FARGO — Fargo airport officials and members of Fargo's business community recently put airlines and airline service representatives on the spot regarding passenger complaints about issues such as long waits for baggage pickup and flight takeoffs at Fargo's Hector International Airport.

Airport Executive Director Shawn Dobberstein spelled out the problems at a March 12 meeting of the Fargo Municipal Airport Authority, stating that quality issues involving service have been building since the start of 2019, when Delta Global Services, the company that provides ticket counter and other services for a number of airlines, was purchased by Argenbright Holdings.

Delta Global Services, which now goes by the name DGS, had been owned by Delta Airlines.

Dobberstein and other airport officials say many experienced DGS employees quit following the acquisition and the turnover is at the heart of the deterioration in service passengers are experiencing.

Dobberstein said there have been reports of passengers waiting two hours to get their baggage and of having to sit on planes for long periods of time while planes are de-iced.

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'We've been obliterated'

In some cases, Dobberstein said, flight crews have told passengers the problems stem from the airport, which Dobberstein said is not the case.

As a result, the Fargo airport and others around the country are battling to preserve their reputations, according to Dobberstein.

"We've been obliterated on social media by passengers who have been impacted by these things that are completely out of our control," Dobberstein said, adding that he is hearing similar reports from airport directors elsewhere. "This is going on across the country," Dobberstein said.

The March 12 airport authority meeting was attended by representatives from several companies that provide services to airlines, including DGS, which in Fargo provides operational support to Delta, United and Frontier.

Jeff Neikirk, regional director for DGS, told the airport authority DGS has done a number of things to address issues raised by Dobberstein and others, including bringing in temporary duty workers and highly experienced staff to serve as mentors for newer employees.

Delta Airlines released a written statement in response to questions about its operations in Fargo.

It reads:

"We are aware of some recent operational challenges at Hector International and our leaders are continuing to work directly with the team in Fargo to ensure de-ice equipment and resources have been set up appropriately to deliver the travel experience customers expect.

"As always," the statement added, "we are committed to operational excellence in every market we serve and have made changes in Fargo to return to that high level of service.”

Joe Raso, president and CEO of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., spoke at the March 12 airport authority meeting, suggesting that one way to improve service would be to boost pay for airline service workers.

He cited a recent survey of local businesses and employers, which found dissatisfaction with delays at the airport, particularly those associated with Delta flights.

Raso added that as someone who has traveled a lot for work over the years, he and others he knows have noticed a marked change in the quality of their air travel experience — and not in a good way.

Zero confidence

Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau, echoed Raso's sentiments, stating that because of the deteriorating situation he has "zero" confidence when booking flights that he will make planned connections in the Twin Cities.

"We implore you to do something about this," Johnson told Neikirk and other representatives of airline services companies attending the airport authority meeting.

Neikirk acknowledged DGS could improve on some things, but he noted that the winter has been a particularly severe one, with many days when the temperature never got above freezing.

"I think we're headed in the right direction," Neikirk said, referring to resources being devoted to the Fargo airport, adding: "I think you will see some improvements."