Rookie Wednesday: Medallions, how to avoid Delta’s SHENA!

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Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

shena cat judge not happy

Shena. Say what? Shena, is code for shenanigans. Specifically we are talking about Delta medallion upgrade shenanigans. What is that you ask? There is a lengthy thread at FT about it if you wish to make your head hurt to the point of exploding. But on to my point from my recent trip.

777 BE seats ATL-LAX MEGADeltaMR Delta Points blog

As I talked about on my positioning flights to LAX, I gate cleared as a Diamond Medallion to business class on a 777. Delta’s herringbone business elite international seat is not the best of the bunch but a very nice ride compared to anything coach. What I did not share in the review post was this little tidbit as I wanted to break it out as a post of it’s own. I saw a Shena moment up close and personal it really made me upset.

You see, seat 12C, was empty all through the boarding process. At the very last moment a flyer takes his seat. I smiled at him and then the conversation went like this:

Me – Nice, you got the last upgrade spot.
Him – No employee.
Me – Oh wow!
Him – Well not employee, spouse of an employee.
Me – Ah, enjoy (I say as he smiles back at me)!

So our beloved airline’s gate folks decided to put a NON-REV i.e. a non paying passenger in the big seat rather than coming on board and pulling who should have been the next medallion in line for the upgrade and assigning the non-rev the coach seat. Hello Shena.

Is this wrong? The gate agents control the boarding process until the door is closed. The CAN and DO anything they want to. If they want to, say on an international flight, they can move people into the first class cabin. When it comes to bumps they can decide to use the “paper list” at the gate and totally ignore the digital one or the other way around. They can offer a little or a lot when it comes to bump compensation (your status does play a roll btw). They can choose to give you a hotel voucher or not. Redcoats who can still print food vouchers do often tell you they cannot do this anymore! I could go on and on all day (at least the Delta AMEX Reserve card upgrade help is automated).

So you get the point here, a GA (gate agent) doesn’t HAVE to come on-board and “pull” a medallion up from coach into business class. Does a GA ever do this? You bet! It has happened to me several times over the years. In the past, if I have a bunch of carry-ons, I have boarded so as to not lose out on overhead space and have to have my bag at my feet for a long flight. But what I really should always do, and my advice to you, if you don’t clear wait to board for FINAL BOARDING CALL and ask if 1st class has BOARDED FULL not if it has “checked in full”. There is a huge difference. They may still say YES but I would then ask: “So if there are any BE seats open I can take them?” and check for reaction from the GA.

The only thing good I can say about all this is balancing the need to get a flight out on time vs the time to pull someone from coach. I mean, if 199 are delayed so 1 can get an upgrade I can see the point of putting whoever is waiting into that LAST seat and many times the only folks waiting THAT long are non-rev flyers hoping for any seat that they can fly in.

The bottom line in all this is control. Medallions have EARNED the right at a shot at an upgrade and if you want to avoid meeting Shena face to face you need to know just what can and DOES happen along the way. Oh, and lastly, don’t do anything as a medallion to mess-up your upgrade chances on your own – René
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Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.
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23 comments

  1. Their policy still states that there’s no upgrades on this route. It’s not a guarantee. If its a non-rev, a paying customer, or an empty seat, they already told you that you aren’t eligible for it. They may occasionally give it to you, but you can’t complain when they promised you nothing.

  2. @Jason – no idea what you are talking about! ATL-LAX is a route Delta offers upgrades to ALL medallion even SPG CrossoverRewards plats (not that they have much of a shot other than maybe Sunday AM flights) 😉

  3. “if I have a bunch of carry-ons” Oh no! I didn’t peg you as “one of those travelers”. 🙂

    I am not Diamond Medallion so I can’t comment on the upgrade scene, but completely understand your frustration when things like that happen.

  4. This is solid, important advice! The variance in work ethic between GAs can alarm. In general, my experience is very good. However, a small portion of GAs are louts when it comes to this point. Consequently, I’ve become far more circumspect about boarding only after the last seat in the forward cabin is gone.

  5. I did the same and waited until all have boarded a recent flight, and asked the GA has 1st class boarded full in case there was still a chance at an gate upgrade. He said yes but even if there was still a seat available he would review the list and pull the next available person on the Upgrade List as a courtesy. A senior GA then corrected him saying that once you board, we won’t pull you from coach because it delays the on time departure in removing carryons from overhead space and moving them to your overhead in 1st class. He was shocked and surprised and said he has always gone by the list this as a courtesy, he did not know that was the new rule. So there is inconsistency.

  6. Nice read.

    Question: “So if there are any BE seats open I can take them?” Does “BE” stand for Business Elite?

  7. On a recent ATL flight, I witnessed the first class attendant go to the back of the plane and pull a uniformed attendant up to first with the cabin door open. We still had 5 minutes until pushback. They take care of their own.

  8. I tweeted you last week about some “shena” (not the word I would have chosen) that happened to me on a flight from RSW to ATL. I was traveling with my business partner who is a PM (I’m a DM). I was 6th on the upgrade list with 6 seats available according to the Delta app when I arrived at the airport, my partner was 11th. We walked up to the gate together and I see he has been upgraded but I am now 3rd on the list with 0 seats available. I immediately get in line to find out how that could be and I hear the gate agents say “thank you for your Platinum status” as he hands over a first class ticket to another gentleman. I asked the agent why at least 2 PM where upgraded before me. He then proceeds to tell me it is because they paid more for their ticket! I was pretty sure that was incorrect and told him that made no sense but he assured me that was the way the system worked as of a change 6 months ago. I then proceeded to let him know that I had purchased BOTH tickets and knew they were the exact same price at which time he suddenly had no answer and asked me to wait for a supervisor. I explained to her the situation and while I was doing that the gentleman who was in line before me approached my business partner and asked if he knew me. He replied that he did at which time the man said he didn’t always get upgraded and made a snide comment about me making a fuss over not getting mine. My partner replied that I had a valid point and that I should have been upgraded above the PM’s. At that point the lady next to them said she was a SILVER and had been upgraded. The supervisor said she had no real answer, only that either the gate agent screwed up or that the new system they were using was not working properly and offered me a couple of HOOU coupons as compensation. REALLY? I was not going to pull anyone from their seat, I just wanted a true answer and some corrective measures if it was a system problem. I tweeted Delta Assist who asked for my confirmation number and then replied that they looked into it and my situation was handled correctly and I could call the Diamond desk if I wanted an explanation. When I arrived in ATL I did just that. The agent was very nice, looked into it and said it should not have happened, called a supervisor at RSW who also agreed it should not have happened but had no explanation as to why.

    The frustrating part of all this was that the gate agent was making stuff up, Delta Assist was making stuff up and NOBODY would/could give me a real answer.

    I hate feeling like I am entitled to special treatment but I spend A LOT of time AND money flying Delta and I’ve earned those perks. When they pull this kind of crap it makes me question the integrity of Delta’s employees and systems. There apparently is no accountability and no one to escalate things to so the situation/errors are resolved. Because of things like this and SkyMIles 2015 I have decided to take the bulk of my business elsewhere next year. I’m at 140k miles right now and will be over 200k by the end of the year. I will ONLY fly Delta to get the few miles I’ll needs to hit DM again next year and when it’s convenient and most cost effective for me. Delta has lost my loyalty because of their “shena”, although I doubt anyone will notice unless their record profits start dwindling.

  9. @Jason – oh ok. now DM & PM do 100% have a shot at upgrades now from NYC even if reps don’t always know it. just keep pushing till you get on list.

  10. Glad two others asked… I too want a clarification on what BE stands for … especially in your context in the blog. Thanks…

  11. @All – BE = business elite seats which are normally full flat compared to Delta’s domestic first class seat that is not full flat.

  12. So asking about BE would only be valid for international flights or certain transcontinental flights?

  13. ther seems to be alot of non-rev worker bees in front whenthere are empty seats even tho a list still exists for upgrades

  14. Same thing happened on my husbands flight just the other day. He was second on the list but the list said only one first class seat was open. The number guy one waited to board late, walked by the open seat in first class and asked the flight attendant if he was going to get that seat. She said she’d check about the time someone sat in the seat. Flight attendant came back and said, yes, he could have the seat and moved the other passenger back. Both guys were extremely embarrassed. Turns out, wrong guy in the seat was husband of a friend of the gate agent. The gate agent came onto the plane and expressed her opinion to the flight attendant about her having come out to the gate area and changed how she had seated folks. What a total embarrassment for all involved – except for the gate agent; she was just indignant. Not good, delta, not good!

  15. All hail the all powerful GA. It pays to know a gate agent(s), and you don’t even have to be a delta employee. 🙂 As the saying goes: SEHNA happens.

  16. So, I got a bit confused – can we ask if we can get an upgrade on international flight as well? Should we? I am a PM and travel mainly international. It gets quite expensive (whether it’s miles or $)

  17. @Kate – it is often automatic but you can also ask if oversold and see if you can “move up” the upgrade list by being nice by offering up your seat. See?

  18. @Rene, awesome advice… I have a friend who is a Delta Gate Agent and she has in fact ,”held” FC seats for my wife and I until the last minute and boarded us. Mind you we were not elites at the time. Ive seen medallion members take the walk of shame walk past us at least according to their tags on their carry on bags. Proof positive that they control it all at the gate.

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