Delta OKs offers nearly $10K to those who give up seats

Scott Moritz and Michael Sasso
Bloomberg News

Delta Air Lines Inc. increased the payouts its airport agents can offer passengers on overbooked flights, moving to prevent a public relations nightmare similar to the one plaguing United Continental Holdings Inc.

Customer service agents will be able to offer passengers as much as $2,000 when they’re asked to give up a seat on an oversold flight, up from $800, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg. Managers can offer as much as $9,950, more than seven times the previous cap of $1,350, the memo dated April 13 says.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to comment further.

The new policies come in the wake of a controversy that enveloped rival United this week, after law enforcement officers dragged a passenger off a United Express flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. The passenger, David Dao, was already seated on the plane and refused to give up his seat to make room for a United crew member who needed to fly.

On Friday, a United spokeswoman said the airline changed its policy to require traveling employees to book a flight at least 60 minutes before departure. Had the rule been in place last Sunday, United Express Flight 3411 still would have been overbooked by four seats, but United employees could have dealt with the situation in the gate area instead of on the plane.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to comment further. A United spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment.

The Delta memo also gives customer service agents tips on how to best deal with oversold flights, including looking for passengers with other options for non-stop flights. Agents are advised to contact managers if compensation above is needed, the memo says. It does not address the United controversy.

The airline is changing policy as it deals with its own bad publicity. An April 5 storm in Atlanta shut down Delta’s operations during heavy spring break travel, with delays made worse by a breakdown in the airline’s crew location and assignment systems, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in an email to customers. About 4,000 flights were canceled in the wake of the storm.

Delta is offering hundreds of thousands of customers $200 flight vouchers or 20,000 bonus frequent-flier miles as part of an apology for flight cancellations earlier this month.

“I have heard from many of you who feel like we let you down. In acknowledgment of what you endured, 20,000 bonus miles will be added to your SkyMiles account in the next 48 hours,” Bastian said in the emails, which were seen by Bloomberg. “I am sorry for what you experienced.”

The after-effects of Delta’s storm-related disruptions lasted as many as six days for some travelers, as they struggled to rebook flights or shelved getaways while the airline attempted to recover from the breakdown. Delta said this week that the cancellations, lost revenue and other costs including travel vouchers and bonus mile giveaways will reduce second-quarter pretax profit by $125 million.

Some Delta customers who are not SkyMiles members are getting emails offering $200 flight vouchers.

As the second-largest U.S. airline, Delta runs about 6,000 flights a day during peak summer months. The airline has more than 800 planes and flies about 180 million passengers a year.

Delta has suffered a series of setbacks in the past year. In January, customers were marooned at airports when flights were grounded due to a computer system breakdown. In August, Delta canceled about 2,000 flights over a three-day period after its worldwide computer system failed.

Delta’s Black declined to comment on the voucher and SkyMiles bonus gesture.

“As always, any customer who feels the specifics of their flight requires additional attention should contact Delta Customer Care,” he said.

Associated Press contributed.