It takes only one bad experience, one delayed flight, or one rude gate agent to permanently mar the reputation of an airline in the eyes of a disgruntled traveler. I suppose that is true for just about anything--take my short time in Costa Rica for example--especially when first impressions are formed. But though it is quite unfair to judge a whole organization (or country) by one bad actor, in reality it happens everyday. And Delta Air Lines is doing something about it.
Last year wasn't particularly good for Delta in the customer complaint department. Delta led the major U.S. airlines in number of customer complaints, which probably had something to do with them also leading the majors in canceled flights and nearly leading the majors in delayed arrivals and lost baggage.
But all 11,000 Delta ticket counter, gate, and baggage agents, as well as their supervisors, will soon be going back to school. I'm not optimistic that company culture can change with a few character building exercises, but Delta deserves praise for recognizing that they have a problem and attempting to remedy it. I trust that the training will include a refresher course on handling irr/ops--a thorn on any airlines' side when not handled correctly.
Let's see if the other carriers follow, especially Continental/United. I personally had much better experiences with United agents than Continental agents in 2010, the year I held top-level elite status on both carriers, but others share diametrically opposite experiences. The bottom line, though, is that just like Northwest and Delta employees come from very different customer service traditions, so do United and Continental employees. Some re-training would be very helpful to insure a smooth transition as the merger continues to unfold.
In the meantime, next time you run into a Delta agent be sure to ask them if they have been back to school yet!