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Do Delta people have too much power? A most disturbing denied boarding event & DOT complaint.

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Let me start out by saying I have not verified the Flyer Talker “flyerCO” story and did reach out to Delta for confirmation but was declined comment on this “individual customer matter”. So I am under the assumption it is an accurate public statement by a very long time member of the chat board (flyerCO is a member since 2003). With that let’s dive in to this event. FlyerCO says:

“Had IRROP [irregular operations] happen and got booked LAX-JFK-AUS due to ATL flights have no F [first class] available. It was even given as an option in the IRROP rebooking tool. Booked, was confirmed, and had BP [boarding pass] issued at airport. Then at boarding Red Coat decided that in her “opinion” I needed to pay $2.5k because she didn’t feel that the routing was something that should have been offered. Pointed out I held a confirmed reservation, and a BP, and again told me her only option was that I fly out tomorrow on LAX-AUS (would have taken today, but no space, thus got booked through JFK). Agent basically said we can demand payment if we feel like the routing you’re taking isn’t paid for. Again pointed out that it was an option offered not only by reservations, but the online booking tool. Nope “I’m a red coat and it’s our duty to collect additional airfare if we feel that you haven’t paid for the fare.” I didn’t really want to go through JFK, but I also wasn’t going to fly coach LAX-MSP/ATL/DTW after coming back from SIN. (This wasn’t an attempt to get more MQM, just flying the only option with F/J [first class])”

Once I read this thread I just had to go through all 12 pages and see comment after comment from flyerCO about what happened next. In a nutshell the flyer complained to Delta, they investigated but did nothing until the step was taken to file a complaint with the DOT. Then:

“Finally got resolution. While they had agreed they were wrong, and that I was owed compensation, they dragged their feet. Finally sent an email to DOT. They agreed DL red coat was wrong. They sent DL notice asking what they plan on doing to compensate and to ensure no future violations of DOT rules.

I have no idea what they’re doing to correct future violations. I didn’t get that part from DOT. However in the end I got a 2500 USD travel voucher and 50k miles as compensation.”

Amazing. There is so much about this event that just blows my mind. And there just “has” to be more to this than what we see, that is, I have my suspicions that the only reason this Delta rep did this was due to someone up the ladder at Delta telling them to try to find situations like this and “protect” the Delta brand and product, that is, first class pricing and routes when either Delta IT has goofed up or another employee has done something they really should not have. Again, no proof on this but an educated guess. Next, that Delta, even after the DOT complaint, paid out vouchers (a number of small ones) plus SkyMiles vs paying out real money that the passenger could have demanded at the gate. But that is the problem and point of my post today.

Do Delta people have too much power?

What would you have done in a situation like this and what can you do if something happens to you by a Delta employee that you know is wrong. Also, what are the risks in our modern travel age if you do push things.

First off, if you are dealing with a gate against, you can request a red coat. Now for flyerCO a red coat was the problem so no help there. They next went to the Sky Club but even the head of the club sided with the red coat. The only other option I could have seen would be to ask for what is called a “station manager” that is a Delta person(s) over that airport location (if there is one, depending on the size of the airport).

Then there are the other issues that could happen if you really push it. For example, say you do succeed in “arguing” your point and get on the plane. What if one of the gate agents calls down to the pilot and informs him or her about how difficult a passenger you were. Any pilot absolutely has the right to remove you from the flight if they feel you could be a disruption to the flight. Not saying this would happen, but I can see the possibility. What else bad could result?

Depending on your tone and what you say is it beyond the realm of possibilities that a man or woman in “blue” may suddenly be standing nearby you. Now sure you have rights as much as anyone who is working for an airline, but at the same time I would never ever want to be escorted out of an airport. Think of what that could mean for you. What could be at risk.

Could you maybe have your TSA PreCheck or Global entry taken away if the event becomes bad enough? Or, at the time you go to renew, would this come up? Now I know we are talking very rare and extremes here but I think it could be possible if you pushed it.

I have only gotten SSSS on a boarding pass one time in my life due to a number of one-way hops on a mileage run but if anything caused that to happen on a regular basis I would be truly frustrated beyond measure as a very frequent flyer.

In the end I kinda want your feedback this weekend. Are you ever intimidated by airline personnel, that is, you do not speak up because of fear that something bad could happen and you would rather just allow yourself to be wronged rather than risk a confrontation? Let me know in the comments below! – René


PS – Don’t forget about the AMAZING 70k SkyMiles plus 10K MQMs Delta AMEX card offer ending soon!


Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. Personally I would be taking further legal action. This is ridiculous, I would definitely take delta to small claims court just to waste their time and money as they did to me. I’m sure knowing the airlines they have this written in somewhere and are backed by some bs provision in a homeland security law so I doubt I would win but it would be worth a try

  2. Santastico Reply

    I don’t think this is a Delta issue. This is what this country became after 9/11. Airline personnel were given the power to make people’s lives miserable. There are no rules. It is all subjective and if a gate agent, a FA, a pilot, a check in person, don’t like your shirt, your smile, your hair cut, whatever ….. and they decide that “today is the day” you have no choice. You will become miserable because they will do whatever they want to make you miserable. I usually use air travel to rest my voice. As soon as I enter in an airport I don’t say a word unless I am asked and I don’t say another word until I am out of the airport in my destination. That saves my voice and avoid headaches because again anyone in this environment can make your life miserable for no reason.

  3. TexasYankee Reply

    Fortunately I have not experienced an event like his and am happy to say that the Diamond Desk usually treats me like royalty. (there are the occasional reps who have no imagination though) But in this case I guess I may have taken the less confrontational route with the full knowledge that complaining to Delta Later would probably result in no compensation either points or $$$.

    The fact that Delta paid the $2500 in flight credits of various amounts is outrageous because it forces the customer to fly numerous future flights to get the value of the ecerts as they cannot be combined.

    As far as the actions of the Redcoat – I have an idea that Delta Mothership has pushed down a policy to the Redcoats to question more tickets. Or this redcoat in question just did not have the love for customers as in the past? (MEAN)

    In the end I agree with you Rene in that one must be very careful that a “note or comment” is not placed in one’s file that would cause grief for years to come – specially loss of Global Entry.

  4. Will not fly delta after reading this…AA has never done this and if they did, exec play desk would have it taken care of within 10 minutes…

  5. This has happened twice.

    1. At check-in the agent said I had to pay for three bags as a DM in F. I told her she was wrong and demanded a station manager. Within seconds, a cop was standing next to me. I asked him if he had a problem. Showed him the Delta website and why I was demanding a station manager. He agreed with me and walked away. The station manager came and absolutely destroyed the check-in agent in public! It was a beautiful thing.

    2. A gate agent threatened calling the police on me because I was questioning why she wasn’t boarding the Sky Priority lane. All I did was ask, nothing else. After I logged a major complaint to Delta and demanded a personal phone call to discuss the incident, I was give miles and sent numerous apologies. I later found out the agent was severely reprimanded from other coworkers who were happy I had complained because it turns out this wasn’t the first time she threatened someone and they only found this out during the investigation of my complaint. Shes not employed there anymore.

  6. Michael P. Reply

    As a former employee of a major airlines from 1992-2012, I worked as a gate agent, gate supervisor (red coat), Hub Shift Manager, Hub Duty Manager and ultimately a Station Manager and I can confirm that my agents could have cared less what routing (or class) a pax took during irregular ops. Our primary focus was to get pax going to their destinations, not the “fare police”. When rebooking (before automated rebooking and the internet), the special services desk would book pax to their next destination regardless of the routing and cabin class (if Y not available, they would upg to F) as long as it was acceptable to the pax. If fact, there were many times where the routing was obscure but the pax had no other choice to get to their destination for a funeral, cruise, important meeting, etc. I remember once we had a pax fly from PIT to connect to my city to get to MCO. They misconx and the only routing to MCO was to go back to PIT and connect there 8 hours later! The only real “fare policing” we did was back in the day when elites were issued paper upgrade certificates. The ticket counter agent would collect the coupons and staple them to the pax’s ticket (no etickets, online check in or kiosks back then). The elite trying to get away with not using the certificates would pull them off the ticket or make color photocopies of them. The gate agents would look for “snake eyes”, the holes left in the ticket from the removed staple. The airline finally got smart and starting stamping or printing “upgrade coupon required” on BPs that were upgraded. The reason that we did this was because those elites were cheating the system and other elites who “played by the rules” were the ones affected. I can recall many times downgrading elites that used photocopied coupons and giving the seats to someone else. I never received a complaint about it. Of course, I documented the PNR. As far as this situation, I doubt that DL expects the “red coats” to be the “fare police” because they are responsible for ensuring OT dispatch of flights. And, DL wouldn’t have provided all of the compensation if it was their policy in the first place.

  7. Wow – I’ve never heard of something like this happening. The fact that they had to get the DOT involved is disheartening, really. Even if it was an IT screwup that allowed the new boarding pass to be issued, it wasn’t the passenger’s fault. Something is decidedly not kosher about this situation.

  8. René, your suggestion to ask for a station manager is a great option if one is available.

    It’s hard to believe that so many Delta reps failed to resolve the issue at the time the IROP occurred. This case certainly falls outside the norm. It makes me wonder what the real story was.

    In a situation such as this I would remain cordial but assertive. Because seeing is believing, I’d present a screen shot of the options that Delta itself displayed on its website and I’d point out that I was simply choosing from that list.

    When people make poor decisions it’s important to give them an opportunity to save face. Because FlyerCO was stonewalled at every turn, his decision to accept his fate and carry the fight to another day was brilliant. It was his only option.

    As an alternative to contacting the DOT, one could contact the person who writes the syndicated travel column that appears in one’s local newspaper. Travel columnists can often bring about equitable resolutions through the power of the press. But unlike the DOT, newspaper columnists do not have the authority to issue directives that can stop unfair airline practices thereby protecting all passengers.

    Congratulations to FlyerCO for successfully resolving the issue.

  9. D. Phillips Reply

    Just because Delta did not give you any info on this flyer’s complaint, does not make it true. No airline will disclose personal information that belongs to a passenger.
    The fact that he received miles and not money speaks volumes . Delta’s revenue collections are not the whim of a red coat. Because of his apparent abhorrence of coach class flying, he probably generated the extra charge chasing a first class seat or sky miles.

    • @ D. Phillips – You realize the OP was in PAID first class. That is just the kind of Diamond HVC Delta wants to make happy!

  10. very sad we are intimidated while traveling nd shut-up vs getting taken off the plane or not traveling at all

  11. I am in full agreement that this reported behavior by the author goes beyond what should be acceptable in any business.

    However, to the article’s title “Do Delta people have too much power?” Absolutely NOT! It is this same power and ability to make things happen ‘on a dime’ during IRROOS that makes me, a Diamond Medallion, grateful. Delta people have moved mountains in record time with little to no hesitation when I need it.

    For that I am thankful. A successful business is no better than its decisions and actions carried out by frint line personnel. Empowering them makes those happen efficiently and swiftly.

  12. Not a good experience, but I don’t believe it’s typical of DL. My wife and I used our 2 for 1 cert for DL Amex, which only allows for coach travel, and although we are both SM, we could not even be considered for EC, much less FC. We were returning from San Francisco, non stop to JFK, on an overnight flight, and noticed many seats available in EC. We asked the gate agent, who was sympathetic, but could do nothing for us. We walked away, and 5 min later were called back to the podium. Unbeknownst to us, she had spoken to a Red Coat, who upgraded us. So, sometimes, things do work out.

    • @rumproof – Never said this was typical and I have never ever had anything remotely like this. Most Red Coats I have had dealings with have been amazing. But the point is if one wants to be this way what can you really do?

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