Ever wanted to be a Delta gate agent? One blogger did. Would you want this job?

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Photo credit: Jeb Outofplace.com

I love just about all things about travel. What others see as headaches I embrace and like to find solutions for. I also really appreciate all the hard working folks at Delta who each day make it possible for me to have so much fun flying around the world. But they put up with a lot from us and the one job I would never ever ask for is to be a gate agent. Talk about stress – oh my!

But Jeb, who runs OutOfPlace.com got the chance to be a Delta gate agent for a day. Yep, he willingly took on this job! If you have not looked over his post about this day of “fun” please do so now (<-LINK). Then, with that post in mind, I have a bunch of questions for him. Let’s dive in:

René – Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Jeb about your day as a GA.

Jeb – Thanks for having me, René. I’m excited to share what I learned during my brief time “behind the curtain.”

René – You did a really great job covering a number of questions I think we all have about doing this thankless job for Delta but what I really want to know is some of the stuff GAs do not tell us about. Let’s start with SNAPP. Did it work the whole day or was DLTERM ever needed to get something done?

Jeb – You said something important there: It is often a thankless job. I tried to convey in my post the stress and complexity associated with the Gate Agent role. The folks I worked with were awesome — definitely some of Delta’s best!

Everything worked smoothly during my “shift.” Nothing went down. In fact, SNAAPP is surprisingly intuitive…if you use it all day. I never did get the hang of it!

There are still a few reasons Gate Agents have to go into the old system – securing jump seats for pilots from other airlines, for example. The old software looks like DOS while the new one has a good looking interface.

René – We know, in part thanks to my bringing this up to Delta’s CEO, that GAs are now to clear at T40 vs T30. Did the GAs follow this and is there any cue at the T40 mark to remind them to do this?

Jeb – In my experience, the Gate Agents know the rules inside and out and follow them to the letter. The overarching pressure they’re under is to get the plane out on time. Dialogue boxes pop up on the screen with reminders pertinent to the process to make sure they don’t miss anything.

I only worked three flights. On two, they cleared upgrades well before departure – it was at least 40 minutes. On the fourth, they cleared closer to departure because it was a tighter turnaround. There was simply less time. That said, they still worked off of the upgrade list. That was the flight where I got to give an upgrade to a passenger who had already boarded. If I hadn’t been there to take on that extra “work,” I’m not sure what the Gate Agent would have done. That said, I’ve been on my fair share of flights with partially empty First Class cabins lately.

René – We all hate SHENA when she comes for a visit. We know GAs have full control over upgrades and can do what they want however they want. Also #TeamBoardLast seems still to be relevant even with the new directives. Did you see any SHENA events during your day?

Jeb – You’re right, the Gate Agents do have a lot of control over upgrades. As I just mentioned, the highlight of my day was getting to give an upgrade to a passenger who had already boarded. The look on his face showed me what I must have looked like when I got a similar upgrade last year. But, no, I didn’t see any shenanigans.

René – In your post you mentioned the GAs can see where passengers were coming from i.e. other flights and whether they should or should not make a flight. Did you see or hear them talk about holding a flight past departure time for anyone?

Jeb – I didn’t see that happen, but I did ask about it. I was told that they rarely hold flights, but they will do it briefly when they’re waiting for several Diamonds or a large group of passengers traveling together with a tight connection whom they know they’re on their way to the gate. They don’t like to, though. Which makes sense: If a flight is delayed someone – likely the Gate Agent – will be held accountable for it. And nobody wants to get called onto the carpet for costing the company money.

So, here’s an insider tip number one: If you have a tight connection, the best thing you can do is find a bunch of Diamonds who are connecting on the same flight or be traveling with a huge group of people! Or, just avoid it altogether and book a longer layover…

René – I take it there were no oversold flights during your day as a GA? If not, were their flights that were over but went out even? Was oversold flights talked about that day?

Jeb – Correct. I didn’t work on any oversold flights (I worked between nine in the morning and noon on a Friday).

I did ask about them, though. The Gate Agents I worked with seemed to enjoy giving out vouchers. One guy had given out two, $1,000 vouchers the day before! They like doing it because the volunteers are usually excited to get a bit of extra “cash” and the Gate Agent gets the flight out a bit sooner. They do have flexibility on the amount they can give, but if someone is volunteering for $400 and you want $2,000, they’re probably going with the less expensive option.

As for my experience: Two of my flights were nearly full, and became full when we found space shortly before departure for some non-revenue passengers. The third flight was quite empty. It was one of Delta’s last flights to Houston before Hurricane Harvey hit. As an aside, the belly of that plane was full of bottled water and blankets. Delta was being pro-active about the support they provided. Not sure about you, but seeing that validated my love for Delta.

René – I assume you did not get to drive the jet bridge? Did you get to at least watch while they did drive it up to the jet? Is it harder than it looks?

Jeb – Sadly, this was the one element of the Gate Agent experience that was off-limits to me. And for good reason! Nobody wanted a volunteer to run a jet bridge into an airplane! Seriously, though, this is a pretty intense part of the job. I mean think about it: They’ve got time pressure to turn the flight around, they’re dealing with multi-million dollar equipment, and they’ve got people desperate to get off — and on — the plane. In other words, it’s hard. Driving a jet bridge isn’t like driving a Honda. I did get to ride on it. That was a very cool experience! I also got to close the door to the plane, which was surprisingly difficult.

René – Did any passengers say or do anything especially annoying that we want to make sure we never do as a “red flag” if you will to really upset a GA?

Jeb – First of all, these Gate Agents have seen — and heard — everything! I don’t think there’s much that will faze them. They did seem unimpressed the four, separate times I saw someone try to “flash” their Silver Status as a reason they should get something extra. I was also shocked at how common it was for passengers to talk “through” the Gate Agents. Lots of passengers seemed to forget that that there are real people behind the desk.

Insider tip number two: Treat Gate Agents with respect to get much better results.

René – Was there anything that surprised you about what a GA does when it comes to tickets or seat issues or such? GAs often say they can or can’t do whatever. Did you see anything that made you go hummmm….?

Jeb – The unassigned seats get filled just before departure. This is particularly important for anyone traveling on one of the E-Fares. SNAPP automatically populates a list of passengers based on an algorithm (which no gate agent would admit to knowing) based on how much you paid for your ticket, any disruptions you may have dealt with, your status, and who-knows-what-other-factors. With about 15 minutes to go, the Gate Agents begin to populate empty seats with passengers from that list. They have some limited flexibility about where people go, but the degree of flexibility depends mostly on how close they are to departure time.

Insider tip number three: If you’d like to sit with another passenger or to move to a particular type of seat, ask (nicely) well before the boarding rush. If that seat’s available and there’s still time before boarding, you’re likely to get it. You might not get it until you board, though.

René – Did you see any impact of the new-ish E BASIC fares on the boarding process?

Jeb – Delta’s new cheap “E-Fares” come with all kinds of restrictions, including the fact that passengers don’t get assigned seats prior to boarding. That means huge swaths of the gate area are filled with passengers who have “Seat Request” cards and no clue where to sit or when to board. Most of these passengers come to the Gate Agent asking for an explanation, which means Gate Agents repeatedly say something like, “You can board with that card, we’ll swipe it, and you’ll get your seat assignment then.”

Hopefully, with time, people will learn this process. But for now, it’s a bit of a mess.

René – Were there any other really neat bits you did not share in your post that we should know about or that could help us in our Delta travels?

Jeb – I left this experience with so much more respect and admiration for Delta and its culture than I already had. It really is a special place. The people I met with love us, their passengers. Everyone treated me like royalty. They seemed to value me as a customer in a way that many large companies don’t. I can’t wait until my next layover in Atlanta. I’m going to skip the SkyClub and say hello to my new friends on the concourse!

Well I don’t know about you but I thought this was just fascinating and I really appreciate Jeb from OutOfPlace.com taking the time to chat with me about this day. I still say you have to be a little bit cray-cray to put up with us day after day as a gate agent. I always try to be nice to them and I do truly thank them for all they do for us day after day! – René

 

 

 

 

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11 comments

  1. Great post!!!
    Gate agents are some of Delta’s hardest-working people. They are real people. Their job can be a pressure cooker. A gift of chocolate will shock them as much as on on-board upgrade for a passenger.
    Make their day they’ll make yours in return.

  2. Yeah, no thanks.  I have enough work without taking on a job that is so unappreciated like this. Maybe if people read this, they will treat them with a little more respect and patience the next time they’re traveling.

  3. Jeez, If Delta felt comfortable turning loose 80 Flyertalk wackos 🙂 with no training to do this job for a few hours, how hard could it be? LOL

    I’m not sure the general public would be pleased to know their flights and seat assignments were being handled by untrained volunteers. It seems that letting volunteers do this job actually shows contempt for the work that gate agents do. Delta would shoot the employee who ever suggested volunteer pilots, FAs, dispatchers or air traffic controllers.

    I’ve done a police ride along before but in no way ever pretended to be a cop. Now if Delta ever solicited volunteers for working on the ff program, sign me up!

  4. I tried posting a comment an hour ago and nothing happened so please ignore if this is a repeat. The original comment was something like this:

    Since Delta felt comfortable turning loose 80 Flyertalk wackos 🙂 (per the Cohen post) with no training to work as gate agents, the job can’t be that hard. LOL

    I wonder how the passengers would have felt if they knew their flights were being handled by volunteers. The fact that Delta would let untrained volunteers work as gate agents seems to be kind of a slap in the face of gate agents. If a job is so hard and so important, why would any company let a volunteer, much less an untrained one, do it? Would you feel good about an untrained person doing your job? If any employee suggested using untrained volunteers as pilots, FAs, dispatchers or air traffic controllers, that employee would be fired or at best have promotional opportunities severely impacted.

    Maybe Delta was testing Flyertalk as an outsourcing option for gate agent work. After all, Delta is nonunion. If Delta ever needs volunteers to work on its ff program, sign me up.

  5. I am glad Jeb was able to have this experience. Actually everyone should experience what it is like “behind the counter”.

    From a young age I was fascinated with travel – air, bus, train. My Grandfather was an agent for the railroad so I probably got the “travel bug” from him. I worked for a small, So Cal airline, now defunct as so many are. I had Jeb’s job as well as “Ramper” (bring the planes to the gate, load bags, send the plane out) for nine months. I never, ever thought I was working. I absolutely loved it! The only problem is there is little money in the travel industry probably because so many want to do it. I left because of the low pay (raising a young family 35 years ago on minimum, wage was extremely hard). So I got a job that required me to travel. I still travel for my job, internationally, with at least three flights per month. I have a deep appreciation for what the agents at the Check-in counter and gate go through. Because of that I am always calm, even when things aren’t going right. When the plane has a mechanical issue and you aren’t leaving on time, remember that it is better to be down here, wishing you were up there than being up there (with a mechanical problem) wishing you were down here.

  6. What’s the “unofficial” DELTA FF Flyer FB page name, that’s mentioned in this article, I’d love to join.

  7. @Redds – There is no official Delta FF FB page. Delta itself has a FB page but just more of the same as they put up on their news hub page.

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