No, a stuck seatbelt does not entitle you to $5,000 in compensation

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’re familiar with the “fasten seatbelt” sign and repeated reminders from the flight crew to keep your seatbelts fastened.

But what if they don’t unfasten?

That’s the problem Beverly Milne had on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Vancouver to San Diego. And she was seated in an exit row, too. She wants to know if she’s entitled to any compensation for the malfunctioning belt.

Federal law requires flight attendants to ask the passengers in exit rows if they are ready and willing to assist the crew in the event of an emergency. The flight attendants want to know if each of those passengers is able to open the emergency exit if needed, and the fliers are instructed to do so.

“My seatbelt unbuckled but the tail portion of the left hand side of the belt had crossed my lap and became lodged under a piece of metal on the right side,” Milne explains. “I weigh 135 pounds, so there was a lot of belt left over.”

Efforts to escape were to no avail.

I tried unsuccessfully to release the portion that was stuck so I tried to squirm out but couldn’t do that either.

I was trapped in the exit row!

My seatmate also tried unsuccessfully and called the flight attendant. I thought it was a bit amusing at first and then I started to get worried. She spent several minutes (basically on top of me) trying to release the cloth. She even said she’d never seen anything like that and should take a picture and would cut it if she had to.

Milne was eventually released from her seat and exited the aircraft, but as she and the flight attendant struggled to free her, Milne says “several passengers” who walked by her row on their way out of the aircraft commented on “how dangerous that could have been.”

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That made Milne wonder what would have happened to her had there been an emergency situation. She thought “passengers wouldn’t have been able to have gotten over me to get out of the plane,” and wanted to do something about it.

So she went straight to the top of the company contacts we list for Delta Air Lines — the CEO. We regularly advise people to start with the first contact we list, wait a week, and then escalate an unresolved case to the next person on the list, until you get to the top. But this issue was safety-related, so she bypassed everyone else on the list.

She soon received a response from someone at Delta. Maintenance crews had been on board the plane, and tried to replicate the problem, but could not, so all the seat belts in that row were replaced. The Delta representative repeatedly referred to the buckle malfunctioning, but that isn’t what happened, and Milne tried to make that clear — the problem was with the free end of the belt. Delta was still unable to replicate the problem, but it apologized and promised to share her story with both the inflight leadership and maintenance teams. Milne still repeatedly asked Delta if it had interviewed the flight attendant or the passenger next to her but the airline stopped responding to her.

Delta offered Milne $300 in “Delta gift cards,” which she accepted, but she didn’t think that was enough compensation for the “several minutes” she was stuck in her seat. Since she started at the top of our contact list, she didn’t have anyplace else to go to appeal the company’s initial offer. She wrote to us, asking if we would help her recover $5,000 for her trouble.

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While we agree this could have been a safety issue in an emergency evacuation, there was no emergency and the only person inconvenienced was Milne; the inconvenience was only a few minutes, by her own admission. The flight attendant commented she had never seen this type of situation happen before, and the maintenance crews were apparently unable to duplicate the problem. I’ve flown over a million miles and I’ve never heard of such a problem either.

To be clear, we don’t doubt that it happened. But we do believe it could not have been foreseen.

I’ve written before about people jumping on the bandwagon of taking advantage of the recent bad press about how airlines have treated some customers, and trying to recover as much money from the airlines as possible. While Milne didn’t ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars, as some have, and she hasn’t sued the airline, we still don’t believe a few minutes of inconvenience entitles her to a $5,000 windfall.

Delta needed to be informed of the issues, which Milne did. It apologized, made its maintenance and inflight service teams aware of it, and provided Milne with adequate compensation as a goodwill gesture.

In short, we feel Delta Air Lines handled this one correctly. We advised Milne that our advocates would not be able to assist with her $5,000 request, and suggested she post in our forums to see if our forum team or other readers had any suggestions for her. As of this writing she has not done so, and we have closed the case.

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

  • sirwired

    By all accounts, Delta took the problem seriously, both during the flight, and after the plane landed; I’m not sure what else she could have asked for. Yes, had there been an emergency, it would have been a real problem, but there’s no obligation that everything work flawlessly all the time, just that the plane can’t take off if certain things don’t work, and safety-related things that break must be addressed promptly and thoroughly. (I’m willing to bet that those seatbelts got replaced before the plane took it’s next flight, or, at the least, her seat was unoccupied until it was fixed. (Does the FAA require exit rows to be occupied for each flight? I can’t remember…))

  • Annie M

    And this is why airlines give the brush off to legitimate issues when consumers are wronged.

    It is a ridiculous ploy to even ASK the airline for something like this. What kind of greed is in people’s heads that they think they deserve anything?

    The airline gave her a generous credit for her issue which lasted a few minutes AND took the incident so seriously that they replaced all the seat belts.

    This woman should be ashamed of herself for being so greedy. Stunned.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Gee thanks, Ms Milne, for making it harder for the rest of us to get fair compensation for our *legitimate* issues.

    Five grand? Gimme a break. :::rolling eyes:::

  • An over the top request for unwarrated compensation is justly ignored. Sad shades of opportunism. Too bad this OP didn’t feel a fair offer and a reasonable gesture by the airline is enough.

  • Altosk

    Delta did the right thing here, and then some. $300 in Delta gift cards is about $300 more than this lady deserves.

  • finance_tony

    I think I’m entitled to $5000 from Beverly Milne after reading her tortured logic.

  • Skeptic

    First, let me state that while everyone deserves functioning safety equipment, I don’t think this passenger deserved the compensation she was seeking. However, as a frequent flier who weighs 108, I have experienced first hand the hazards presented by the too-long tails of my seat belt. As the average passenger gets bigger and bigger, seat belts are being made longer to accommodate their increased girth. Which makes them far too long for me. If I have the belt fastened snugly and low across my lap, the loose end is long enough to get tangled around my legs. On some occasions, the belt end wanders into the adjacent seat, getting pinned by my seatmate when he or she sits down on it, which can cause the part crossing my lap to tighten painfully. The belt end has also gotten looped over the tray table struts so that when the table is closed, the belt end is wedged between the tray table and the seat back in front of me. I fly a lot of red eyes — you try keeping track of an extra 3′-4′ of dark nylon webbing in the dark, with adjacent pax getting up and down, and with a blanket or coat in your lap for warmth.

    Seat belt extenders aren’t allowed in exit rows due to the entrapment potential they represent (or, perhaps, because the need for an extender serves as some sort of size filter that limits larger people from this row). Why isn’t my safety also important?

  • MarkKelling

    3 or 4 FEET of extra seatbelt? What airline are you flying? The airlines I fly don’t even have seatbelts that long! In fact United has replaced all of the seats on their Airbus planes with new configurations and each half of the seat belt fully extended is roughly the length of my forearm. I can still buckle these, but it is very tight.

  • MarkKelling

    Exit row is not required to be filled.
    But I have not been on a plane with any empty exit row seats recently. In fact, I have not been on any plane recently that had any empty seats.

  • MarkKelling

    How did she arrive at that figure?
    While an airline might be liable for fines imposed by the proper government agency if they have malfunctioning safety equipment due to lack of maintenance, I don’t believe it is up to the passengers to try and apply their own fine to a situation like this which is what a dollar amount of this magnitude equals. The OP was inconvenienced or a very short while. She did not miss a connection from the delay causing her to have to buy another ticket. The airline seems to have taken the issue seriously. Nothing else is owed.

  • Bill___A

    Could you do the loose belting up with a rubber band? Just a thought.

  • y_p_w

    You seem to be hoping that the belts are somehow made more suitable for your size at the expense of others. I’m not as small as you, but I have a small waist and hips. There will always be a lot of slack in the end of the belt for me. However, it’s never really been a problem. The letter writer’s issue seems to have been a freak occurrence that’s unlikely to happen again.

    Of course the use of retractible belts might come in handy, but they cost more and (and important for the airlines’ bottom line) weigh more.


    A friend of mine who is 5 feet and about 98lbs uses a clip she buys in a grocery store. Works well and she always has several with her when she travels.

  • greg watson

    $5,000 ??……………………whatever sympathy I may have had exists no longer…………..just like hand held radar traps, this was a sickening cash grab attempt…………I would have been ashamed to have my name linked with this article.

  • Annie M

    I would gladly take a too long seat belt to weigh 108 lbs. Use a rubber band to secure the excess belt.

  • joycexyz

    The seatbelts in the row were replaced even though nobody could replicate the problem. Nothing bad happened, except for a few minutes of anxiety. She needs to get over it.

  • joycexyz

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

  • Shirley G


  • cscasi

    While what was said is true, if one was seated there as she was and that happened, especially an emergency that required evacuation, I am not sure that one would find the comment that there is no obligation that everything work flawlessly all the time, would not sit well with him/her. What would that someone do if he/she could not get out of the seat belt in an emergency? Thank goodness that did not happen, But, we do not know why it happened; is she got a part of her shirt, blouse or whatever caught somehow and it jammed, or what.

  • LonnieC

    Oh, come on. No harm. No foul. She spent a short time without being able to get her belt off. She wasn’t hurt, there was no indication she missed a connection, etc. Strictly a First World problem. When she requested $5,000 she completely lost me as a supporter. If I were Delta I’d void the vouchers, tell her they were sorry, and walk away.

  • jah6


  • jah6

    Now I’ve heard it all!

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