Just how many Delta Medallion upgrades are lost to Shena 2.0! Is this really OK?

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FA in 1A on ORD to ATL flight

The photo you are seeing above is a Delta FA, a new hire, who is practicing her airport codes with flash cards. That is indeed a great and noble thing to practice, but there is more to this story than just an outstanding new Delta employee becoming the best she can be.

working on ariport code flash cards

I have never thought about flash cards for airport codes, but what a fun game and I played along a little. However, this may not be as fun a game as it seems. Why? Well here is at least part of the “rest of the story”.

You see, I was in 1C on this flight. I was on a trip with a friend who is a Gold Medallion. As we all should know, officially per Delta rules and as you can see from the GIDS (gate information display system), if you board as a medallion, you are giving up your spot on the upgrade list. My friend and I both alerted the Delta Redcoat working the desk that he would be boarding last to see if the 1st class cabin in fact did “board full” (not the same as checked-in full btw).

Apparently it did not board full. I texted my buddy that 1A was empty (1B moved over) but either one of two things happened next. Either, according to the flyer herself, this Delta “new hire” was given the the 1st class seat over the last medallion standing at the gate, OR, Delta purchased a 1st class seat for a new hire FA to fly to Atlanta (I have no idea which of the two is true – but I have my suspicions).

We all should know, as I have witnessed 1st hand, Delta DOES buy 1st class tickets for all the “suits” who work for Delta. I would love to know just how many seats on each flight are filled with Delta VIP people with purchased tickets, but that, I am sure, is information the mothership will never share with us.

another reader reg bad upgrades

We all also well know that “Shena” events do happen and happen often when humans are involved. We know sometimes a GA comes on-board and upgrades medallions when no one is left standing at the desk at the top of the upgrade list (after all others have boarded). But we know, as you can see from the above an below tweets, other things do happens as well.

eric from twitter empty seats

How often does a seat go out empty or does a Shena happen? Who knows, but in this case I was really upset as we had even gone the extra step of alerting the ORD Redcoat that a loyal Delta GOLD Medallion was willing to board as the last passenger to hopefully score that last upgrade spot. Either the customer service specialist, a Redcoat no less, failed to upgraded a medallion or allowed a VERY late last minute boarding employee to get the seat the company paid for for them in 1st class.

I guess I would love your input. What do you think of this situation and ones like this. Is it right for a gate agent to do this (if it was in fact the case at all) that is, to put an employee before a medallion or the policy of upgrading the “last medallion standing”? You tell me! – René
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25 comments

  1. if you ran a poll I am pretty sure it would tell people upgrades come first at A high percentage. I do not like it except that the plane is really behind the GA should come and grab passengers from the back.

  2. Rene Two quick ones. Neither lately. My wife and I have been asked to move to the front after we had boarded and settled in. Silvers at the time. Best – saw my seat number with another name next to it on a screen at the gate at JFK, a trip to ZRH. At desk, the agent said I have been upgraded. I asked if my wife was upgraded as well. She had not. I said then please put me back in my bulkhead seat in the back or upgrade my wife. 30 seconds later, we were both up front. Oh yeah, we were on miles tickets and both silver. Do not think it would happen today.

  3. I had an extremely frustrating experience this past Thursday while attempting to get to Buenos Aires. I was traveling with a friend who is a Diamond. Our flight had 23 empty seats in BC from ATL-EZE. I know that they don’t “technically” upgrade medallions on international flights, but they almost always upgrade Diamond members if there’s room. Rather than upgrade paying customers, they filled ALL of the seats with Delta FA’s apparently going on vacation. We only know that because we made small talk with them. Totally unreal.

  4. I know 2 people who work for different airlines and both have the automatic standby seating. I do have high status (was just downgraded for using miles) but I an 100% ok with Company associates using first class over medallions. They work and represent the company and that is a perk of working with said company. I get that there are people like me who spend a lot of money on plane tickets, but I also know what it’s like to work for a company that doesn’t value you as a “first class” employee and gives you just enough for you to do your job. guess what, I didn’t stay at that company very long! As for the non upgrades, Delta still stinks and everybody knows it. I’m not surprised. It’s not right but I’m not surprised.

  5. I guess the key point of this whole post is this: “I have no idea which of the two is true…”

    As someone else noted, Shena is NOT the norm. Delta takes care of me better than any other airline, hands down, including on upgrades. In fact, even as a non-Diamond, I still get upgraded more often than not on CPH – [US hubs] flights.

  6. Definately Shanana! If the FA had a purchased FC seat, she could have or would have boarded first with the rest of FC. Just glad that I don’t travel like I used to and when I want to sit up front, I buy the ticket.

  7. Rene, you have once again hit the nail on the head. I just finished a multi-leg trip this past week and saw everything you mentioned in your article. First Class had two Delta pilots even with a long upgrade list on the monitor, another flight had an empty First Class seat (which really surprised me since there were still people on the upgrade list), and it has been easily over a year since I have seen a gate agent board the plane on move someone from the back to the front after boarding is complete.

    I would like to add one more issue I have had. Being a PM, I was running late for my flight and had to board toward the end. I was told that the only option for me was to “gate check” my bag. After asking the gate agent if she was sure the overheads were full, I was told in an aggressive tone that I was going to gate check my bag and there was no other option. Not wanting to press the issue further, and just get home, I complied and left my bag at the gate. Upon boarding the plane (again at the end of the boarding line) I saw many open overhead bins. I couldn’t believe it. I even made a comment out loud and several of the other Delta passengers laughed and agreed with me on how silly it had been to gate check our bags.

    Unfortunately with the advent of gate agents being incentivized on planes pushing back early, they have gone to the extreme with bags and boarding. One FA was quietly arguing with the Red Coat on another recent flight out of MCO. The Red Coat was telling the FA to close the door, and the FA didn’t want to because it was 15 minutes early. In the end, they closed the door early and we pushed back.

    Thank you Rene for what you do, and for keeping the light on Delta. For those of us that spent a large chunk of our lives on their planes, it has become clear that although we are loyal to Delta, they are no longer loyal to us. It is nothing like it was years ago, and seems to be getting worse.

  8. Rene, Delta has switched to a total “spend to be valued as a passenger” airlines but then does not reward that way on upgrades. If customer who spend the most money mean everything to you then they should be consistently rewarded that way. I see this approach as very hypocritical when they put employees over paying customers in first class. Be consistent Delta. Also, no international upgrades is a very dumb policy.

  9. Rene, I was unaware that Delta “purchased” first class seats for employees. Since the money comes back to them, what the heck is the difference between a “purchased” ticket and a non-rev passenger? I have noticed some “deadhead” Delta crew taking 1st class seats because they are being positioned for their job.

    As an adamant “customer-first” professional, I am aghast at the arrogance of putting “expense” people ahead of “revenue-generating” people. Paying customers have choice and can choose to spend their $ elsewhere. Staff do not have choice. A company that does not assign upgrades or perks on this basis cannot call itself “customer-oriented” regardless of how much PR BS they put on the IFE screens.

    Under dear old NWA tutelage, I once asked a non-rev pilot sitting next to me in 1st class to change with my wife in coach who could not get a companion upgrade seat. He actually got up and switched! Now that’s customer service!

  10. The Shena situation was wrong. The situation Sean described was not. The employees on vacation are using their flight privileges, which are part of their compensation package. No one who should have been in BC according to the rules was denied BC. That comment smacks of DYKWIA syndrome.

  11. What I really liked was the employees feet on the bulkhead. I seen a number of FC on RJs but not on real planes. As Diamonds my wife and I are consistently missing upgrades on long flights so much so we no longer expect them. Since the Only reason we fly Delta is for the upgrades, we won’t be Diamonds after 2017. As Delta’s first Diamond couple, the benefits have been shrinking for years. Other less expensive options out of DAY, CVG, or DTW.

  12. In years past, the gate agents at MCO often boarded the aircraft to move Medallions in coach up to the forward cabin. They have desisted of late and now announce that Medallions awaiting an upgrade must remain in the gate until the 30-minute mark or, if they board, their chance of an upgrade will drop to zero. Interestingly, though, the 30-minute mark is entirely discretionary. This morning, flying MCO-MSP, the upgrades were granted at 40 minutes before departure. Because of all of the interruptions on Saturday, the 757-300 was packed despite a 07:45 departure. If I weren’t a Diamond, there would have been zero chance of an upgrade, which is rare for early flights on Sundays.

  13. I have heard that Diamonds frequently get comped upgrades to business, but usually only if economy is overbooked? I thought Delta’s policy is to leave the seats empty.

    United generally doesn’t leave business seats empty because they sell the upgrades (and there is an upgrade system of miles+cash that every passenger can use, although it isn’t cheap).
    If you clear after you board on UA, they come get you from your seat and give you a new boarding pass (at least in theory — better to be safe than sorry)

  14. Sean – Delta’s policy is that medallions do not get upgrades on international flights. Delta also has a policy that “non-rev” standby fliers (employees and their family/friends) receive the best seats available once they have cleared all revenue passengers in accordance with policies. The FAs going on vacation and getting business class seats would be in line with policy, while Diamonds getting upgrades on that route would be a op-up and at GA discretion.

    Rene – My understanding is that Delta employees at the Director level and higher receive positive space ticketing in first class, which would be equivalent to a first class revenue ticket, although I’m not sure I’d consider it a “purchased ticket” as it’s still non-rev.

  15. All of my international travel has been in business, using miles, so I have never had an opportunity to get upgraded as a DM. But I can tell you my last flight, LHR-DTW, had 14 empty seats in Business and I would find it hard to believe there were not a bunch of DMs on board.

  16. Much as I like to get bumped up to first, I think that employees are entitled to perks from their company. They should be limited to a certain amount of times they get first class seating, but I am not opposed to, say, 4 flights per year each.
    A lot of “us” expect it each time but that is unreasonable.

  17. Just the other day I see /FLY at the top of the upgrade list, any idea what that (who) is? On a side note trying to upgrade with a SWU ATL – SFO all seats showing open. The Delta agent, “travel agents book first class tickets with no seat assignments and that is why all seats are showing open and I cannot upgrade you, but on you short legs I can.” Yea right and at 150+ days out. SWU seem useless indeed these days.

  18. Shena happened to me on my last flight but a little differently. 12 hour flight from hkg. I’m 6’8″ so try to get the exit row but had to change flights last minute and had a regular coach aisle seat. I watch the seat map closely and grabbed an aisle with an empty seat next to it. Before I board, the seat next to me is assigned but two empty seats open up. I go sit in one just hoping. Then a guy with a delta lanyard comes by looking at my seat–the map still shows both unassigned. The FA comes over and moves me, and the guy with the lanyard says to her as she walks back “you got me that seat with the empty one next to it! yes! [fist pump] ” seems like Shena to me….ironically I’m DM and that flight I crossed the 1M mark. If they can be nice to the shorter guy who is a non rev and give him two seats it might have been a nice gesture for the DM who has his knees in his chest. #notimpressed

  19. we all work for a living and if my company gives me a perk worth thousands of dollar I have to pay income TAX, these employee’s are getting in some cases 10’s of thousands of dollars in free tickets each year how about they pay income TAX like the rest of us. My dad did not get a new car from GM every year and if he did he paid TAX!!!

  20. What’s the current Delta policy on international oversales? If there are open seats in business but coach is oversold do they upgrade revenue coach to business or will they leave coach pax behind and put the nonrev’s in business? I’ve head different stories. Anyone who works for Delta able to answer? Thank you!

  21. @Tanque00 – Delta will pull elites (by rank) from the back that is they should pull DM then PM and so on if coach is oversold. If coach is NOT oversold all the seats go to those who work for Delta wanting a free seat.

  22. Upgrades on international flights are not ‘given’ to DM or any other M for that matter. In the case the flight is oversold in economy, DM, PM, et al. would be upgraded first to make sure no paying passenger is left behind. Although I would assume the person referenced in the article was on a positive space ticket, I can not defend the action of the GA nor of the employee with her feet on the wall. However, that being said, I can attest to the fact that RARELY are employees given FC seats due to the COMPLIMENTARY upgrades received by Medallions. Many of them I have spoken to are shocked when they get a seat up front. It amazes me to see the pouting on flights by DMs, PMs, and others who did not get their FREE upgrade they DID NOT pay for, and in most cases was paid not by them, but their company. While I assure you Delta is not perfect, they have been more than generous in giving away many perks over the year to me and I am sure many others on this board.

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