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#FAIL – Delta Gate Agent Sets His Own Policy Against Upgrading Families

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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.

It’s no secret Delta has been  accused  caught with upgrade shenanigans (or “shena” as it’s become known).

I’ve personally experienced it twice: once on an LAX to SEA flight about four years ago when I held the number one spot on the upgrade list and they gave it to the number two person.

The second happened last November while traveling with my family.

The Perfect End to a Fun, Family Week?

My wife, daughter, and I spent part of Thanksgiving week in my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota. Our daughter was about a year and a half old. Thus, she traveled as an infant-in-arms.

She took her first flight at the ripe, old age of three months. She’s since been on almost ten trips — and ridden in Delta’s first class nearly 20 times (most of our travels include at least one connection each way). An overwhelming number of those first class experiences were through my Diamond or Platinum Medallion upgrades. A few were paid first class tickets using Membership Rewards and the American Express Business Platinum Card (learn more).

Father, mother, and infant sitting in Delta first class: the fabulous flying Carleys!
The Fabulous Flying Carleys

We thought the perfect end to such a fun holiday week would be Diamond Medallion complimentary first class upgrades for our MSP to LAX flight home.

While relaxing in the C concourse Sky Club, I monitored the Fly Delta app’s Upgrade & Standby List — partly for the first class upgrade list, partly for the standby list in hopes of a #bumpertunity! (Sadly, the flight wasn’t oversold.)

First class-wise, my wife and I held the top two spots with four first class seats remaining — including a pair together! Perfect!

But many of us know the upgrade list can be volatile: same day change (SDC), last-minute ticket or upgrade purchases, IROPS, or other factors can come into play. We tried not to get our hopes up.

While walking to the gate, the list’s number three holder was upgraded to first class — but we weren’t.

That’s when I decided to start screen-shooting the list.

Delta upgrade list from the Fly Delta app

Then the new number three slot holder — “MOM/R” — was upgraded. Still, we were in the number one and two positions — with two seats remaining.

Delta upgrade shenanigans on the Fly Delta app


Maybe there was a mistake? Or maybe the gate agent cleared upgrades by available seats for some reason instead of Delta’s published upgrade hierarchy? But that couldn’t be — because the two seats together were now gone — only a pair of single seats rows apart remained.

Was shena rearing its ugly head?

I thought about waiting to see what would happen next. Then I remembered something a successful business associate of mine told me is one of his mottos: “If you want something, ask for it. Don’t wait for people to give it to you.”

And that’s what I did.

The Delta Gate Agent with His Own Upgrade Policy

I approached the gate agent, told him my wife and I were the top two holders on the upgrade list, showed him my family’s boarding passes, and politely pointed out that people further down the list were upgraded.

“Yeah, I was looking at that,” he said. “It’s just — I’ve never upgraded someone traveling with a child.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yep,” he replied. “Why? Have you been upgraded before with your child?”

“Yes! Many times.”

This seemed to be a great surprise to him.

“You’ve been upgraded to first class with your infant in arms?” he asked again. Did he think I lied? Was he bewildered why other gate agents and the Delta computer system don’t abide by his personal policy?

“More than a dozen times,” I calmly said. “In fact, we were upgraded twice on this trip. You can check the PNR.”

“Oookay,” he said. “But there aren’t any seats together. You’ll have to see if someone is willing to move or trade seats with you.”

I told him that was fine. He cleared the upgrades, printed our new boarding passes, and I rejoined my wife and daughter. (At this point, Is anyone else curious how many families — or anyone else in general — this Delta policy-eschewing gate agent has denied upgrades?)

I was, admittedly, a little hot under the collar about the whole thing. Naturally, I handled it like a mature, rational adult — and vented on Twitter.




Many people were just as surprised as we, while the peanut gallery chimed in with their predictable snark.

Once on board, a kind person switched seats so my family could sit together. (Interesting aside: there were, like, three different seat swaps already taking place. Everyone was happy.) Our daughter watched her favorite toddler shows, drank milk, ate her weight in Biscoff cookies, and played peek-a-boo with the flight attendants.

Mother and daughter sitting in first class on a Delta Air Lines flight

“HE WHAT?!” — Following Up with Delta

I called the Diamond Medallion Desk a few days later to see if there was a policy — official or informal — about upgrading families flying with infants.

I doubted it. But figured I’d check.

I explained the situation to the Diamond Desk rep. When I told her the agent said that he never upgraded someone traveling with a child, she gasped and said, “HE WHAT?!”

She said she was certain that wasn’t Delta policy. Nonetheless, she double-checked with a supervisor whom she said was just as shocked. She confirmed that the gate agent was simply making up his own rules.

The Diamond Desk rep checked the flight’s records and confirmed that, indeed, other passengers were upgraded before we were. She apologized profusely and generously deposited 20,000 miles into both my wife’s and my SkyMiles account.

That wasn’t why I called, though. I merely wanted to confirm that Delta didn’t have a policy against upgrading families with infants in arms — and to make the airline aware of a specific gate agent taking the rules into his own hands.

Was I a Crybaby? Or Did I Have a Case?

Do I have a right to be a little upset? After all, we received our complimentary first class upgrade and ended up sitting together. So why is Chris complaining? you may say.

Well, upgrades are a major perk of any airline’s loyalty program (at least, the airlines that offer more than a coach product). Loyalty program status is important for many of us. Status holders work by flying (and a few also through credit card spend) to make sure we have the best possible shot at getting upgraded. Upgrades are a major reason — if not the reason —so many flyers pursue the highest possible status that they can attain. When a gate agent discriminates against someone, it’s frustrating.

What Say You?

Have you ever been denied an upgrade — or anything else — because you traveled with a child? Should people traveling with children not be upgraded to business or first class? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. – Chris


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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.

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.


  1. You did the right thing. Nothing wrong from expecting what Delta says you should get. Back in the working days I use to fly alot and had status. I don’t have status anymore and realize how much business those with status bring to the airlines and don’t envy that at all. Just glad I am retired. Good luck in the future.

  2. Steffanie Wood Reply

    Never been denied for traveling with a child but about 5 times there have been empty seats in first class and the gate agent has just chosen not to upgrade anyone.

    • @Steffanie: Not to get too far off the subject at hand but I’m curious — where those flights US domestic, international, or a combination of both?

  3. 100% in the right. That’s some BS. I wouldn’t have handled it as well as you.

  4. I’m one of those who always cringe when anyone with a small child is seated near me. No I don’t think the gate agent was wrong, he was trying to be kind to the rest of first class. If there were such a thing as child free flights, I’d definitely try to book those.

    • @G Vogle: So if you were next on the upgrade list with one seat left, you’d be fine with the GA giving the seat to *anyone* s/he deemed more worthy? A friend or family member, someone s/he found attractive, etc (maybe a weird combination of all those?)

  5. Joe Banich Reply

    I cringe when someone like you is in First Class G. Vogel. Those of us with kids and Grandchildren pick up on your like immediately. “Being kind to the rest of First Class” – give me a break. The Delta agent was wrong. Delta did what it almost always does and makes thing right. Feel bad for such a selfish person as you.

  6. You were certainly entitled to your upgrade but I don’t think the GA was “making up rules” more than just ignorant.

    There is one thing to consider: I was reading in FlyerTalk a few years ago that when there is two-abreast seating, some DL aircraft only have a third oxygen mask on one side of the aisle. When there is an infant-in-arms, they are only allowed to sit on that side of the plane.

    • @Keeton: The only times we had issues with extra oxygen masks was during trips on regional planes — not Delta metal. (IIRC, the spare O2 masks are located on the right side.) If the oxygen mask concern were truly the GA’s reason for never upgrading families, I’m guessing he would’ve said so.

      When traveling with our then-infant-in-arms (she just turned the ripe old age of two, and is now a paying adult!) on Delta metal, we sat on both sides of many a/c: Mad Dogs, 737s, 757s, A-321s, and A-320s. The seat maps on and Fly Delta app specifically do not permit people traveling with infants-in-arms to book seats without extra O2 masks. And the only time we encountered that was with regionals — never DL mainline.

  7. I experienced something similar at MCO airport. Was # 1 on the upgrade list, with one seat remaining. I was sitting by the gate area, and watched an agent great a friend. Next thing I know, I was removed from upgrade list. I went up to ask what happened, and they said they didn’t know. Eventually I was added back to the upgrade list, but the FC seat was gone. Since I knew which seat was open prior to all this, I made a point of looking to see who was sitting there when we boarded. Guess who was there. The friend of the gate agent.

    I only wish I would have taken screen shots of everything. I did email Delta and they responded with a we will look into and see.

    I too have learned to take screen shots of the upgrade list, should this happen again.

  8. A healthy fear of Gate Agents is a good thing. They can make it rain. Non revs all the way up to pilots know this. I always approach them with a smile and a box of M + M’s.
    You were wise to speak up. Your approach was perfect. Had you lost your cool you would have lost your upgrades. Good for you!

  9. Chris, two biggest take aways for me: 1) you took matters into your own hands and made the upgrade happen, 2) you contacted Delta. If we don’t bring these issues to their attention, they won’t be able to take corrective action to prevent it from happening in the future.

  10. Let’s not mix the issues being discussed here. Issue 1) following upgrade queue order; 2) allowing of baby in F/J class.

    Issue 1): GA was wrong here, so no need to apologize for raising this issue. I’ve been in similar situations (w/o baby) – only too many to count. Baby or not, upgrade order is upgrade order.

    Issue 2): I am very mixed on this but I agree with @G Vogle. I have been on international flight J which I paid a nice chunk of money for, to get some much needed sleep, but there was a crying baby in J. He/she cried literally 85%+ of the entire 12/13 hours. The ear-piercing cry is not something even the almighty Bose can suppress. It was a nightmare. The premise of F and J these days is the ability to rest / lay flat – how could you do that when you are a screaming baby next to you?

    Speaking of which, I think Delta needs to remove the bassinet hookup from the bulkhead wall immediately after Delta One for the same reason. Only the mid or aft bulkhead can should allow bassinet hookup.

    • @Will:

      Issue 1): I knew we could agree on something! 🙂

      Issue 2): That stinks and I’m sorry for you that happened. Rest (or not, in this case, unfortunately) assured, the child wasn’t doing it to spite you or hinder the ability of your seat to fully lie flat, which apparently was the case.

  11. Young children don’t belong in premium cabins until they can articulate problems, eat by themselves, and use the bathroom solo. Let the hate sayers commence.

    • @Christian: Thanks for the comment.

      When a child cries, parents generally know why said child is in discomfort (diaper, hungry, tired, flying in a CRJ-200…). That’s how young children articulate problems.

      When we feed our young daughter — regardless of whether we’re flying coach or first class — not a single other passenger is affected. How could they be when we are the ones feeding her? (Unless my child offers to share her sippy cup or Cheerios) We’re not asking other passengers to chip in and help while we sip a glass of wine or take a nap.

      Similarly, how are other passengers inconvenienced when a parent-guardian, etc. bring a child to the bathroom for a diaper change? The only ones affected there are the parent and child — who have to squeeze into a tiny area to change a diaper.

  12. Who is the “hate sayer” here Christian? You seem to be the hater! My Kids and now my Grandchildren will fly in fist with me and I only hope to get a crap apple like yourself in the cabin with us and send me some passive aggressive or even better and aggressive remark.

  13. Wow what a load of whiners this blog brought out! Of course kids belong in first class or business class. They belong wherever their parents are.

    And to all those haters- how on earth do you think parents get the miles they use to get upgrades or status? FLYING a lot you weirdos!! So anything your precious ears have experienced on a plane they have also most likely experienced too. Up to and including- crying babies, loud talkers, drunk, loud talkers, and rude adult passengers making obnoxious demands of flight attendants (can you guess from my list which I’ve seen more of?). If that baby crying was so disturbing why not try to help? Or move to economy where it was quieter? P.s. I’ve never had a noise that a combo of ear plugs and Bose headphones and some Advil PM can’t conquer. Ever.

    I swear, some people are only fit for private planes or the suites with doors. They are too selfish to share any space with rest of humanity.

  14. @Joe Banich – “crap apple”? Not very grown up or articulate. I don’t hate or even dislike kids, I just don’t think they belong in premium cabins.

    @Chris – A more rational take than most. That said, people who pay a lot more for space and peace and quiet should have them, IMO. I respect your opinion and perspective, but have been on too many flights where screaming children cause a lot of misery. On many of these flights, the children were either ignored altogether by the parents or the parents expected the flight crew to play nursemaid.

    @Lara S – Interesting that you have a laundry list of intolerance. A bit like the “I can’t stand intolerant people” perspective. Different strokes, I suppose.

    • @All – Can we all agree Delta must follow published rules and reps should not make their own rules? Oh and the IT should work as the published rules state?

  15. My last flight from SfO to Fort Myers, I and my +1 were #1 and2 on the upgrade list at the gate. When I asked for our upgrades at the gate, the GA told me that they were not available. We boarded and after we took our seats. I watch people from below us on the list move up to first class. On our return flight, the same thing happen. #1 and #2 on upgrade list, yet people lower were put in first class ahead of us…. we were the only two traveling. I wrote delta to ask why this happened. I got an apology and no explanations. Status and loyalty are meaning less and less.

  16. I am curious how the response breaks down amongst parents vs. non-parents? For me, kids are fine. In the end, rude people are the problem. An adult playing YouTube on their phone without headphones, is just as annoying as a kid doing it. I am annoyef at the adult who should know better, not the kid who’s parent isn’t being a responsible parent.

    In my many years of being a DM, more adults have ruined a flight than children have.

  17. @Christian, actually Young children don’t belong in premium cabins until they can whine about there not being enough champagne, the window being dirty, the FA not addressing them by name, the desert they wanted not being available or a string of other serious weighty issues those privileged F flyers whine about.

    • @Harry: But if the child is on a paid ticket and has a frequent flyer account, just think of all the compensatory miles/points the kid could earn from all those inconveniences! 😉

  18. Billy Mumphrey Reply

    I was traveling on Saturday with my family and all 4 of us were upgraded to F on a CRJ900. My GM wife and our lap infant were put in 3A, and me (DM) and my non-status 2 year old were in 3C and 3D. Seemed perfect when we sat down, and then the flight attendant told my wife she couldn’t hold the lap infant because there were only 2 oxygen masks on her side, but there were 3 on our side. We said that’s no problem, because there’s only 2 of them in the solo seat. She then said, “Oh, well I meant there has to be 1 extra at all times.” She then said I had to hold the lap infant. I told her that there would then be 3 of us on the right side and only 3 masks, so there wouldn’t be an extra if I did that. She then said “Oh, well we don’t require an extra on this side of the plane.” I continued to protest (politely), but she threatened to kick us off the flight if we didn’t comply. We shut up and I held our lap infant while attempting to also care for our 2-year old in the next seat. My wife sat there looking helpless in the solo seat. I’m always happy for upgrades but caring for 2 small kids at the same time is very stressful. Was the flight attendant wrong? If so, would you complain about this, or ask Delta to clarify the rules on lap infants in CRJs?

    • @Billy: Wow. That’s a new one. Whenever I called Delta to add our infant-in-arms and the O2 mask subject came up, reps would say they had to seat us in a row where there was “AN extra oxygen mask.” (emphasis mine, indicating one extra mask — not more than that). Never was anything mentioned that there needs to be an extra O2 mask at all times.

      I’m not a flight attendant or an airline pilot but based on all the traveling I did with my kid — and you with your little ones — I think we both know this FA didn’t know the score.

      If I were you, I’d call the Delta DM desk and make them aware of the situation. It couldn’t hurt to also apprise whichever regional carrier (Skywest, Endeavor, etc) of your experience. If you hear from either or both that the FA was correct, would you please let us know?

      “..(But) caring for 2 small kids at the same time is very stressful.”

      I have one and it’s stressful! 🙂 You have my respect and admiration, sir.

  19. Barry Graham Reply

    You did the right thing. I’ve never been in a situation like this with a baby although I have with older children and I’ve never been pushed out of first place. What a nerve!

  20. You’re from Fargo?! I grew up in Fargo, too! Been following and reading you for years – and Diamond for years. So Cool! MSP is my home airport now.

  21. I’m with you, the GA should not Trump Delta policy. There is a part of me that is against the GA having any say, other than to maybe not upgrade a ride or disruptive individual.

    I’ve experienced this multiple times…upgrades not given when available, people upgraded out of order, employees in first and comfort and no upgrades. I’ve tried calling Delta out on Twitter. I have not tried calling them. Maybe it’s worth it for a mileage credit.

    One of the things I frequently see is people below me on the list getting an aisle when I have set aisle as a preference. Not sure if this is really called out or it’s just open to interpretation…but it’s still unclear why they would get upgraded before I did.

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