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

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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 agent. 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 agent 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