Delta Capitalizes on United Woes, Raises Denied Boarding Compensation

According to One Mile at a Time, Delta is increasing the authority for gate agents and supervisors to pay out higher amounts of voluntary denied boarding compensation.

  • Gate agents had been limited to $800, and supervisors could go higher up to $2000
  • Now gate agents will be able to go up to $2000 on their own authority if they have to, and supervisors will be able to offer $9950 in any given extreme case.

Delta isn’t likely to pay out much more than they do today. Most of the compensation they pay is well below the maximum voluntary denied boarding payouts already. This just gives more authority to employees to solve problems in edge cases.

In many cases Delta solicits volunteers and asks how much each volunteer is willing to accept, so they’re able to pick lowest bids. In the famous case of United flight 3411, the airline offered $800 and a hotel night. It’s much more common for compensation to be $200 than $800.

Not only are involuntary denied boardings rare, even voluntary denied boardings are increasingly rare,
and it’s simply not that expensive in the context of overall airline operations. I’ve taken Department of Transportation data for the fourth quarter of 2016 and simplified it:

Note that Delta’s compensation figure is for involuntary only, the DOT report shows $0 for voluntary compensation even though Delta had the most voluntary bumps.

This is great public relations, it’s also great flexibility being granted to lower-level staffers than exists today to solve problems. Even if they doubled their costs here, which they won’t, it would be manageable. They get good press now, and potentially avoid bad press later.

This is both a good move for customers and a smart move for the airline. United will have a hard time not matching this, since Delta shows it’s reasonable to do it and everyone knows United usually blindly copies Delta anyway.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t know if it’s capitalizing on United, but I think they realize it’s just smart to avoid this problem in general.

  2. Beyond press implications, getting a flight out earlier helps operations and overall CSAT.

  3. Kathy, clearly your friend’s name is NOT Billy Joe.

    (Hope you get the reference!)

  4. I’d be interested in a full year of these stats, to see if American is really that much worse than Delta.

  5. John,

    The amount paid was for involuntary compensation. Not for people who took the bump.


    You may want to correct that so that is more clear.

  6. I don’t know how this couldn’t be DL capitalizing in the UA incident. They could have done it years ago, the timing is suspicious

  7. Good, as they should, and as should every other airline who has always wanted a piece of United’s market share. These airlines, if they are wise, will take care not to make the mistakes United made this past week, and that can only be good for me as a traveler.

    And let me be try to be optimistic for once for United– United has an opportunity to greatly improve things also. They need great introspection and smart people to change policies, and they also need to take a few more steps, including getting a fresh start w/a new CEO and also firing a few employees for the event that horrified the world. The SOONER they make these changes, the sooner everyone can move on with this.

    Until United gets there, I’m personally in the market in finding other airlines to fly and giving them more of a preference now. I would be interested in hearing from other airlines about how this incident affects their policies, can these airlines also reassure me something like this would never happen to me? This weekend, in fact, I’m booking $1500 worth of airplane tix. I’ll let you know how it goes but pretty certain that $$ is not going to United.

    In fact, since I’m reading so much about this incident and air travel, I’m very open right now to reading stories about the other airlines and what improvements they are trying to make to improve customer’s experiences.

  8. When you have hauled fertilizer for a living, making the transition to hauling passengers can be rough. No matter how many times UA matches whatever Delta does, they would be better served following the lead of Alaska in taking care of the reason they are even in business: the PASSENGER.

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