What are your rights if Delta takes your selected seat away from you? What about an equipment swap? Do you have any choice in the matter?

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From Delta.com

This past Saturday I asked about seat switching and if you should or not. But what if Delta takes your seat away from you? What then are your rights? Do you have any or any choice in the matter? What if like Matt from Live and Let’s Fly they change the aircraft type and the new seat is nothing like the one you booked? Let’s take a look. First off what the Delta Contract of Carriage or COC says about a Reserved Seat (RS)

“A reserved seat is an advance seat assignment that can be made up to 331 days from the scheduled departure date of the confirmed flight.” – Delta.com

Not all airlines, worldwide, allow this but Delta clearly knows that your seat choice, your exact seat choice, matters to you.

But let me ask you another question. Have you ever heard of rule 240 in the COC? I have a copy of it from Delta.com at the top of this post. The key part from this is that:

“Delta may substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, delay or cancel flights, change seat assignments…” – bold mine

Ouch. Now I understand you likely did not read the Delta COC when you clicked “buy now” for your ticket. You may have in fact never ever read over the COC from Delta or any airline. Well even if you did not, you agreed to it (sorry, you really did).

What this means is you are really at the airline’s mercy because if they can get you from A-B, even on a bus, they have completed the terms of the agreement to transport you. Your favorite seat, folks is WAY down the list of priorities for mother Delta.

Thus rights – what rights – you really don’t have any!

So with that out of the way, what can you do? First things first. You must, if you are a Delta flyer, EVERY SINGLE WEEK, check all your flights for changes. I can not hammer this enough as a bulk of the time Delta will simply not tell you about changes – they will just move you how they want to.

Next up, after you have done the above, is to be pro-active when it comes to other choices to present to Delta people. Most of the Delta reps are not completely heartless and if they can, without getting in trouble with Delta Corp, they will do what they can to accommodate you if the gripe is valid.

What about if like in Matt’s case above the equipment is dramatically changed. Say you were booked (at some point in the future) on a jet with Delta One Suites (D1S) and they downgraded you to a jet with the worst old Delta One seat. Well, we know Delta does upcharge for D1S so you may have some room to either get a refund or change to another route free that does include the seat you originally paid for. The key part here is they don’t have to so be nice.

Well what if you were sitting next to someone and now you are not because there was some change and you are 5 rows from your wife / +1. Delta may tell you there is nothing they can do, check at the airport (that is less than helpful). Again, sometimes things can be done if they want to. For example, the exit row is a premium seat but not a Comfort Plus “upgrade” seat. If two seats are open in that row the rep can often move you without getting in hot water with Delta (you see a theme here)? Or, if you are an elite of any flavor, push for two C+ seats if they are open (after all it is not that special really). Give the reps ideas so you’ll need to check before you call.

Lastly, what if you were in 1st and are downgraded to coach (or C+ that is also coach). Again, see the above. They are only promising to transport you. But here you have a case to really gripe and they don’t want you on twitter or worse the news picks up that you paid for 1st and now are flying coach. So they will often give you options. The price difference refunded to you AND a voucher of some amount as an I am sorry. Or, just have them move you free to other flights that do have a 1st class seat open (you need to search to give them choices). In this case they really do have a lot of flexibly as the rep will not get in trouble as they can document the downgrade and thus the reason for whatever actions.

These are the cold hard facts, folks. You really are at the airline’s mercy so be nice. Do your homework and hope they are willing to help you get something like what you had before! – René





  1. Rene – Good post and I know you mostly blog about Delta but let’s just point out that this is the rule across the board with all airlines.

    In my view Delta has been very good with Elites to try to accommodate as much as possible.

    Always enjoying your blog.

  2. Very well written piece, but the simple answer is one word: NONE, no rights except to be taken from A to B and even that not at the exact time your ticket says, or on the same plane they advertised in the same seat you really booked with them for. Hey, they can even take you by bus or train if they don’t have a plane and the other way will get you there within a reasonable time. As in most situations though what actually happens depends to some extent on how you react, who you are, how often you give the airline revenue business, what image you portray etc. etc. If you holler and shout like an animal then you will be treated like an animal. If you throw around your privileged status as a tax inspector or whatever you do for work, opera star, pro-footballer or whatever, it may get thrown back in your face. The pleasanter you are, albeit in an assertive way, the greater your chance of an outcome that suits you.

  3. This happened to me. I booked ~10 months in advance for a DTW-BCN flight in the bulkhead. The day before, they changed the seat without telling me and told me there was nothing they/I could do about it. They said it was an equipment change, but the plane and seat configuration were the same. Really upsetting.

  4. I had almost exact same thing happened to me on Delta. I booked travel from KOA to ATL via HNL. First leg was on HA inter-island flight. Then it was on DL A330 direct to ATL. I paid a tiny bit more for first class on the return since it is a long red eye and knowing that I get the flat bed on the A330. On Halloween evening, they called me saying that there was a schedule change and they rerouted me via LAX. Of course, I knew that ain’t gonna fly cause that would become two crappy 5-hour legs of domestics first class on 757/737 and just doesn’t worth the value I paid. I had to call while my kid doing trick-or-treat. The initial agent said she couldn’t do anything for me, I said that’s horrible cause I did that way so that my kid could handle that long flight instead of waking up in the middle of the trip. So she was nice enough to get me to a supervisor. I pleaded my case to the supervisor, at the beginning she would give me excuses why she couldn’t do it (from canceled relationship with HA to no seat at all), but after half an hour later, persistent paid off and she came back with the exact same routing I originally had except those flights were shifted by 10-15 mins later. She commended my persistence and I told her that I know a thing or two being a DM.

    Though I am loosing faith with Delta, however, I still think they are a better airline and do have better people.

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