One of the first questions I remember Delta’s website asking me when booking travel was my daughter’s age. She’s 4.
For a mere eighty-eight additional dollars, the airline was kind enough to reassign us in a row together. And by additional dollars, I mean on top of the $1200+ I had already spent for the trip and not counting the additional $25 baggage fee (each way) for which carriers have become notorious.
There were plenty of empty seats on that flight and this should never have happened in the first place.
In fairness to the ticket agent, who traded knowing glances with a work acquaintance when I broached the issue at the counter, she suggested I might ask the gate agent at boarding to make the switch at no cost.
Faced with a dilemma of handing over ransom money to Delta in exchange for certainty, or taking a risk that an agent might fix the problem at the gate, I opted to pay.
No parent holds a higher responsibility – or more deeply visceral instinct – than keeping their child or children safe. That’s hard to accomplish 11 rows away when the fasten seat belt sign is glowing.
The airlines are counting on it, indeed, I’d contend airlines, including Delta, prey on such emotions to separate a few more dollars from the consumer wallet.
— Frank Strong (@Frank_Strong) April 19, 2015
Other Airlines Prey on Parent Emotions Too
Delta isn’t the only airline that will book a young child or a toddler several rows away from a parent or guardian. In my recent history, US Air pulled the same page from the airline customer service playbook, albeit my daughter was even younger then.
Although US Air’s social media team at least attempted a response – Delta didn’t so much as acknowledge my protest (and still hasn’t) [Update 5/12/15: Delta reached out to me today; there’s a note about it in the comments below].
American Airlines also, has earned a reputation for targeting parents. My mother flew for American for some 30 years and when I relayed the story, she shook her head and noted the airline made it a habit throughout her career.
She resented it because it put her – an employee – in the crossfire of a rightfully upset parent, but left her few options to deal with it. In the spirit of adaptation, she did, however, develop her own playbook. She’d gently take the parent aside and give them advice like this:
Approach the passenger sitting next to your child and explain that while your child is sweet, she (or he) frequently becomes nauseous during air travel; I hope you won’t mind cleaning up.
More often than not, my mother reports, after hearing that, a fellow passenger would volunteer to change seats to avoid sitting next to a sick kid. I’d like to believe most people would do it willingly anyway.
Anyone that knows a flight attendant can probably attest to the fact these professionals can rattle off a dozen similar anecdotes off the top of their heads.
It does not, however, excuse an airline, or the broader industry, from what amounts in my mind, as calculated exploitation.
“Misery” as a Business Strategy
If such a story were the exception, it might pass as an oversight. Unfortunately, it is not. The airlines have been systematic in the pursuit of driving revenue by making their customers miserable.
The carriers have artificially inflated demand by cutting the supply of flights. The airlines have continuously added seats to an aircraft to the extent it borders on torture for even the average sized citizen. Airlines were quick to add fuel surcharges and very slow to remove them — despite the decline in oil prices (and expiring contracts).
Then there are the upsell techniques. These are something akin to intrusive pop-up ads you can’t close, only it’s in-your-face real life. There’s a long list of “comforts” the airlines have carved out and packaged as an additional revenue stream: bag fees, bonus miles, food, drinks, movies, headsets and exit row seating.
Another airline staple that fails to serve customers well is gaming departure times. This is usually rendered in the form of closing the door on an aircraft, pushing away from the gate and calling the flight “on time.”
It’s a farce that might look good on a plaque but is about as meaningless a metric as likes on a brand’s Facebook page. The whole charade would be downright humorous — an SNL skit — if it weren’t so egregious, true and more to the point, impacting so many travelers.
It’s not merely that the airlines are trying to earn more money – businesses should try to earn more profitable business — it’s that these items are sold to a (literally) captive audience in an effort to capitalize on misery. In other words, the airlines are artificially designing a miserable flying experience precisely for the purpose of selling travelers more “comforts.”
The airlines are flying so low with this strategy, it’s fitting for a child’s lesson in morality we might find in a Dr. Seuss book: inventing a problem in order to profit from the solution. Writing his column, McBean himself called it capitalist pollution.
“See, the more a passenger hates the experience, the more they’re willing to pay incremental fees to avoid repeating it. That’s the theory anyway. These include the following uncommon anomalies some hopeless passengers may endure…
> Waiting in line to check in at the counter.
> Pushing your way through the cattle call when boarding commencing,
> Clamoring for that last overhead bin space that someone else seems to always get.
> Doing a last minute repack when you learn your bag weighs just over the maximum allotment.
> Having to push their knees against the seat in front of them to mimic a comfortable seating position.
> Tussling with your neighbor over space because seats are practically stacked on top of each other these days.
> Beg to be treated as a human being by airline representatives.
> Losing status because you fly a lot but you don’t pay premium prices for premium seats and services.
Indeed, we’ve all been there.”
As I noted in reaction to Mr. Solis’ post, it amazes me that a competitor cannot find a way to make the economics work – that a carrier can’t swoop in and displace the incumbents. Even the formerly scrappy low cost airlines – like JetBlue – that nailed this niche are moving away from the model.
If good customer service is good marketing, then engineering a synthetically designed (and terrible) user experience in an effort to profit ought to be illegal. When is enough it enough?!
It is High Time to Regulate Airline Customer Service
Until this country becomes willing to invest in high-speed rail (which we should), teleportation is invented, or more businesses accept web collaboration for its practicality, there’s no expectation that the airlines will ever focus on basic – even essential in Maslow’s sense – customer service. Airline customer service must be regulated.
I believe the answer begins with a federally mandated passenger bill of rights – one that becomes law and is backed with stiff penalties. To begin, I’d recommend the following:
- No airline under reasonable circumstances may separate a dependent from guardian in seating assignments; this includes, but is not limited to, children, elderly and handicap;
- Minimum personal space requirements determined by ergonomic experts and medical doctors;
- Pricing transparency – the total cost of travel (TCT) at the initial point of price quotation; in other words the price at the point of transaction (or departure) should not vary from the initial results displayed in any e-commerce travel system;
- On time flights will be determined from the point at which the first passenger enters the jet way at boarding until the last passenger has exited the bridge after landing; merely pushing an aircraft away from the gate is not on time;
- No airline may sell more seats than an aircraft holds; a mandatory refund policy will uniformly apply to all airlines;
- Stiff penalties for airlines who sell unclean seats, trash left in the seat pockets or non-functioning in-flight electronics will be implemented; these are no longer amenities;
- Exit row seating may not be sold at a premium; in the interest of safely, exit row seating will be based solely on the ability of the passengers in those rows to execute that very important duty on a first come, first serve basis;
- Minimum sustenance requirements based on the length of travel (I suggest three hours or more of flight time);
- Minimum staffing requirements at counters and gates based on forecasted (and auditable) passenger throughput;
These metrics will be reported monthly on a publicly accessible website managed by a designated government agency (FAA, FTC). In addition, airlines that are publicly traded will be required to list a human-readable one page summary in quarterly and annual financial statements, such as the 10k. It will be the first page of such reports.
In a word of caution, when the regulators start sniffing around, the airline lobbyists press hard on the thrusters. They will advocate for “self-regulation” and lament over the stifling new constraints and limitations.
Yet the airlines have proven time and time again they cannot be trusted to act independently. Indeed a few years back the feds finally, after crisis after crisis spilled over into social media and news, slapped the airlines with the threat of fines for parking aircraft on the tarmac while their customers endured countless hours in unconscionable conditions.
* * *
I was but a kid when Reagan broke the mechanic strike, and this sort of talk is the antithesis of the politics I’ve held for most of my life. Then again, everyone has thresholds. My threshold is 4.
Update 5/11/15: Here are a few links to sources that have picked up on this story:
- Good Housekeeping: Dad Forced to Pay to Sit With His Toddler on Flight
- Drudge Report: Delta Seats 4-Year-Old 11 Rows Away from Parent
- ABC News: Dad Says He Was Assigned Seat 11 Rows Away From 4-Year-Old Daughter on Delta Flight
- TODAY Show: Dad says he was forced to pay $88 to sit next to his 4-year-old on flight
- Fox News: Dad: Delta Charged Me $88 Fee to Sit Next to 4-Year-Old Daughter
- News Vin: North Carolina Dad Has To Pay $88 To Sit Next To His 4-Year-Old On Delta Flight:
- Yahoo Parenting: Airline Seats 4-Year-Old Far From Dad, Charges $88 to Switch
- The Stir / Cafe Mom: Airline Sat Toddler 11 Rows Away From Dad & Charged Them Extra to Change Seats
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Delta: How the World’s Worst Brand can also Be the Best
Why would you book a flight, knowing she would be away, then complain about it? What if the flight was completely booked? Do you expect everyone to cater to you? Get off your high horse. Nobody owes you a thing. This is your own fault.
@JulieMallett A better "what if" question -- one based on the same scenario described above -- would be: what if the airline assigned a parent and toddler into a pair of empty seats it knew it already had?
Not true because it was Delta's policy of not offering ALL seats not sold at time of booking as available. I refuse to fly Delta because of this policy. It doesn't matter how far in advance I book the only seats I'm offered are center seats, aisle seats are never offered. However upon boarding there are many unsold seats so I know it's a deliberate policy of restricting seats available to the crappy ones. I assumed it was because I'm not a Delta frequent flyer, nor will I ever be even tho I fly several times a week. In my experience Delta is the worst airline as far as overall experience.
Remember the type of "news" we were served when the airlines mergers were happening?
We all know it created strong monopolies and that customers are now at the mercy of these huge money making machines. U.S Airlines, a story of capitalism gone wrong....
The reason is that American has a better name recognition worldwide _ regardless of the perception of the quality of their service . The are an established brand in Asia / the orient and South America as wel as Europe . USAir is virtually unknown in those markets.
Unfortunately the US Air/American merger is not developing into a positive for frequent US flyers. As the US Air logo continues to disappear the service of the "new American" which is the same old crappy American that went bankrupt, continues to decline. Who's idea was it to make US into American instead of making crappy American into US Air? Fire that person.
My newlywed wife and I were charged over $300.00 dollars per seat for arriving six minutes late for boarding. We were leaving for our honeymoon and that six hundred dollars was going to go towards our vacation. The man at the desk was rude and said it doesn't matter if it's six seconds we're gonna charge you. I don't mind paying late fees but over 600 dollars for taking a later flight seems quite excessive. When I wrote customer service I got a response informing me of a number I could call. It turned out to be a fax number in El Paso. American Airlines refused to reimburse any of the fees. I will never fly American Airlines again.
@wubod21 You missed your flight. How is that the airline's fault? Not all flights from A to B are priced the same.
avocats, You are an idiot, if you would stop reading things into this for your own ridiculous argument and just for the sake for you to have something to do today. I have booked in several weeks before a flight and pick seats together WHEN they're available at booking, when I do this why should I have to pay extra. Have fun with yourself, I'm bored with you already!
Trixy, I actually never said when I booked my trips, mine was booked about 6 weeks before when there were plenty of seats (not Premium) as well as most of my other flights with kids. Keep your seat, your comments don't mean much to anyone here because no one is asking you to give up your seat, we are simply asking for the airlines to allow us to sit together for the betterment of everyone and not in the premium areas so you might be asked to give up your seat. BTW, they shouldn't ask a premium paid seat purchaser to give up their seat, that's some of what your paying for. I have never seen anyone in the premium seats asked to move for convenience, it has always been the coach section.
"Premium seats"? There are no premium seats in the main cabin just regular seats that are marketed as "premium". What makes the exact same seat in one row "premium" compared to the same seat right behind it? The only difference..... marketing.
@hppxg They remove one row near the front of the aircraft, and space several rows in that area apart by a few inches more (or they squeeze the rows in the back of the plane closer by an inch and make up the difference up front). Then they allow these folks early boarding and they can get off the plane faster. It's all marketing / perception. I'm 6'0" and I've flown in economy plus and regular economy - really didn't notice much difference or see the value.
@nessman @hppxg I am 6'2" and I regularly book Delta's Economy Comfort (now Comfort+) and I do see a difference. I get early boarding via my Amex SkyMiles credit card so that is not a factor but the additional extra room is useful TO ME. And that is why we all have a choice. This is classic customer and pricing segmentation. If you don't see the value, then you won't pay them the premium price. Delta has also added additional premium amenities - free alcohol I think but since I don't drink that has no value to me - but the space does.
I don't personally believe federally mandated laws are required here. Even to an unabashed liberal like me, government laws aren't always the answer :) But many of the principles you express are worthy and would appeal enormously to customers. So I would hope and expect some customer-centric airline (looking at you, Alaska Airlines or Southwest Air or Virgin Air) to take this list, adapt it to whatever they can get comfortable with, and publicly declare in a full page ad in the New York Times or USA Today they will now abide by every principle, 24x7x365. Then watch how the revenue starts to move in that airline's direction. I know mine would.
I actually doubt that you are frequently asked to give up your Premium seat to move to a worse seat, in fact no one here is asking anyone to give up anything other than for the airlines to seat families with small children together and stop unfairly charging us extra fees for that right. You can keep your premium seat, besides if it isn't first class then your PREMIUM seat is most likely the same as all the other coach seats, maybe just not so far back. I suggest that next time you are asked to give up your premium seat you simply and politely refuse and that screaming kid sitting next to you will eventually tire out and fall asleep. If I were you, I would be disgusted with having to pay a premium fee just to get an aisle or window seat and instead of writing some ridiculous comment that we are asking you to give up your higher paid but actually ordinary seat and you might want to join a group that actually includes the same reason you have to pay extra for your seat, ridiculous and unfair airline fees.
I'm sorry Mr Strong but I am tired of being put on the spot and being asked to give up my premium paid seat to move to a worse seat ! - Usually further back and in the middle. If I pay for premium, i'm not giving it up so your cheap as s can have it ! If the airlines can't switch people before boarding then they shouldn't be allowed to ask after boarding. Pay up !!
@TrixyJones Remind me again what paragraph where I made this suggestion?
I'm a divorced father that travels alone with the kids a couple times a year and have experienced the exact same issue a few times and again for a trip this weekend. I had to pay extra fees to sit with my 3 and 5 yr olds. , the airlines ignore the fact of young kids being with their parents is as much convenient for the airline as it is for the parents and they refuse to be reasonable to parents flying with small children and take it as an opportunity to charge more fees for something that should be a given when it comes to seating families. I have told the agents a many times that I should just let them seat us apart and see what happens when my child is screaming and crying and disrupting the other passengers just because the airline refused to do the right thing and simply seat us together without making me pay the extra charges. this is actually a form of discrimination and unfair practices against traveling families. I don't know if I really have a case or not but have thought of contacting an attorney to file a class action suit against the airlines, I'm sure I would find many people interested in joining. I'm not a person that would sue someone over ridiculous things like suing a restaurant for spilling hot coffee on myself or anything like that, in fact I have never sued anyone before but we are being bullied by these overly ridiculous airline fees and arrogant and rude customer service agents.
@MarkStamps I have only experienced this seating problem with Delta (and therefore have stopped flying delta with my kids) I flew with my kids to Peru a few months ago on American and didn't have problems booking seats together.
@JoeMiller3 @MarkStamps I'm flying Spirit tomorrow and have I think USAir and had the same fees. It's becoming common now since we have no choice but to pay that fee. Every time I tell the airline reservations agents to lets just see what happens when they sit us apart, but because I love and care how my kids are doing and that they feel safe while flying I have to pay these unfair fees. That's just simple, airlines can easily allow our seats together but take advantage of families for pure monetary gain and nothing else, no one can stop them from doing whatever they want. If you want or need to travel by air, you have only one choice, and that's to pay the fees... right or wrong!
Delta has a policy of severely restricting seat choices at booking which creates this problem with delta's flights.
If you ever fly outside of USA, you know that the prices here are ridiculous high. We pay on average $600 for 3 hours flight. For the same length in Europe you would pay $250. 2 hours flight to London you can find for $100 or less. Yes on cheap airlines but there is no difference in "service" offer on major American airlines.
Soon we will need to buy tokens to use the bathrooms on the plane!
If the plane is late certain time in Europe the airline gives the money back.
We need to have the rights to demand to be treated like humans. Especially with no train systems available we don't have a choice but fly.
Our government knows it but does nothing to improve the situation!
We bail their ass out but they treat us like crap. Something needs to be done immediately. The airlines nickel and diming us to death needs to STOP
Delta isn't the only airline, we flew to Virginia from CA recently with a type 1 diabetic child. The airlines (Virgin Air and US Airway) separated our family. I explained to multiple people that sometime both my husband and I are needed to help our child. Nevertheless, we were told to ask other people, gate staff refused to change seat to keep our family together. Yet, someone else paid to "upgrade" his seat, the staff moved him and other people around to make it happen. Yes, it is ransomed!
Doesn't surprise me one bit. When I flew this past Tuesday from Boise to MSP I was seated in row 5, Economy Comfort, one row behind First Class. The lady sitting next to me was wheeled on due to her difficulty to walk, During the flight she attempted to use the restroom at the front of the plane but one of the fine flight stewardess directed her to the restroom in the back of the plane stating that that restroom was reserved for "first class only." She was not very happy given that she paid $1300 to visit her niece who was in Hospice for brain cancer and was given "24 - 48 hours to live." So this incident doesn't surprise me one bit.
@KYproud do you have kids you freaking IDIOT!!
@SteveHess and I definitely think that's a key point, obviously, so I feel you!
I flew delta just a month back with my 1 month old baby, 2 flights 1 of 9 hours and 1 of 8 hours, they wouldn't give me a seat with a baby bassinet unless i paid 70 wuros eztra each my husband and i and by then other people had already bought the seats many moms like me had to hold their small babies all the flight, once in Europe i took another coneccion with Lufthansa and i didn't even had to ask for the seat it had already been a signed when the tickets were bought
@avocats @MargaritaHh i wasn't even given the chance to pay for the bassinet as the airline gave those seats before even though I was in the counter 3 hours before the flight like they asked me to, and what I´m pointing out is the inmense difference on the service betwen airlines, as like i mentioned lufthansa did blocked the seat without me even asking
They're pushing for a passengers Bill of Rights right NOW in Congress:
@kendall44 Thanks, I'll read up on it.
You booked your flight 5 days before departure when the plane was likely already at 90%+ capacity. What did you expect - free first-class upgrades when you checked in at the airport forcing those folks to the back row of coach to accommodate you? If you absolutely had to take *that* flight - then call the airline reservations dept directly and see what arrangements they can make to ensure you and your child are seated next to each other. Otherwise, Delta isn't the only game in town.
I've flown 100's of times dude - that's just how it is. Since 9/11 - the days of half-empty, sit wherever you feel like planes are long gone. Most flights these days are full - including some overbookings based on the historical average number of people who don't show up prior to departure.
If you're willing to gamble on seat assignments with last-minute flight reservations, then book a flight on SouthWest and check-in 24 hours prior to departure to get a better than average chance at getting seated together as seats are not assigned when you book your tickets - just your place in line during boarding upon check-in.
As they say, the early bird gets the worm. Flying is no exception.
@nessman Whether a ticket on that flight was booked a year in advance, or an hour before departure, that aircraft went wheels up with empty seats in coach.
@nessman Last year I traveled with my kids (11 and 9), booked months in advance, selected seats together at booking, and was separated from them when I checked in. So no, the early bird thing doesn't apply. My first experience with this was when we flew cross country when the kids were 3 and 5. Again, selected seats together at booking months in advance. Check in, and we're all separated, each in a middle seat. When my kids were in boosters -- which have to be in windows.
Yes, I know kids can go booster-free in an airplane, but my daughter wouldn't have it. We instilled in her the importance of sitting in it so much, she freaked when the flight attendant tried to take it away. That's the only reason we ended up all sitting together on that flight. Scared kid= passengers scrambling to 'help.'
There are other examples. I've yet to find myself charged for switching, but the practice is wrong none-the-less.
RE: the one last year, I did call the airline when I checked in online 24 hours ahead and saw that we'd been moved. I was told to ask the gate agent for help getting our seats back together. And to be fair, the gate folks managed to do so at no extra charge to me.
Regarding the time years ago, I honestly don't remember when we checked in (online 24 hours early or at the airport? can't recall). But that's not the point. The point is when booking, we did select seats together, and the airline overrode that and split us up. And at that point, the gate agents couldn't/wouldn't help. They told us to prevail upon the flight attendants and other passengers.
Considering when booking you have to give the ages of children flying with you, it seems that shouldn't happen at all. Ever.
OK, it looks like my reply didn't stick. Odd. Basically, for the event last year, I did call the airline when I noticed when checking in online, and was told they couldn't help me. I had to wait and hope the gate agent could. And to be fair, he did, without cost to me.
The time years ago, I don't remember when we checked in (early online or at the airport? I think the latter). The gate agents said they couldn't help us. Told us to ask the flight attendants.
The point is it shouldn't happen to begin with. When traveling with young children, you have to give their ages. The airline should flag those seats booked together as unmovable. Period.
People keep getting on the original author that he wouldn't have had a problem had he booked early. I'm saying that's the wrong assumption based on my experience.
You missed his point, empty seats were available, just not available to him because of delta's restrictive seat available at booking policy. It's not about when he booked it's about what delta showed as available when he booked. I hate delta's policy on this. All unsold seats should be available to choose from regardless of when you book or your frequent flyer status.
@hppxg And there's reasons why those seats - likely all single seats - were empty - they were probably booked, but the people with tickets didn't make it to the gate on time for any number of reasons. The airline doesn't won't know who's going to miss their flight until the plane is ready to take off.
The fact remains is this guy booked his flight less than a week before departure and the only seats that were available and together *on that flight* at the time were economy plus.
I do not fault the airline in this. Too many people with little flying experience out there all think they can run the airlines better.
So, you booked seats on an flight that you knew didnt have any available seats together, and you hoped for the best. The best did not happen and you blame the airlines? take some personal responsibility.
@propagandroid No I booked seats on an aircraft with plenty of seats and therein lies the crux of the matter.
@avocats You are welcome to disagree, but I've answer that question several times -- and it's evident in the original post.
@propagandroid If we went back in time together, I'd have agreed with you up until the point we boarded the aircraft and saw empty seats.
I don't think a part-time blog with a weekly publishing cycle in a niche is capable of pushing around a company with a market cap of $38 billion. This story caught on because so many people can identify with having experienced something very similar.
@Frank_Strong @propagandroid Frank. you're on record with Yahoo Parenting saying "...but when I was given the option to select seats, there were no seats together. I couldn’t even pay them for us to sit together.”
How was this not a red flag for you to perhaps book a different flight? Instead you "So Strong decided not to choose seats, hoping he could get them two adjacent seats when he got to the airport."
You're are using your unique position as a blogger to bully an airline for a situation you put yourself in. You need to take a long look at yourself if you truly feel the way your blog post seems.
Again you missed the point, if Delta had shown ALL unsold seats available Mr. Strong would have had the option to purchase two seats together, seats that remained unsold at time of flight. There were two seats together unsold but not available for Mr. Strong to purchase. That's the fault of the airline not the customer meaning that it's the fault of the airline that you are being asked to give up your seat. You should be directing your anger at the airline with that policy not the customer because both of you are victims of the policy.