What’s the correct compensation for this Delta flight delay?

Eugene Berman / Shutterstock.com
Eugene Berman / Shutterstock.com
John Esser’s recent return flight north “headed south,” so to speak. He’d like the airline to make things right.

But what’s right?

Esser was flying from Los Angeles to Detroit on Delta flight 1806 on Sept. 18.

“This flight was specifically chosen due to an obligation I had that evening at my son’s school at 7 p.m.,” he says.

Needless to say, he didn’t make it.

Although the flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30 a.m., a series of mechanical delays kept the plane waiting at the gate several hours before it was finally canceled.

“At around 11 a.m., I was allowed to leave the plane in order to get some food and a drink,” he says. “No one from Delta had offered food or water, because apparently they don’t serve customers while sitting at a gate.”

Delta finally herded the passengers off the plane and tried to reroute them.

“The quickest I could get to Detroit was to reroute to San Francisco, leaving at 7 p.m., arriving around 8:00 p.m. From there, the next direct flight wasn’t scheduled to fly out of San Francisco until 10:35 p.m., arriving in Detroit at 6:10 a.m.,” he says.

That meant he missed the school event, plus a meeting at work the next morning — not ideal.

Esser complained to Delta in writing after his 17-hour delay.

The airline’s response? A form letter:

I apologize for the hassle you experience (sic) due to our flight interruption.

Feedback like yours will help us improve our overall customer experience; we appreciate the time you took to write. I will be sharing your remarks with our Airport Customer Service leadership team for internal follow up.

Delta had already issued a $50 voucher on the day he traveled, but “as a gesture of goodwill” it added another $75 certificate.

“My round trip ticket was $1,320,” he says. “I was expecting $660, or half.”

Unrealistic? Perhaps.

But here’s something I don’t understand. How can an airline advertise a flight that leaves at 9:30 a.m. and then get you to your destination almost a full day later. I mean, I realize Delta’s contract of carriage says it can do it because it says it can, and that’s pretty much the end of the story.

But 17 hours? C’mon.

Esser could have asked for, and received, a full refund for his ticket and taken his chances on another carrier. But that’s also impractical. Airlines mark up their fares for last-minute travelers, often incorrectly assuming they’re business travelers on an unlimited expense account.

I think this is one of those times that common-sense regulation might be useful. If you refund a flight, then you should pay back the fair market value of the ticket at that time, so that the passenger can buy a ticket on another airline. The alternative is that Delta could have endorsed his ticket to another airline, allowing it to possibly negotiate a better fare for itself.

Do I think Esser was shortchanged? Yes.

Do I think he has a case? Maybe, maybe not.

Certainly, he can contact the higher-ups at Delta, asking for more. Too bad he wasn’t flying to Europe, where EU 261 would have protected him.

I can also get involved, but I’m fairly certain that I know what my airline contacts will say. You probably do, too.

But I tilt at windmills so often — what’s one more?

Should I mediate John Esser's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The price he paid was roughly the cost of a walk up ticket. Of course, he may not have had the means to purchase another ticket before receiving the credit back from Delta had he chosen to cancel his ticket.

    But to the larger point, you are absolutely correct. In real life, outside of the funky travel world, Delta would be responsible for paying for a ticket on another comparable airline if it failed to perform.

    It is wrong that passengers are held hostage. In good faith they buy an advance purchase ticket, but if the carrier fails to deliver, the prices are astronomical forcing the passenger to stay the airline because it’s cost prohibitive to pay for a walk-up fare.

  • backprop

    The delay stinks, but I don’t understand something. Does OP believe he’s entitled to more compensation because he wanted to go to a school event and missed it? Probably every person on the plane had some reason to be on the morning flight; nobody is going to say they were just going to stare at the wall when they got home.

    Granted, he might have been the only one that came to you for resolution. But in cases like these when an entire plane is delayed exactly the same for each passenger, it’s just a money grab to ask for more compensation for a single passenger who’s no more or less entitled than the other 200 or so people on the plane.

  • Bill___A

    It is unfortunate that the delay happened. However, I am sure Delta and everyone else preferred a delay to compromising safety. Air travel remains a complex operation. Although I can’t speak for Delta, I am sure that every effort was made to get the passengers to their destination safely. The delay is regrettable, but those things happen. If the airlines are going to be required to increase compensation for these types of things, the revenue to do so comes from only one place – the fares. Speaking for myself, I would rather encounter the occasional delay than have the fares go up. I am sorry that he missed the school event and the meeting. It is a part of life.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, we don’t know what the other passengers asked for. For all we know, their demands could have been greater.

  • fizxman

    This exact same thing happened to me last Thursday 11/14. Mechanical problems in Dallas/Ft. Worth delayed my flight for 3.5 hours and caused me to miss my connection in Dulles thus forcing me to take a flight the next day. We arrived at Dulles at about midnight and I got to the hotel they were putting people in at about 1am. I was able to get on the first flight out and got home at about 10:30am where originally I was going to get home at about 11pm the night before. I don’t feel I need to be compensated because I still got home, they put me up in a hotel, and gave me vouchers for some meals (but Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t accept them so I was out $4!) Life happens, things break, and we end up missing things. Not ever instance of being inconvenienced demands compensation.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Yea, probably the best thing for him to do is burn off the certificates and then not fly Delta again. My last flight on Delta ended with a 2.5 hour bus ride in the middle of the night. That was the last time I ever flew Delta.

  • http://www.thewomenstravelgroup.com/ Phyllis Stoller

    Alas, the ‘contract of carriage’ is the legal requirement. We as consumers rarely read it or take note when it is changed against us. So perhaps airlines should first be required to post all changes prominently on their sites or,as in Broadway theater, be required to stick a note on to your boarding pass with information on the changes.

    With TSA around, we are scared to protest in the airport or on the plane, or worst still, try to get the whole passenger group together to make a fuss for concessions on the spot. With holidays coming up, hopefully no one has a schedule that cannot be broken.

  • Cybrsk8r

    He should fly Southwest.

  • sirwired

    I think expecting a voucher for the entire value of 1/2 of your round-trip flight is expecting a bit much. Mechanical delays happen, and Common Carriers have NEVER been liable for the result. It doesn’t matter if you are traveling via stagecoach, bus, train, plane, ship, whatever… It’s not as if the airline has no incentive to keep their planes in operation as much as possible; a plane that’s laid up due to mechanical delays certainly isn’t earning the airline any money.

    This is where a travel agent could have come in handy… as Carver pointed out, he was already paying a “business” level fare, and an agent could at least have scoped out how much it would cost to get a walk-up on another airline.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Hey, at least they let him off. Remember the flight that was parked on the taramac with overflowing toilets and no water and the airline refused to let anyone off?


  • Cybrsk8r

    I loved the story where the US Air flight was cancelled after the passengers protested when the blind guy got kicked off the plane. Those other passengers should get a medal.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I’m sure they didn’t do that out of the goodness of their heart. They wanted to duck the fine. I’m guessing that fine would apply whether passengers were kept on the plane on the runway, or sitting at the gate.

  • fizxman

    When my flight was delayed, they also let us off to move around and get food. The gate attendant explicitly said it was to avoid the fines of $27,000/passenger.

  • SoBeSparky

    Problem is, the airlines are solely responsible for the age and maintenance condition of the aircraft. The buck stops with them. Newer planes have less maintenance. Certain aircraft models can have more problems. Spare parts and spare planes are not kept at many locations, delaying an already delayed flight. There are many factors as to the length of a maintenance delay.

    It is just not so simple as “we must wait if we want to fly safely.” Mitigations can be made. Airlines can choose to reinvest in its business with more modern aircraft with higher reliability.


    Do I think that Mr. Esser was short-changed? Yes. Do I think that it is common practice for an airline to do this in this type of situation? Yes. When was the best time for him to handle the situation? At the airport.

    I am going to guess that Mr. Esser is either not a particularly frequent airline traveler. A savvy traveler would have asked Delta to endorse the ticket to another carrier, or for a refund. I just looked and there are walk-up fares on Southwest from LAX-DTW for around $300 – to fly today. Now, they have a connection, and they still wouldn’t have gotten him to his appointment at 7 pm, but he would have been home a lot sooner than the following morning and wouldn’t have missed a work appointment. The problem is that with all of the carrier consolidation, the only non-stop service from LAX-DTW is on Delta.

  • Extramail

    I doubt passengers would read the contract of carriage even if it was handed to them as they boarded the plane. Unless, of course, there was a circumstance that got their attention. Delays happen and the airlines are going to refund or pay out as little as possible. I remember the days when the automatic response was for the airline to “walk” you to another airlines’ flight. Passengers complained then, too.

  • California_Dave

    As a way of educating us (since we have so many TAs commenting), what is the standard compensations for different types of delays and length of time for domestic flights?

  • Asiansm Dan

    Since eTickets era, ticket endorsement is a hassle. Before, with paper ticket, if I am on Y or C fare, I just go to other airlines. On non-endorsable tickets, the gate agent just write down some instruction/rules on the Endorsement Case on the ticket and we just go to almost any airlines.

  • omgstfualready

    I was thinking the same thing, it seemed as if the OP believes the damage done in his personal and professional life is more significant than others faced. I don’t think it was intentional but it came across as fairly tacky.

  • emanon256

    Interesting, I initially figured the OP was in advanced purchased first class because of the high price and the comment about not begin served food at the gate, however I am finding advanced first class R/T to be ~$980, Refundable economy to be ~$2,000 R/T and walk up Economy to be exactly what the OP paid. So hopefully with a refund, the OP could have bought the walk up fare on another airline. But given your constraints, I agree, he may not have been able to.

    As a side note, a few years back I tried taking the bus out of curiosity. I was between clients and had time, so I took the bus from Denver to San Diego to visit some relatives. Taking a bus is no better than the airplane. The seats had less leg room and my bus broke down in AZ and I was stuck for several days, no refund, no spare bus, no recommendations, no hotel. I finally gave up and bought a walk up fare to fly home, the cab ride to the airport was more expensive than the airfare. Based on my experience, flying is far better, and faster, even with a delay.

    I feel badly for the OP, but he reinforced my personal rule of always getting there a day in advance of anything that’s too important to miss.

  • Londoner1936

    Chris mentions towards the end of his commentary that EU 261 “would have protected him”.
    Perhaps that is the kind of rule we need in here in the US; fat chance of getting that I might say,

  • omgstfualready

    I saw Planes, Tranes, and Automobiles. It turned out fine for Steve Martin. What’s the problem?
    All travel involves taking chances that delays will alter our plans on the other end of our flight? Missed vacation time, missed family time, missed business time, missed relaxation time.

  • omgstfualready

    “..a few years back I tried taking the bus out of curiosity”.
    You know what curiosity did to the cat right? :-)

  • emanon256

    Those aren’t pillows!

  • omgstfualready

    Why was he kicked off?

  • emanon256
  • Geoff

    Got time to spare – go by air. Mechanicals happen! I sort of remember an earlier article last week talking about your cell being your best friend. Delta has tried doing the same to me. Delayed on the tarmack in Detroit, had to hoof it to find nobody at the Delta gate, then watch my flight depart without me. We were sent to gate 43 where a nice Delta agent re-routed me with an extra connection to Seattle via Minneapolis with 10 extra hours. While standing in line I called my travel agent who told me to tell Delta that there was a non-stop available with 9 seats in 1 1/2 hours. Delta asked me why I was challenging her, issued the agents suggestion with a grudge. Thank goodness for travel agents. Doing on my own would have been useless.
    No compensation for OP!

  • emanon256

    I posted a link to the article, but it got flagged for moderation. Try googling blind passenger US Airways and click the LA Times link. Sad story, but so good that the other passengers stepped in.

  • emanon256


  • Cybrsk8r

    The flight crew said he wasn’t controlling his guide dog. The rest of the PAX seemed to think the flight crew was over-reacting. When the other PAX voiced their displeasure at the way this man was being treated, they were all put off the plane.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Of course, that was when people had favorite airlines. Nowadays, it’s not which airline do you like, it’s which airline will you tolerate.

  • Michael__K

    an entire plane is delayed exactly the same for each passenger

    How do you know that? The passengers who get re-accommodated first fill up any remaining seats on the soonest flights. The passengers who get re-accommodated last are generally inconvenienced the most. We don’t know for certain where the OP was in the queue, but I doubt every one of his fellow passengers arrived 17 hours late.

    And perhaps someone who paid $1,320 for his ticket deserves a little more for his inconvenience than someone who paid far less.

  • Bill___A

    Well, as it is now, we do have to wait sometimes. Even new aircraft have defective parts. I fly about 50,000 miles a year. Most of the delays I encounter end up being fairly inconsequential. It sounds like the OP is pretty busy if he couldn’t fly to his son’s even early enough to allow for possible errors. I think they airlines need to be forced to compensate to the extent that it is more economical for them to fix planes, but at the same time, we have to accept there will be delays sometimes.

  • bodega3

    EU261 may not have helped him with the exception of food and accommodations. It isn’t the great law that many think it is.

  • bodega3

    Each carrier has their own and you can request this information at the check in counter as they are required to have it.

  • Dutchess

    yep, your cell phone is your best friend. Same thing happened to me. United canceled a flight as we were pulling back to the gate. So I immediately got on my phone and found another flight that was leaving in a few hours and magically had a couple seats left. I grabbed one of them. I casually walked back to the club as the entire plane lined up at the check in desk to try and reschedule for the following morning….I got real lucky but I also was smart and called immediately instead of standing in line.

  • Hanope

    So much for airline competition. Only non-stop LAX to DTW? That’s why he paid $1,300 for the ticket and then got screwed. And yet, we continue to allow airlines to merge and reduce competition even more.

  • omgstfualready

    Thanks. I wanted to know more b/c I had an experience with a blind man who was purposely hitting people (hard) with his cane and screaming obsceneties and much worse. After ascertaining for myself the belief the disability was not beyond the physical I quietly explained in my ‘special’ way how one is to treat others. He was quite calm after that chat. But nobody would stand up to him (or stand up for themselves).

    I have relatives with various disabilities, mental and physical, and you do what you can to 100% of your ability but you are not to take your lmitations on others. I won’t have it. So a headline like that made me curious.

    Seems clear that US Airways got it completely wrong (and to cancel the flight entirely)? WOW.

  • Hanope

    What do you mean the plane’s laid up isn’t earning the airline money? The airline already got their passenger’s money and isn’t going to refund it. How did the airline loose money?

  • Stephen0118

    I’ll have to agree with Bill. Newer aircraft will have problems. Look at the Dreamliner. That had to be grounded for a long time until they fixed the battery problem.

  • omgstfualready

    ‘And perhaps someone who paid $1,320 for his ticket deserves a little more for his inconvenience than someone who paid far less.’
    That is a very slippery slope. I cannot agree if it was a cash customer (vs points which has already been debated about quite a bit and I’ll go to great lengths to not discuss it again). I cannot control my last minute need for an expensive ticket vs. someone else’s long planned and cheaper flight. We are still equal cash paying customers. When we are in queue at the gate to get a different flight that should not have any impact on the rerouting.


    Admittedly, it was a cursory check, but it was the only one I could find easily.

  • Michael__K

    One strategy that’s worked well for me in these types of situations is to volunteer to take ground transportation to/from nearby airports on either end of the journey.

    Looking at LAX->DTW including nearby airports right now for today, I see that Delta has itineraries with seats available going LAX->FNT, LAX->LAN, and SNA->FNT (departing 12:50pm) which would arrive tonight (though not by 7pm).

  • Lindabator

    In this case, the timing was everything. There are only a few morning flights, a couple afternoon and then late flights out from LAX-DTW. Which is why they put him on the best option out they could probably find.

  • Lindabator

    Right, and his flight would have gotten back to Detroit around 5:00 pm – definately not ideal.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “And perhaps someone who paid $1,320 for his ticket deserves a little more for his inconvenience than someone who paid far less.”

    Or, perhaps not. I don’t see why somebody who shopped well or had their trip planned out for months should take a backseat to somebody willing to pay a ton or buying at the last minute.

    And how exactly would you put your idea regarding re-accommodations into practice? The guy who got in line first but had paid less is asked to step aside for the higher-paying passenger? Yeah, that would go over well.

  • DavidYoung2

    Delta is a “legacy carrier,” so why isn’t there a ‘Rule 240’ option here? I thought the legacy carriers incorporated that into their contracts of carriage, or am I living in the prehistoric times?

  • Mark Cuban

    Mechanical failure is mechanical failure. What do you want, things break down. Life happens. Get over it.

  • Lindabator

    But Southwest does not accept vouchers from other airlines, so he would have to have ponied up the monies – and you are assuming there was space available the date he was flying – might not have worked for him on them, either.

  • Michael__K

    When there are more passengers to accommodate than there are seats on same-day flights, then what criteria would you use and how would you treat all customers equally?

    Maybe passengers who don’t get accommodated on same-day flights deserve more compensation than those who do.

    The last time I had a flight cancelled, there was no “line.” The gate agents called the passengers by name, one at a time, for re-accommodation. First class passengers and elites were accommodated first, as you might expect. Then they processed everyone else in some (unexplained) order. Maybe the fare paid was factored in, maybe it wasn’t (who knows?). It went over okay.

  • Lindabator

    But as it is over an hour from Flint to Detroit, and his car was probably at the airport, may not have been a viable option. Same with Lansing, which is a tad farther.

  • Michael__K

    When I volunteer to do something like this, I’m prepared to take a taxi or other one-way ground transportation or one-way car rental because the time gain is worth the additional cost to me.

    And in practice, I’ve found that agents have expressed thanks for my flexibility and when they’ve taken me up on it they’ve offered airline-paid car service vouchers.

  • sirwired

    If your flight is delayed heavily and you don’t want to travel any more or canceled (no matter who’s fault it is) you can always get a cash refund instead of a booking on a later flight. Even on low-rent outfits like Spirit; all you have to do is ask.

  • Jennifer Finger

    I don’t see that you’re going to get anywhere trying to moderate this case. Unfortunately if Delta’s contract of carriage allows its personnel to treat its customers like this, he’s stuck. It’s really unfair, but as long as airline contracts of carriage are written that way, consumer advocates can’t really do anything for the customer if the vendor wants to dig in its heels. Only persons who can rewrite the contract of carriage to level the playing field more can really do anything for the customer-and clearly Delta’s are choosing not to.


    I am not going to look up historical data to see if there were flights available on Mr. Esser’s dates. Yes, we have to make some assumptions and draw some conclusions based on the information provided. I didn’t think it was necessary to post that caveat, though.

    Yes, he would have had to purchase a ticket from Southwest out-of-pocket, but, as the article states, one of Mr. Esser’s options was to take a refund on the unused portion of his ticket, which would have likely been less than the $300 ticket on Southwest. Delta’s fare is higher to LAX because it is (a) a non-stop; and (b) between two hub cities. It is LIKELY that he could have gotten home sooner and for less money than he spent had he been savvier at the airport. The problem is that when things go wrong when you travel, you (generally) react emotionally (“I want to go home! I have plans! What do you mean you can’t get me home until tomorrow morning?”) rather than logically and proactively (“I see that there is another flight on United that would get me in at 10 pm, can you get me on that flight?” “I’ll take a refund and purchase a ticket on another airline.”). I know. I have been both the reactive passenger and the proactive passenger and the latter usually puts me in a better spot than finding myself at the mercy of the airline.

  • sirwired

    The age of the aircraft has far less than you’d think to do with reliability. Engines are regularly overhauled/replaced, and after a certain time, aircraft even receive avionics overhauls. Most “wear” parts are also overhauled on a regular basis. The only reason the DC-9 family is being retired from most airlines now has to do with the fact they are not fuel efficient compared to modern aircraft; but they still work just fine.

    And things break. Even on immaculately maintained brand-new aircraft. Don’t things ever break on your car?

    And yes, spare planes and parts are not stocked at many (or even most) locations; to expect every airline to stock a large set of spare parts, along with people and facilities to install them, at every airport, isn’t reasonable. At all. (Heck, at many Podunk airports, the “ground staff” consists of a ticket agent and a baggage handler.) It’s unrealistic to expect a maintenance guy who will be about as busy as the proverbial Maytag Repairman.

    And spare planes? Outside of a hub airport, that doesn’t make any kind of financial sense at all.


    I will assume Mr. Esser is an inexperienced flyer. I try not to travel on days I have a cannot miss appointment or event. On the few occasions I have to travel, I tell the people expecting me that I have at most a 50/50 chance of making the meeting event. Not only do I plan for mechanical delays but also for ground delays. A flight I took earlier this year was 30 minutes early, but I did not make a dinner I was attending that night. Why? Because of a very large wreck on the interstate going towards my house (and there is not public transit out to the boondocks where I live. ) I do not think mediation will achieve anything. Mechanical happens. Did he make calls to get a connecting flight? Ask about another carrier? Change airports? DL could offer a bit more, but I do not see the point in going to bat for this one. Sorry, but delays happen.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Your “special way”? Nicely done.

  • TonyA_says

    Rule 240 was mandatory during the regulation era.
    After deregulation the airlines were free to keep it, modify it, or dump it. What counts is the provisions on the contract of carriage when one buys a ticket.

  • SoBeSparky

    You might be very well surprised by the reliability of American’s 767-200s for example. Safe, yes. Reliable compared with other aircraft, no. They are being retired, of course, along with most MD-80s. But still flying today.

    There are life cycles of everything, including airframes with major overhauls. Flights are delayed frequently for one part out of tens of thousands. Think about that. One seat cannot be flown safely. One light/indicator goes out in the cockpit.

    I never said new models such as 787s, just newer planes. There is a difference. The vast majority of domestic aircraft being delivered today are in the A-319-321 series and the B737s. Of course, there are exceptions, as there are to almost everything stated in this blog.

    No, nothing breaks on my year-old Infiniti, thank you. During the first year, 10,000 miles, nothing to report. Nothing. Perhaps you are thinking of the sorry manufacturing quality standards of a decade and more ago. Ask manufacturing engineers about zero defects.

    Of course, spare planes are only at hubs. I never implied anything less. An airline with more service at a particular airport has more ability to substitute aircraft. And this does happen. For example, American at LAX has a 777-200 ready to substitute for the scheduled equipment to Shanghai each day. Yes, the rest of the schedule must be adjusted, but nothing is outright cancelled.

    You will find distinct differences in the airline flight delays and in airline flight cancellations amongst the major airlines, including Alaska and Southwest. There is a significant difference between airlines.

    The monthly and annual statistical reports contain the statistics for “air carrier delay” which are maintenance and crew scheduling. In other words, delays solely caused by the airline. In Sept. 2013, it ranged from 6.7% for Southwest to 2.9% for Alaska. In July the big loser was Jetblue at 9.5% while Alaska was at 3.3% In May the loser was Jetblue at 8.2% and Alaska the winner at 3.1%

  • Carchar

    When I need to fly to attend an event or join a travel group, I always book two days ahead of time so that I am sure to get there on time. I realize, not everyone can afford to do that, either time wise or monetarily, but, luckily, I can. I voted for mediation.
    When the last short leg of my United flight was cancelled for mechanical difficulties, I was issued a food voucher, a hotel room, a new flight and a voucher for over $100, without my asking. Because I allow room for unexpected glitches, I can just consider these delays an adventure.

  • Justin

    Another day. A Dollar Short.

    The bus wouldn’t have the words “Grey” and “hound” within the name?

  • Justin

    Logical to accommodate first class and point passengers. Odds are, these are the loyal frequent fliers.

    Next up, everyone falling outside the lap of luxury.

    If it were up to me, I’d narrow the remaining passengers by ticket price. Who do you want to compensate more? The person paying 1,300 or someone booked well in advance paying 400?

    Not fair, but business isn’t fair.

  • Nancy Nally

    After doing some research on EU 261 I suspect that it is the real reason behind all of these ALEC sponsored laws we’ve been seeing in state legislatures the past few years that are supposed to bar the state’s courts from considering or enforcing foreign laws. The laws have been presented as “protecting us from having Sharia law” but United is an ALEC member and I suspect the true purpose of those laws is to protect airlines from having to pay out for EU 261 for Europe-bound flights from US airports.

  • Nancy Nally

    You are right, not all of us have that sort of control over our schedules…we are attending events whose schedules we don’t control for various reasons. If the OP had an event the previous day for business whose schedule he didn’t control (for instance, a conference) and then his child’s school event the next evening (again, an event whose schedule he doesn’t control because it is set by the school), he doesn’t have the ability to give himself the extra day cushion.

    I do think, however, that it was unreasonable of the OP to think that he could have his cake and eat it too by traveling that day as well as making the school event. That schedule just did NOT allow any room for error. I think his expectations were set a little too high even if everything had gone right.

    Although getting him there the next day seems extreme, it’s surprisingly common, which is why I always fly with overnight gear in my bag in case I get stranded.

  • emanon256

    Actually, yes it does. Perhaps if more people spent 31 hours in a seat with less legroom than an airplane seat, albeit wider, got a 1 hour rest stop at a McDonalds in the middle of no where at 3am, and another 30 minute break the following afternoon (we broke down soon after) and an occasional break of 5 minutes every few hours, for only a few dollars less than a plane ticket, they would change their tune and think air travel is still amazing! It sure changed my attitude!

  • emanon256

    Just priced my same trip out of curiosity. DEN-SAN for Thanksgiving by bus, $396 R/T + tax and 62 total hours in a seat. DEN-SAN same dates by direct flight, $260 R/T with tax, and just under 5 total hours in a seat.

  • Justin

    Lowered expectations. Airline passengers spend disproportionately more than individuals traversing on Greyhound . Bus rides are synonymous with bare bone travel, Stops in Podunk towns, passenger pickups at connecting terminals, and long haul journeys.

  • Londoner1936

    Well, I never said it was a “great law”, and I was merely quoting Chris; but even food and accommodations would have helped, no? There would be some improvement for delayed passengers if the US adopted some kind of regulation to make the airlines more responsible for the welfare of their passengers in these conditions … and it does not have to be a “great law” either – just some basic rules.

  • Michael__K

    Peoples’ reactions are interesting… many like to point out that airfares are low today by historical standards, and this is often cited as a justification for all kinds of inconveniences. I.e., “you get what you pay for.”

    Yet many people are paradoxically outraged by the corollary to that mantra: If “you get what you pay for” then don’t people who pay much more have grounds to expect more, at least in certain respects? (we’re not talking about flight safety here).

    And if that’s distasteful because it’s not egalitarian, then what’s the better alternative? When you have more distressed passengers than same-day seats, how should priority among the masses get sorted out? Where are the counter-proposals?

  • Justin

    I agree Michael. Rebooking passengers happens somehow, and those whom are the least loyal, are negated to the bottom of the totem pole.

    Airlines value profit margins and losses are mitigated to maximize profit. Loyalty customers, first class passengers, and high fair travelers are top priority. The cost of inconveniencing these categories comes at a higher stake.

    Airlines then move on to remaining passengers. Savvy fliers stand the best chance of resolution, though not always possible.

    I’ve been stuck in an airport before, and have learned a great deal off Elliot’s blog. Life is full of lessons and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

    I do think Delta need compsensate the OP as 13 hours is quite excessive. Certainly, another flight might have gotten him there quicker.

  • bodega3

    A lot of factors go into play for reaccommodating. If you are in business or first class, you usually have a different line to be in than coach passengers. If you are on a mileage award, either a free ticket or an upgrade, those classes of service usually need to be available on the new flights. If you are a member of the carrier’s frequent flier program, you will get more priority than a nonmember. Now there are exceptions to every rule. Once I was on a free agent award ticket,so no compensation due, yet they put me up in a hotel, gave me meal vouchers and when I wrote a letter regarding the reason for the delay, I got a $200 voucher. None of which was allowed according to the rules of the ticket I was flying on. One thing I can tell you from experience based on the times I have had major domestic delays, is that being nice got me rewarded. Two times we moved to first class and one to premier economy class.

  • Justin

    I’ve always heard (but never have tested) gate agents yield a lot of power. They have the ability to rectify and compensate travelers immediately. So being extra nice goes leaps and bounds towards compensation.

    True or not true?

  • bodega3


  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think emanon is pointing out the bus is not always cheaper. By flying he save $136 and 57 hours.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    How do you figure that he sees his drama as more than anyone else? The OP asks for himself. He’s not responsible for what anyone else does.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But you’re not equal cash paying customers. The walk up fare paid more.

    In most situations, we consider it axiomatic that all things being equal, the person who pays more gets more.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree with you and Michael. In any business, the people who pay more get more. You take care of your best customers first.

    When the CEO comes knocking, his needs get priority. When a major client/customer comes knocking, his/her needs get special treatment.

    My old boss and law partner is semi-retired. Very senior attorney. Far higher on the food chain than me. He was instrumental in training me in corporate and transactional law. Today, he sends me premium level litigation clients. The kind that pay their bills and generally are low maintenance. The most recent client he referred to me is worth 200M. That’s not to say that any client gets substandard service. But when my old boss calls, needless to say, I always answer.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If you have the luxury. I’ve’ been in court in the Northern California one day, and court in Southern California the next day. Once I had a 9am in San Jose and a 3pm in Los Angeles. That was stressful but unavoidable.

  • TonyA_says

    Yup, that’s what I’d say, too. It’s a fact of life like death and taxes.
    If your son’s event is that important, then leave the day before, or buy a fully refundable backup ticket on another airline.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    harsh dude

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s the easy part. Let the computer do it and call each person by name rather than having a line.

  • Justin

    His comment was after I posted my reply to his first post.

    Reasonably, most people aren’t going to opt for a bus ride from Denver to San Francisco unless adverse to flying. Enough people exist to allow for the route continuance, but are still the overall minority I’m sure.

    Flying is there within a few hours. Bus is probably a 10 or 15 hour journey.

  • Justin

    Touche. Money talks.

    200 Million client > a few hundred thousand dollar client. Both are at your disposal, but one caseload is offloaded onto paralegals, and the other commands your full attention..

  • omgstfualready

    The other day was apophasis, now axiomatic. Is it weird how much I enjoy so many people using grown up words?

  • NoraG

    Delta should have been proactively looking for flights for their passengers. They had to have known by the 2nd of the mechanical problems that this flight was not going to leave.

    Delta used to be a good airline to fly because they took care of their customers. Now they treat customers like vermin.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Did you say “vermin”? Wow, that’s one you don’t hear often. I guess Delta’s response would be: give us your unquestioning loyalty by becoming a Medallion member, and we’ll treat you a little better. At least that’s the sales pitch as I hear it.

  • Name

    Years ago, Rick Steves said something like this: If you get to your destination the same day you were supposed to, consider it a good trip. FQTVLR is so right, you have a 50/50 chance of making your obligation. Fly in early if you can, pick non-stops if you can … do whatever you can but accept that sometimes you’ll not make it. Don’t whine.

  • bodega3

    Actually Carver, it isn’t. We deal with ‘must have to be there’ scenarios all the time and we have to advise clients on how to handle the what ifs. Maybe we are a bit jaded, but facts are that if you HAVE to be someplace, don’t try to do it the same day.

  • Lindabator

    AMEN! So always be nice – gets you a lot further and faster! :)

  • Lindabator

    Good points – once was delayed leaving Detroit as we waited for several parts and mechanics to be boarded on our flight to Chicago, as they were needed there for a maintenance issue on Delta. Happens!

  • Lindabator

    I agree if SW was an option – but he may not have even considered it – and the refund may not have helped if he could not pay for a new ticket (I’ve seen this happen to other passengers often)

  • Lindabator

    But he did not stay overnight, so no accommodations were neccessary. We don’t know if he collected his food voucher, which IS somehing he is entitled to for such a long delay.

  • Lindabator

    I would agree completely (and have met clients at an airport to assist in several cases such as this) – but not everyone is flexible – and if he was already ticked off, he might not have wanted to even consider this option. But you are correct – the more flexible you are, the more likely you can find a better option they are willing to offer you.

  • Lindabator

    And with a window of 1.5 – 2 hours to get from the gate to the event! Just not feasible in a LOT of cases – like rush-hour traffic on these Detroit highways!!!!

  • Lindabator

    True – and knowing flight options in advance would have sent up a HUGE redflag that after about 2:00 pm, he really has no options until the late night flights – so not a great choice to book same day and EXPECT to make it.

  • Lindabator

    And he COULD have flown the red-eye the night before, getting home early in the morning. Then he could sleep a few hours before the event and have a spectacular time of it.

  • Lindabator

    But they cannot just MAKE flight times/seats magically appear. His options WERE the later flights, as there are not many afternoon options, just late night red-eyes and morning flights generally. He just didn’t like the options. (And I mean with most airlines – not just Delta)

  • Nancy Nally

    Possibly, depending on what his evening schedule was at the event in LA. Personally, I don’t fly red eyes due to a medical condition that makes the disruption to my sleep schedule inadvisable.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Do you also advise your clients to buy a fully refundable backup ticket on another airline?

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • LFH0

    When things go wrong on a bus trip, there are many fewer protections in place for the passenger. There is no compensation for denied boarding. Baggage liability is limited to $250 (unless additional valuation is purchased, but only up to a maximum of $1,000). While many discounted tickets are valid only for a particular schedule, there are no reservations (beyond a small handful of city-pairs). Thus, if the schedule is full, and the company does not find it worthwhile to put on a second section, the passenger is obligated to wait for the next bus, and hope there’s room. No food or other amenities provided, and if the terminal closes before the next departure, the passenger waits outside in the cold and the rain. Many destinations are served only once daily (or even less frequently), so denied boarding might result in a delay of 24 hours (or longer).

    Bus travel need not be like this, but Congress only has an interest in protecting airline passengers because there’s virtually no meaningful constituency for bus travel (an interesting situation because there actually is some Congressional interest in train passengers, even though there are twice as many bus passengers as train passengers).

  • LFH0

    Actually, Greyhound Lines has eliminated most of the stops in podunk towns. But in doing so, it eliminated the only transportation available in many of these very small communities, while remaining in larger communities that have other transportation options (e.g., air service, rail service).

    The attributes of passenger pick-ups at connecting terminal and long haul journeys apply as well to long-distance air and rail travel. The most notable distinction between air and bus travel is the journey duration.

  • LFH0

    If you look at why one would travel by bus, instead of air, between distant points, the reasons include aversion or inability to travel by air (including aversion to air “security” measures), last-minute travel for which air fares are obscene, ignorance of the costs of bus vs. air, custom and tradition, and a desire to the landscape of the country instead of its clouds. I travel long distances by bus mostly out of my aversion to air travel.

  • bodega3

    I advise my clients to NOT travel on the day they need to be somewhere.

  • LFH0

    I suggest that few people know what a contract of carriage is (and fewer still will bother reading them), so there is incentive on the part of carriers to make them as one-sided as possible, to favor the carriers, since there is virtually no competitive advantage otherwise. And if economic competition required a carrier to do more, it would rather do so voluntarily as it and the market see fit, rather than being compelled to to so through its contract of carriage.

  • Michael__K

    Right, my comment was not intended as a criticism of the OP. It may or may not have been a worthwhile choice for him in this particular case. It’s just something to consider in this sort of predicament. I have salvaged work days and vacation days that I would otherwise have lost by accepting flights to or from alternate airports.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Traveling to the event the day before is optimum. No one disputes that. It’s the if his son’s event was that important to the OP he would have had a backup, fully refundable ticket since he was flying the day of.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The difficulty is that we don’t have enough details about the OPs schedule. I’ve had late meeting where it was 50/50 that I’d miss the last flight. To the OPs credit he bought a fully refundable ticket.

  • bodega3

    There are too many unknowns. I know business evening events prevent redeye departure but then perhaps he should have decided on one or the other…either don’t take the trip and reschedule to be home for the child’s activity or go and if he could make it back fine, but don’t plan on it as Murphy’ Law prevails in most cases. I am assuming he handled his own arrangement, otherwise he could have called his TA and got on another flight, be it WN if need be. I quickly looked at fares from LAX to DTW and they have a nonrefundable roundtrip coach fare the allows for a free upgrade for the same price as booking one way coach fare in each direction with no upgrade I wonder if that is why he didn’t want to travel on another carrier. On oneway fares, if the carrier couldn’t get him to his destination within 4 hours of the original schedule arrive, he could get a full refund, even on a nonrefundable fare. However on a nonrefundable roundtrip ticket that may or may not be obtainable, hence why they didn’t offer it. As I have said before, if you get to your destination as planned great, but you shouldn’t count on it. No more that you should count on getting across town quickly anymore. Stuff happens, and allow for it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But that’s the rub. We cannot assume that he had a choice not to go. For some matters, I have the luxury of sending a junior associate or use an attorney service. But some matters, I must attend personally. In those cases the only excuse the judge will take are that I am 1)hospitalized, 2)incarcerated, 3)dead. Not showing up can have disasterous consequences depending on the judge.

    I’m sure the analogous thing happens to everyone else.

    The only thing that I can might say the OP did wrong was not being proactive enough to hop on another airline.

    That happened to me a year ago. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get on my American Airlines flight. It was important that I get to my destination, so I walked to the next gate and bought a one way on Virgin America.

    But mine was a little commuter to LA. The OP may not have had the resources to get another $1300 ticket.

  • Nathan Witt

    I think this kind of thing is often down to the individual airline and the traveler. Leaving aside that Delta boarded passengers onto a plane with mechanical problems, sometimes you get better results by going to the gate staff and explaining your situation and – politely – requesting alternate accommodation. I recently flew a series of connecting flights from CMH > CPH on AA, and as soon as the first announcement was made that the first leg would be delayed, I explained about the potential missed connection to the gate agent, who made me alternate arragements on another airline. Be flexible, polite and ask, and I’m often pleasantly surprised by the help I get.

  • bayareascott

    Compensation, not to any significant amount. But finding alternatives? Absolutely. While you may get an agent with less experience, I can guarantee you that having a bad attitude will not inspire anyone to want to do more than the bare minimum to get rid of you.