Bumped, but where’s my voucher?

Senohrabek / Shutterstock.com
Senohrabek / Shutterstock.com
Delta promises Shirin Vakharia a flight voucher if she volunteers to take another flight. She does — but where’s the scrip?

Question: My sister and I recently had a confirmed flight on Delta Air Lines from San Francisco to Dayton, Ohio. The itinerary included a scheduled one-hour, 30 minute stopover in Atlanta.

When I arrived in San Francisco and checked in at the kiosk, I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer my seat. I indicated yes, checked my bag through Dayton and arrived at the gate.

While waiting at the gate at San Francisco, I was called to the desk. The gate agent notified me that she could put me on a flight to Detroit, and then continue to Dayton. I agreed to be rebooked and asked if my sister, who was on the same flight but a separate reservation, could also be rebooked with me.

The gate agent rebooked us both and handed us new boarding passes. She rushed us to the gate so we could get on the Detroit flight, which was leaving momentarily.

While I was on the plane I realized that the gate agent had not issued us a voucher. The flight into Detroit arrived late, resulting in a missed connection to Dayton, an overnight stay and luggage that didn’t arrive until the following day.

I was told I needed to contact Delta’s customer care department to address the issue of the voucher for denied boarding not being issued in San Francisco. A representative told me the reason we were not issued a voucher was because our flight was not oversold, but delayed by 15 to 30 minutes. This, of course, makes no sense, since we had a longer stopover in Atlanta.

I want our vouchers. Can you help us get them? — Shirin Vakharia, San Francisco

Answer: If Delta promised you a flight voucher, then it should have given it to you. But it’s not entirely clear to me if the first agent you spoke with was just trying to get you on an earlier flight, or if she was just trying to rebook you on an earlier flight because of the delay.

At any rate, the time to settle that question would have been before you left, and not afterwards. Any airline is going to be reluctant to offer you a voucher based on a kiosk interaction. That would have to be verified by a gate agent and settled before your departure.

It’s unclear what happened before your Detroit-bound flight departed. Were they trying to prevent a delay (if they were, they actually made things worse) or were they trying to remove two passengers from an oversold flight (if that’s the case, then they misrepresented the facts when you called).

I’m fairly certain that some airlines fudge the circumstances of a delay to suit their interests. For example, a broken air conditioning — a “mechanical” delay — can be turned into a weather delay, because it lets an airline off the hook for covering rooms and meal vouchers for displaced passengers. But I don’t think that’s what happened here. I think this was just a misunderstanding.

I contacted Delta on your behalf and after reviewing its files, it offered you two $400 flight vouchers.

Do airlines tell the truth about their delays?

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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

    I’m having trouble believing that Delta proactively offered to put passengers on another flight merely because their original flight was 15 to 30 minutes delayed, especially if it entails moving baggage to another plane.

  • lac

    When flying to Scotland several years ago, we checked in prior to flight and the supremely helpful ticket agent warned us of severe weather at our connecting flight’s designation, rebooked us on two different flights so we would make our international flight, and did all she could to make sure our entire party was rebooked together on the same flights. It all depends on the attitude of the people working together, airline and customer. We made our flight, with her assistance.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Why did someone give you a “down arrow” for a comment where customer service actually worked?

  • Guest

    Just a guess but maybe because it had nothing to do with the issue? I’m sure there are lots of stories about how customer service worked, but they don’t help address the issue in this case where it didn’t.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It’s basically a reply to Carver’s post up above it. Probably somebody with reading comprehension issues.

  • Guest

    Hey Chris. What is it with these new floating ads? They are pretty annoying and keep moving so it’s very difficult to click the close button on them.

  • Guest

    Yeah. They couldn’t comprehend you post as a reply to a comment and not start a new one with no context.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I don’t know. I don’t serve the ads on my site – they’re handled through Adsense. Do you have a screen shot?

    I’m aware that Disqus isn’t working right. We’re trying to fix it.

  • TonyA_says

    Hey what do you expect, this is Delta – a frequent violator of the rules!

    Instead of getting at least $400 for IDB, passengers are ask to bid how much they want.
    Maybe these naive passengers entered ZERO. I thought the minimum was $100. Is it now ZERO? :)

  • emanon256

    Its working for me and I haven’t seen the floating ads. I do have a question though, I thought guest accounts were no longer allowed? However, the guest who has been posting over the past few days (assuming its all the same guest) has not been a troll and has been adding to a good conversation, so nothing against that person.

  • emanon256

    I too think it was some type of misunderstanding. Perhaps they though the OP would miss-connect, so moved them to another flight pro-actively that unfortunately did miss-connect, and it was a separate issue than the OP volunteering for an oversold flight.

    When I used to fly DL with a 30 min connection in ATL, they always paged me and tried to re-route me just in case I would miss connect. I thought this was nice of them, but I always turned them down because the flight I connected to was 1 hour+ late, 100% of the time and in the event I did miss-connect, I was only a 2 hour drive away from my destination anyway anyway. I did that flight 12 weeks in a row and never once miss-connected. But I was willing to take the risk in this particular case.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Check out the times when they were posted: There were a grand total of two comments up, both on the same topic, the second one directly addressing what the first one said. Who could possibly be confused by that? But if you want to whip Iac with a wet noodle for missing the “reply” button, feel free.

  • KarlaKatz

    Download Ad-Blocker Plus… I’ve not had a pop-up ad in years.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    We figured out where the floaters were coming from. Technorati, which serves some ads, had added it to the site without our approval. It’s getting fixed now.

    We had to loosen the restrictions on guest posts because the alternative was keeping too many legitimate readers from posting. I wish there were a better way.

  • Guest

    It all depends on how you have your sort set. I have mine as newest first so in my case, I hadn’t seen Carver’s post. It could have been like that for the down voter.

  • Guest

    I’m on my phone and don’t have anything set up to capture the screen. I also see you found the problem and in the process of fixing it. Thanks.

  • Guest

    Technically, this isn’t a guest account. I just created a disqus account with the user name of guest.

  • emanon256

    Ha! I like it!

  • Alan Gore

    Undoubtedly because doing something nice for the customer is against the rules at the airline where the down-arrower works.I have actually seen this expressed as “do something nice for one passenger, and you might give the rest of the rabble ideas.”

  • Cam

    Dumb poll question.

  • John

    Why in the world would anyone volunteer to take a different flight and not ask what the compensation would be? Delta could easily have said the voucher was for $50 each. Who is to say? This traveler was very inexperienced. Fortunately it worked out OK for her, but it was really all her fault, not Delta’s.

  • Taylor Michie

    Agreed, but it would be helpful to have more information. If the OP volunteered, it seems like he’d query the agent, or the agent would mention “we’re moving you to x flight with x compensation.” It seems odd that there’d be no talk of compensation on the part of either party.

    This sounds like a misunderstanding to me.

  • omgstfualready

    I assume they weren’t actually offered a voucher and the OP didn’t ask for one but realized later they could have / should have gotten one. If it is any consolation for them the liklihood of making the vouchers useful is slim to none. I’ve rarely had success (though that was not with Delta).

    I fly often both business and pleasure but rarely with Delta but the times I have flown Delta they were proactive at every step. I was automatically rebooked for my connecting flight when my initial flight was delayed. I had paid to sit at the front of the plane for the initial flight and forgot I did that (was like $9) and they refunded it to me automatically. Another time I had to cancel my flight and two weeks later I got a $50 credit voucher in the mail.

  • John Keahey

    Which is why I almost never answer them. It’s just another Web hit to draw advertisers.

  • Cam

    So true Mr keahey, click bait at its worst.

  • John Keahey

    I’ve had three flights getting late into JFK over the past few years, causing me to miss connections. Two weather delays and one mechanical. I called Delta on my cell as soon as the wheels touched the runway, and each time I was told I had already been rescheduled for my connecting flights because they were following my flight and its delays. One was an overseas flight that required me to be booked the next evening. My $28 insurance through American Express paid for the taxi and hotel since the delay was weather-related. And I only do carry-on so no baggage delays. Delta has done fine by me.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I feel the love from my adoring fans today. Thank you for making my day.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Not bad. I think the difference here is that in your case rescheduling was required as you has missed connections. In the OPs cause, she had a long layover in Atlanta so she wouldn’t miss her connecting flight.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Or did Delta take advantage of an inexperienced flyer?

  • John Baker

    I’ve had a very similar thing happen to me more than once with different airlines. Once on DL and once on CO. In each case, I was rerouted around a delay since I arrived early enough at the airport. It good customer service. Admittedly, something we rarely see from the airlines.

    Let’s remove some Red Herrings from the narrative and suddenly this becomes an attempt at good customer service where weather got in the way…

    My sister and I recently had a confirmed flight on Delta Air Lines from San Francisco to Dayton, Ohio. The itinerary included a scheduled one-hour, 30 minute stopover in Atlanta.

    When I arrived in San Francisco and checked in at the kiosk, … checked my bag through Dayton and arrived at the gate.

    While waiting at the gate at San Francisco, I was called to the desk. The gate agent notified me that she could put me on a flight to Detroit, and then continue to Dayton. I agreed to be rebooked and asked if my sister, who was on the same flight but a separate reservation, could also be rebooked with me.

    The gate agent rebooked us both and handed us new boarding passes. She rushed us to the gate so we could get on the Detroit flight, which was leaving momentarily.

    Now this is proactive customer service that we rarely see from an airline. The only change is that we left out the volunteer option. Since I’ve seen airlines, including DL, do the same thing. I think the OP is confused on what occurred. She wasn’t bumped. She was rerouted.

  • Blackadar

    Selective editing is just lying when you edit things so important facts like “I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer my seat. I indicated yes” aren’t revealed. Important facts =/= red herrings.

    “I like chicken parm. At Gino’s Italian food, I ordered it but got a plate of dog food” does not mean “I like chicken parm at Gino’s Italian”.

  • John Baker

    As I noted, the only I change I removed was her volunteering. In my two cases where I was rerouted, I didn’t volunteer to be bumped. DL noted that she was rerouted due delays not bumped. Others have noted that they have been rerouted during delays as well. That establishes the fact that DL will reroute customers due to delays that have nothing to do with flights being oversold.

  • John Baker

    They have done it for me before. Especially when I show up early at the airport.

  • rn74

    Why shouldn’t Chris be compensated for his efforts? What’s the harm?

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I understand the anger. For what it’s worth, the polls aren’t click bait and don’t drive up my paltry ad revenues in any meaningful way. At all, actually.

    They’re meant to start a discussion, in some cases to introduce a new idea or to steer the conversation. Are they unfair? Often, absolutely. Do I care? Like I need to answer that.

  • Randy Culpepper

    By bidding, the passengers have effectively volunteered, so IDB regulations do not apply. Also, IDBs don’t receive vouchers, they receive actual compensation.

    Honestly, I think Delta has a great system for identifying those who have flexibility at check-in, thereby avoiding the auction at the gate and streamlining the process.

    To me, it sounds like the original first leg was delayed to the point where the OP wasn’t likely to his/her connection, so Delta preemptively rerouted them.

  • TonyA_says

    I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer my seat.
    Is there another way to interpret this statement?
    This question is not asked to pax if they have been already re-routed.

  • Randy Culpepper

    If she’d been bumped at the kiosk then she would’ve gotten a security document instead of a boarding pass (and yes, they’re notably different).

  • Randy Culpepper

    You’re making a false equivalency. Being asked whether or not you’re willing to do something is not the same thing as initiating the process. I’d be willing to bet that every economy passenger on the flight was given the same prompt.

    Second, you’re viewing the chain of events with the luxury of knowing the outcome. It very well could have been the case that, at the time of check in, the flight was still slated to depart on-time and therefore rerouting wasn’t even in the equation yet.

    Additionally, Delta’s kiosks don’t merely ask a ‘yes or no’–they point blank ask “How much compensation (in the form of vouchers) would you accept to voluntarily give up your seat?”. You even acknowledged this two messages above, yet this is curiously omitted from the OP’s story.

    Lastly, your tone is rather condescending. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  • Randy Culpepper

    “If Delta promised you a flight voucher, then it should have given it to you.” I agree with this statement. But nowhere in the OP’s story was she promised a voucher.

  • Jennifer Finger

    This poll isn’t too helpful, because some airlines allow it and do it sometimes and others don’t. I don’t think any do it as a deliberate policy to screw passengers over, even if the passengers suffer the same effects as though the airlines in question did deliberately screw them over. That said, I do think airlines need to take a close look at situations like this and act to prevent their passengers from feeling like they’ve been screwed over.

  • TonyA_says

    Are you suggesting someone is lying?
    If I am to believe your scenario then they should automatically be give at least some compensation by using the kiosk.
    But they did not. Hence they complained to Elliott.

    Are you by chance a Delta employee or agent?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    So many times, the discussion ends up being, “The poll has nothing to do with the story.”

    Too bad you don’t get revenue from that people posting that comment in all of its various forms. :)

  • Randy Culpepper

    Why would someone automatically be given compensation just for answering the questions on the kiosk? All the kiosk does is gather information and generate a roster of who said they were willing to volunteer their seat, and for what dollar amount. In the event that the flight is oversold AND checks in full, the CSA already has the list of volunteers and starts with the ones who bid the least amount.

    While I do work for an airline, it isn’t Delta.

  • Bill___A

    Not everyone insists upon compensation. I don’t get re-routed all that much, but when it happens, I haven’t asked for any money. It is funny how so many people are railing about how bad the airlines are They actually seem to work reasonably well all things considered. My expectation of in flight service is definitely lower, but realistically speaking, when I’ve had to get somewhere, I’ve been able to do it. Although I find United Express (SkyWest) very annoying, that is really my only gripe. (of course, the TSA is a different matter).

  • TonyA_says

    Does the kiosk disclose to passengers that the law requires airlines to compensate bumped (IDB) passengers at least $400 and they are no longer denied boarding if they volunteer. Or is Delta’s system simply looking for suckers?

  • Randy Culpepper

    I doubt it does, but then I’ve also never heard a CSA announce IDB rules when they’re doing exactly the same thing over the PA system looking for volunteers (escalating the value of the vouchers, promising an upgrade, etc). So is every oversell situation, in fact, the airline looking for suckers?

    Also, I have audited IDB compensation at some of my employer’s stations, You keep making the “at least $400” claim, which while true is misleading. IDB compensation calculations are determined based on the difference between the time that the IDB pax arrive at their final destination, and the originally scheduled arrival time. It isn’t super-duper complex, but I don’t think most pax would fully understand it while checking in at a kiosk. It would be like all of the screens that I just click through at rental car kiosks.

    You also seem to think that the pax can somehow opt for IDB compensation over accepting a voucher, and that simply isn’t the case. For a denied boarding to be considered involuntary, the airline must select the pax, not the other way around. So, depending on the size of your aircraft, you have anywhere from 1/20 to 1/853 (all economy-class A380) chance of getting selected, depending on how that airline performs its selection process.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh maybe she should be compensated more …
    Under the new rule, bumped passengers subject to short delays will receive compensation equal to double the price of their tickets up to $650, while those subject to longer delays would receive payments of four times the value of their tickets, up to $1,300.  Inflation adjustments will be made to those compensation limits every two years.

    I guess 400 was the old rule :)

  • TonyA_says

    The DOT website spells out the compensation formula.
    * If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $650 maximum.* If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1300 maximum).

    Oh and I fully understand what those reverse bid offers are supposed to do – pay uninformed passengers LESS what they are legally entitled to if they are involuntarily bumped.

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    @Christopher Elliott

    Not always.

  • GeoffDepew

    Last month, my new wife and I were flying after our wedding to our new home (well, I was flying home and she was coming with me) and our first flight was late. We got all proactive, because the first flight was going to be so late we’d miss our connecting flight completely.

    And because we were proactive, it was claimed that we were not eligible for any assistance such as meals or a hotel.

    Th reason the plane was going to be late? “weather”. But we tried to deal with things before there were more problems (like being stuck at Dulles!) and we were punished for competence.

    They do lie and they do get mean when you try to deal with things yourself.

  • BMG4ME

    They don’t always tell the truth about delays although in this case I think it was a misunderstanding.

  • Cam

    Sorry Mr Elliott, so offence intended. Your blog has helped me greatly in the past.

  • Randy Culpepper

    Assuming this was a denied boarding, which I don’t think it was, it was voluntary, not involuntary, so she’s not entitled to any compensation above what she may have agreed to on the kiosk.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Do airlines tell the truth about delays? Yes/No Is this a trick question??? I would LOVE to hear the reasons anyone thinks they do tell the truth.

  • Guest

    They tell the truth when the truth does put them under any financial or legal liability. ;)

  • Randy Culpepper

    You seem to be unable, or unwilling, to understand the difference between voluntary and involuntary.

  • rwee2000

    I was coming home from Vegas late and was in Minneapolis, there was a few T-stormes in the area, my flight home was notorious for being canceled, they would have “mechanical” problems and cancel the flight until the next day so they would flight with a full plane. Being there were a few T-stormes in the area we were canceled for weather reason so they wouldn’t have to pay for the hotels, what’s funny is we caught another flight that landed me 90 miles from home and I had the wife pick me up. In a plane that was smaller than the first one, of course it was almost full.