Reader Question: Delta Involuntarily First Class To Economy Downgrade – What Compensation Is Due?

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A LoyaltyLobby reader sent me an email about involuntarily downgrade from domestic first to economy on Delta flight from New York to Dallas (airline claims that they were not downgraded).

RQ DL LGA-IAH

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Here’s the email from the reader:

I booked one way first class tickets from LGA-IAH for wife and son using 37,500 DL miles per person and after flight irregularity, 2 hrs delay, and oversold flights, along with $1,000 offers for many volunteers, they downgraded my wife and son to economy “without informing them” and seats were changed since check in despite it says RA first class on the ticket but seat was actually in economy (4A/4B). Their booking details had first class seats prior to check in (2A/2B), and I have a screen shot of their booking when they were on their way to the airport.

I found out after they landed that she did not sit in first class because she told me there was no food served and my son was hungry. And then I asked where they sat and found out the issue.

What kind of compensation can I request for in this scenario? My wife and son rarely travel on their own without me so they didn’t know what to do.

I request some clarification:

Correct, we redeemed miles for 2 first class tickets with confirmed seats in 2A/2B. Then in the flight date at check in, Sears were changed to 4A/4B (app screenshot from 21 hrs before flight was still 2A/2B). Seemed that the new plane had only 3 rows of first class. What’s funny is boarding pass days first class (RA) but seats 4A/4B are first row of economy. I attached the picture of boarding pass. We later realized after landing that PREM likely means premium economy, and premier like we thought (we normally fly United).

Everyone would have assumed row 4 is first class but it was not. It was the first row of economy. Likely premium economy,

I also attached screenshot from 21 hrs before showing seat 2A/2B.

I also attached delta email on flight date showing seats 4A/4B but the email still says first class.

Boarding pass, wife confirmed she didn’t change the seat at check in.

And no they were not informed throughout the trip that they were downgraded. She texted me from flight WiFi asking why she was not served a meal cos my son was hungry and why she was in the first row of economy. I asked her to inquire flight attendant why she was downgraded and flight attendant did not know and advised her to contact delta after landing,

I found this whole mess unethical and illegal.

I think they changed aircraft, offered many volunteers at $1000 each due to fewer seats, and downgraded non-status passengers.

Reader sent a complaint to Delta and here’s their reply:

Thanks for your email letting us know of the recent travel experience you had on our Delta Connection carrier Republic Airline.

I can definitely understand how you felt when you didn’t get to sit in the seat you wanted. We know passengers have seat preferences, and we do our best to honor specific seat requests whenever we can.

I’m really sorry you were not advised of the change, I’ve reviewed our records and I show that you were accommodated in the First Class Cabin seats 4 A and 4 B are the last seats in First Class. Please refer to the link below which shows the seat configuration on the plane you flew on:

https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Delta_Airlines/Delta_Airlines_Embraer_ERJ-175.php

Since you flew in the booked class no compensation or refund is due.

We value your support as a SkyMiles member and we look forward to welcoming you onboard soon.

Here’s reader’s reply to Delta:

’m shocked at how you have just provided the wrong aircraft type to try to convince me that we were in first class when we were not. The attached pictures I took inside the airplane clearly show row 4 was Delta comfort and not Delta First. Whatever aircraft type being used on the actual flight date, it didn’t have the 4th row in First which potentially explained why you needed so many volunteers.

As you can also see from the pictures inside the airplane we were in which had only 3 rows of first class (seat configuration 1 and 2, A C D) and my row 4 which is Delta comfort (seat configuration 2 and 2, A B C D) and is clearly not first class as shown by my son’s seat and we were physically seated in the first row of economy because we could see first class section in front of us and we were not a part of it, nor any meals were served in Comfort section while they were served in First. The seat labels also clearly show it’s Delta comfort, not First.

It is also a puzzle to me why our row 2 seats in First the night before flight date were changed to Row 4 in Comfort on check in date without our authorization and no one told us why we were downgraded from First to Comfort.

Please also double check your computerized record why you were given the wrong aircraft type being used which is not matching the actual one used on April 16.

I ask that the miles be returned for such unethical and illegal practice and that appropriate compensation be given per our request below.

Here’s what happened:

DL LGA-IAH

The reader’s wife and son were booked on DL6121 on April 16, 2018, that was supposed to be operated on E75 aircraft.

DL LGA-IAH DL6121 April 16

The flight was delayed by two hours on that date.

E75 First Class Seat Map:

DL LGA-IAH DL6121

There are four rows of first class.

E70 Seat Map:

DL LGA-IAH DL6121 E70 Seat Map

Here only the first three rows are first.

Flightradar:

DL LGA-IAH DL6121 April 16 Aircraft

Flightradar clearly shows the tail number of the aircraft that operated the flight and that it indeed was E70.

Compensation

The problem is that DOT does not properly require airlines to compensate for downgrades like the EC 261/2004 regulation in Europe.

DOT only requires (access their regulation here):

Downgrading – A passenger is downgraded from a higher class of seating to a lower class.  In this case, the passenger is entitled to a refund for the difference in price.

Reader could, however, open a DOT complaint (do it here) for this Delta practice and incorrect information (refund denied that is due per regulation even in the US). Perhaps this would get some action from Delta?

Conclusion

Delta’s customer service agent should have checked the actual aircraft that operated the flight to see that the row 4 was economy and not business class. The aircraft operating the flight had been downgraded likely due to the delay from E75 to E70.

Refund for the difference between first class and economy (or economy comfort) award is due here and Delta is likely to throw in some funny money (read electronic vouchers).

US really needs stronger consumer protection when it comes to air travel. I guess that you can only hope?

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