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DETROIT - While talking to 15 families with children who have chronic or terminal illnesses at a pre-flight meeting, Joni Kowalski, a Delta Airport Customer Service Red Coat, gave memorable instructions on how the passengers could find her at the airport:


“Just look for the lady in a pink T-shirt and mouse ears.”

It worked. This group of eager parents, most taking to the skies with their children for the first time, quickly recognized Kowalski upon arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last week.

Jodi Russell, a mother flying for the first time with her children, said Kowalski told the parents she would meet any needs they had. “When we got to the airport, Joni noticed us and said to someone, ‘I’ve gotta go, my kids are here.’ Then she hugged my girls.”

These families were the recipients of an all-expenses-paid vacation to Orlando, courtesy of the annual Jay’s Juniors contest hosted by WNIC 100.3 Detroit. Kowalski led her fellow Detroit ACS employees, along with four princesses, a super hero and everyone’s favorite goofy snowman in greeting the travelers.

“Last year I was having lunch with Jay Towers and he was talking about Jay’s Juniors,” Kowalski said.  “When I asked, ‘What can we do,’ he said just to be there and help when the families checked in.”

But she didn’t stop there. Kowalski, who as a Red Coat is a problem-solving expert, worked with Delta leaders in Detroit to park the plane at the closest gate possible in the mile-long terminal, called Delta friends in Orlando to greet the group upon arrival and created a one-of-a-kind gate experience with help from Delta’s Detroit team.

Towers, broadcast personality and host of Jay’s Juniors, reflected on his friendship with Joni, “Working in television and radio in Detroit since 1999, I fly a lot. Over the years I kept running into Joni, she is the epitome of customer service; just a giving, selfless person. She made this so amazing for the kids.”

Last year's experience was so impressive, Kowalski said, that some of the families have felt confident and comfortable enough to fly again, booking trips on Delta.

Kowalski explained, “The families could not stop praising Delta in how they were treated. ‘It was like your team put on kitten gloves,’ one mom said. They noticed that agents were trained to interact with the children too, not just the parents.”

Service From The Heart

More than 30,000 Delta ACS agents deliver this level of thoughtful service across the system every day.


“Daily I see families that haven’t flown before going through the process with a child who has special needs,” said Kowalski. “I always think, ‘I’m going to help you with this because you need a little extra love and attention.’ Our people are trained to deliver exceptional service to all passengers and meet any needs.”

Delta ACS agents are taught to embrace “Service From The Heart,” an ACS/Cargo Learning trademark   known for its innovative approach to teaching customer service skills to Delta’s frontline workforce. Renee Smith is one of the ACS Learning Delivery Managers leading this effort.

“We offer ‘Service From The Heart- Lift Off’ for all new employees so that they clearly understand the Delta Difference. Then we offer updated programs each year. So far, we’ve trained 12,000 mainline customer-facing employees and leaders, plus an additional group of Delta Connection and Non-U.S. vendors,” Smith explained.

This program is based on surveys and interactions with Customer Care. And the training continues to adapt to the changes of Delta’s business and customers.

“For passengers with special needs, ACS employees are taught to be mindful and provide extra assistance as needed,” said Smith. “Ultimately everyone is traveling for a reason. When people are traveling for those special moments, it’s really impactful when they have a great experience.”

Training allows agents to talk to their peers from other stations and share best practices. ACS employees say the little things they do, by helping a child or assisting a parent who has their hands full, drive Delta’s customer service difference.

"We give our employees indicators to look for, like a passenger who seems lost or a family with young children, and empower employees to take action. We’re not telling them exactly what to do, we’re encouraging them to think creatively,” said Smith.

The group focuses on understanding that customer inconveniences are going to happen, noting that when they do, Delta ACS employees can intervene and make that customer experience better. “Customer service is not one of those one-and-done things. It’s something you have to do continuously,” Smith said.

The team looks both inside and outside of the airline industry to drive best practices, staying at hotels with a strong customer focus or checking out the customer-facing process at popular coffee shops. This focus on the customer experience drives brand loyalty.

“Delta’s the hub here in Detroit, it’s what we all fly,” said Towers, the radio host. “We knew that they would take care of these families…this is our airline.”