Monday, October 25, 2010

Four Days at "Airline Camp"

Before I post about how my weekend went, I feel like I need to explain why I was at Delta and how this all came to be, as this is not a normal occurance that is going to make much sense to most of my friends.

As most of you know I travel pretty heavily for work. The term most often used for people like me is "Road Warriors" (RW's). We spend lots of times on airplanes, in hotels and rental cars. And I like MOST people thought, before I got into this lifestyle, that it was glamorous jet setting, seeing amazing places and first class all the way. The reality, for most road warriors, this is a pretty tough way to live. You are jumping city to city, usually seeing the airport, the hotel, the client's office and the airport again. The places are often little towns and small cities. More time is spent in transit than anything.

One of the ways that RW's make life a little easier is by joining loyalty programs (frequent flyer programs, hotel loyalty programs and the like). This does two things....1) by earning points for travel you are able to use those points for vacation and fun travel and 2) when you reach the higher levels of these programs you are often able to tap into perks and more importantly when things go wrong (what we often call IROP's or Irregular Operations) you are taken care of faster and sometimes better. I personally am at the top tier of the Delta (Diamond Reserve), Hilton (Diamond) and Hertz (President's Club) programs. Another way some of us try to find fun in the RW lifestyle is through finding ways to maximize the points we earn in these programs.

Needless to say there are VERY few people in most of our lives that get this culture around being a RW, it is hard to truly grasp unless you live it. So as the internet has developed online communities have been born to link RW's and other Frequent Traveler's. One such website is I still don't remember how I found this website 5 or more years ago, but I did. At one time I was a pretty active participant, in the last couple years not much.

One of the outcomes of this website is that those of us traveling try to catch up with other "Flyertalker's" (FT'ers) as we cross paths in different cities. Sometime it is just one on one, such as my "airport husband" Dave and I who had dinner every Friday night in the Detroit airport for about a year. And sometimes it is larger groups (known as "do's" which are planned in a specific city or at a specific venue.

While most of these events are planned, supported and attended by the online community, in some cases the programs we are loyal to have become involved in them. This weekend my trip to Atlanta was a "do" sponsored by Delta Airlines and attended by about 120 loyal "Delta-ists".

This was not my first trip to the Delta Campus, for me another great benefit of FT has been making some personal connections inside of Delta that have allowed me some great experiences and friendships, but this was definitely a memorable weekend. As one FT'er called it tonight, it was like going to Airline Camp!

Our agenda looked something like this:

      Morning - Delta Heritage Museum tour and lunch at the Museum
      Afternoon - Briefing by 7 of the top Delta excutives (including the CEO Richard Anderson) who not only shared with us where the airline is headed, but also were brave enough to let us ask them questions and give our opinions. For the size of the group it was a pretty intimate chance to interact with these folks running the airline)
     Night - Dinner sponsored by Delta Airlines (including a trivia game lead by Deltalina (if you don't know who that is just check You Tube). And of course the winners got a boat load of skymiles!

     Morning - Tour of the Technical Operations Center (TOC). For anyone who has flown into Atlanta and seen the "Fly Delta Jets" sign, that is the TOC. It is where the planes, their engines and components are serviced and maintained. Again we were right in the thick of it. After a briefing we were taken to the different maintenance shops, the engine shop, to the hangars where the planes were being worked on and thoughout the facility. And this was not a stand behind the rope and look tour. This was touch it, stand next to it, smell it, feel it. We could NOT have been any closer or any more in the middle of things.
     Early Afternoon - Flight Simulator Time. We were given a chance to fly the same simulators that pilots are trained on. We flew take off's, landings and some crazy things like under bridges. This was my second time in the Delta sims and it is an incredible experience.
     Afternoon - A tour of the Operations Control Center (OCC). The OCC is where all the folks controlling which planes are going where, what gates they are using, what crews are on board them is centered. Also managed here is meterology, customer service and a zillion other things I am forgetting. This is the heart of how we all get from one place to another and how they keep 2500 flights a day organized and how when things get crazy due to weather, delays or other problems they manage the situation. Again this was hands on and up close, from watching the group of people who manage which plane is doing what, to seeing the real time flight delays in progress.
    Evening - Dinner at Prime Steakhouse sponsored by Amex and Delta.

Saturday and Sunday:
    This was when the hands on got real. Two different options were available both days and most people did one one day and then the other the next.

     The first was "Walk a Mile with ACS"...basically gate agent for a day. This gave our group the chance to be paired with a Delta gate agent and actually do what they do, again hands on and up close. We were scanning boarding passes, rearranging seating assignments, dealing with misconnections and reroutings for passengers in the Atlanta airport.

     The second options was "Road Warrior Training". We went to the Delta Training Center and were taught many of the things flight attendants learn in their 7 week training and then must recertify on annually. The experience was both educational (lecture and lessons) but then also experiential, utilizing the plane mock ups that the FA's practice their scenarios in. We covered medical emergencies, self defense when dealing with an unruly passenger, fire procedures (and yes they put us in a plane and filled it with smoke), emergency landings and evacuations (including deloying a slide and having to empty the plane that way) and the best part, a simulated water ditching (emergency landing into water which is simulated with an airplane cabin in a pool). Where we got to evacuate using our life vests, swim to the raft, pull our plane for of people into the raft and then prepare it for waiting for help.

It is hard even writing all this out to explain how amazing (and exhausting) this all was. I am going to try in a couple upcoming blog posts to talk about my own personal experiences with it. But I already know it is going to be nearly impossible to capture what a truly outstanding experience this was.

I also would be remiss if I didn't stop and thank every employee at Delta we interfaced with in these 4 days (and there were 100's of them). It is hard to believe but I think they were as excited to be doing this with us as we were to be there. From the CEO down they were welcoming, energetic, fun, entertaining, informative and just really genuine. As much as we got to see the mechanics of an airline this weekend. We also saw its HEART. And we were part of that heart.

I can personally say I did not once feel like I was a visitor or a customer at Delta Airlines this weekend, we were genuinely treated as part of the Delta family!!!! Anyone who thinks all big businesses have lost track of who they are really needs a few days at "Airline Camp".


  1. Wonderful writings, Pam! I shall print this out.

    Keep that figure trim. You looked great!

    See you soon again, I hope.

    Dede (dedehans)

  2. Good work! see you again in the near future, or wherever a plane takes us,


  3. Beautifully written. You truly captured the spirit of the trip. I hope to see you before too long.