Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Delta Dumps My Seats

Reserved in January, but disappeared with no notice or warning in June.  Was it because of the introduction of Economy Comfort on many Delta flights?

As a Delta Five Million Miler (5.3 million, actually), I enjoy Lifetime Platinum Elite status.  Since 2008 I have successfully transitioned from a three decades long full-time-travel-every-week career to satisfying work at home, but I still travel quite a bit, including on vacations.  I don't get many upgrades these days, but my Delta Platinum status is very useful to gain access to choice seats in coach when making reservations and when boarding planes.

My family of four was scheduled to fly to St. Thomas from RDU on June 9 for a week at Maho Bay Eco-camps on St. John (a short ferry ride away), a trip I planned back in early January using Delta SkyMiles Award seats.  As a Delta Platinum, I was able to reserve good seats in the first few rows of Economy, and I printed out the webpages that showed our selections.

I had a grueling work schedule on the Friday before we left, and didn't get home until almost 10:00 PM.  I immediately went to the Delta website to check in and print our boarding passes for the early Saturday morning flights.  When I did, I was dumbfounded to learn that Delta had dumped all our reserved seats on all four flight segments (Raleigh-Atlanta-St. Thomas).  Every flight was, of course, fully booked, and I was unable to get any seat assignments on line.

Furious and worried, I phoned the Delta Elite line, and asked what happened.  The short version is that several layers of agents and supervisors couldn't help me at all--and this was the Elite line. I was told that they weren't sure why the seats vanished.  Finally the truth:  One supervisor was candid enough to tell me that Delta dumped all preexisting seat assignments when they introduced Economy Comfort to their domestic fleet.  But when that change was made to their reservation system, Delta failed to send email notices to affected passengers that their seat assignments had disappeared, let alone assign new ones to replace them.

I was flabbergasted.  But that's always your Elite flyers, I said, because that's the only group of passengers who has early access to those first few rows of Coach.  Why would Delta do that?  Why didn't they at least notify passengers when they did?  Why didn't they reinstate similar seat assignments?  All I got was a sigh from the Delta supervisor and an acknowledgement that it was stupid, extremely stupid.

On a different call later that evening, a less candid supervisor stone-walled and accused me of not having had any seats assigned, essentially saying it was entirely my fault.  He backed off when I read off the seats I had reserved in January on all four segments.

The most astonishing discovery, however, was that no agent or supervisor I spoke with--all well-trained in handling Elite problems--was able to do anything at all other than document the record and offer profuse apologies.  They all told me their hands were tied, that not a single seat was available to assign on any of the four flights, let alone four seats together for my family of four. 

When I explained that I couldn't have my eight year old daughter seated alone many rows away from us, they just said, "I'm sorry."  Ditto for my please to have our seventh grader son seated next to at least one parent.  I tried several times up until midnight calling back because I was so upset and worried, to no avail.  

If Delta Elite agents don't have the power to help in extraordinary situations like this, what's the point of having them?  I don't need a shoulder to cry on or a professional apologist, but that's all I got.  At 64 I've been flying on Delta for 45 years and have flown a lot more than the 5.3 million miles since they started counting.  Yet they could do nothing for me to remedy their own cock-up.

The same thing happened when I arrived at RDU the following morning:  No one at the Delta counters outside security or in the Delta Sky Club was able to help.  It was only when I approached the gate podium that the gate agent was able to give us disparate seat assignments, and after that, through the kindness of strangers on the flight, I was able to beg, plead, and cajole to trade seat assignments with other passengers so as to get my wife seated next to one child, and me next to the other several rows away.

The same experience exactly at ATL, and then in STT (St. Thomas) returning:  No Delta employee, including the Elite agents (I kept calling them), was able to do anything whatsoever until I got to the gate agents.  With seats scattered all over the plane, my wife and I were able to exchange seats with compassionate passengers to get at least one child and one parent together.  In the case of the STT/ATL flight, a 757, that was in row 43 at the back of the plane, about the least desirable place to sit, but at least the kids were safely next to a parent.

To make matters worse, someone at Delta--no one I spoke with would admit who did it--separated my wife and two kids from the one record locator in which we were all housed to begin with sometime during the week before we came home.  This made peons of my wife and kids.  When they were under the umbrella of my Platinum status, they were treated with the same Platinum privileges as me.  Some fool, though, had made four record locators of our reservations, another very complicating problem.

Another oddity that was never explained by any Delta employee: On each of the four flights, many other folks besides us had similar experiences.  Their advance seats were also gone.  On our flight to St. Thomas, for instance, a newlywed couple told us their seats had been separated against their will.  They were happily reunited thanks to the impromptu boarding pass trading network that sprung up among passengers in the gate area waiting for the flight to be called.  Delta agents didn't help them at all.

A few people were told by Delta that they'd lost their seat assignments because of an equipment change, but when I checked out the aircraft type assigned in January versus June, they were identical.  The "equipment change" could have referred to the interior of the planes.  When Economy Comfort was introduced, presumably the row numbers changed on most aircraft.  However, I am only speculating; Delta has stayed mum on why this happened.

There was one exception to this series of horrors, and that was our experience on the final flight segment, DL2082, ATL/RDU.  The flight departed from Atlanta gate B11.  When I told my tale of woe to B11 gate agent Donna Greenwood, she immediately moved people around on the flight to get three seat together for my wife and my two kids and handed me the boarding passes, smiling and profusely thanking me for my years of business with Delta.  She then apologized for not being able to get the fourth seat for me and handed me a boarding pass for 4A in First Class.  I almost wept.  God bless Delta's Donna Greenwood, and the devil take the army of ineffectual, powerless Delta employees who couldn't do a damn thing to help us fix their own damn problem.