Delta just booted a family off a flight from Maui to LA. I’m not saying there was not legitimate misunderstanding. I’m also not saying Delta handled the situation as it should have. But I am saying that the ultimatum was appropriate.
Let me first boil down the story as concisely as I can–
- Family of four — husband, wife, teenager, infant baby
- Family sends son from Maui to Los Angeles on earlier flight (separate ticket)
- Assumes that they will still have access to his seat
- But they don’t check him in / scan his boarding pass
- Baby is settled into big brother’s seat
- Passenger now assigned the seat arrives to find baby in seat
- Delta ground staff explain that family is not entitled to the extra seat
- Back and forth ensues
- Threats made from Delta toward family about incarceration
- Police called
- No arrests made – family voluntarily leaves flight
- Delta refuses to book family on alternate flight
- Family spends $2K on new tickets to get home (on United)
The root of the controversy is clear: a false assumption. I don’t fault the family for thinking they could keep the seat they paid for, but they certainly went about it wrong. Instead, they should have scanned the older brother’s boarding pass at the gate, ensuring that he showed boarded. Since there are no ID checks, this should have worked like a charm — the baby would have had his own seat. Just don’t scan the infant ticket.
But the situation played out differently. A Delta agent (or FA) said–
You have to give up the seat or you’re going to jail, your wife is going to jail and they’ll take your kids from you.
I condemn that sort of talk. There is no excuse for it.
I wish the family would have been cajoled into just putting the baby on their lap and flying home, but discussion could have gone on all night. It is clear to me the conversation was not yielding progress. Delta had to get rid of one problem or face a host of others if the flight cancelled or arrived into Los Angeles with several missed connections.
Thus, I’ll grudgingly side with Delta here.
Forget trying to make sense of airline rules. I can make a strong case as well as you can that if you buy a seat you should have a right to it, even if remains empty. But that is not technically the way things work.
I do feel bad for this family who did not seem to be looking for any trouble and acted with surprising calmness in light of what happened.