is to serve a product publicly identified (by the manufacturer!) as containing gluten in a meal that is clearly labeled Gloten Free.
There are no nuances in this situation. This is not about whether it was gluten free enough. This product contained gluten and they gave it to us and told us it did not. Am I missing something?
I can’t help thinking what would have happened if we were dealing with an anaphylactic allergy. My husband was sick for 3 days of a week-long vacation, but he survived the ordeal. Imagine how much worse it could have been! Imagine if they had handed us peanuts and told us they were almonds. Would they be responsible then?
We teach our kids that when they make a mistake they should own it, take responsibility for their impact, and make corrections when possible. Mistakes are normal, they are how we learn. Making the same mistake twice with no effort to change? Well, that’s just plain foolishness.
Delta’s policy around food allergies and sensitivities falls in the category of foolishness. We were 2 hours delayed on another flight on that same vacation, and Delta sent a proactive letter of apology to all passengers on the plane with frequent flier points. But for this? They will not own their mistake, much less apologize, or make corrections.
As for the Customer Service chain of command? I suspect the “Buck Stops Here” stopped a long way before it got to Richard Anderson. In fact, our emails directly to him and his office remain unanswered. As I said, I am a loyalist, so I still want to hope that if Richard Anderson DID know what was happening, he would do something to change it. I still want to be proud of Delta.
So, do us all a favor. Send this blog to Richard Anderson at Delta Airlines. Send it to your friends and ask THEM to send it, too. After all, don’t we deserve to feel safe when a “Gluten Free” meal is handed to us?
Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a writer, a coach and the founder of ImpactADHD.com, a parent-coaching content site offering coaching and training support for parents of kids with ADHD. She is a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com, and a contributing writer for Living Without magazine.
Her household has been gluten free for nearly 8 years.