Delta Economy “Comfort” fell short — can we get a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

Rod and Carol Mourant recently flew from Seattle to Miami on Delta Air Lines, and they didn’t like it. Amid their list of complaints is one that stuck, and made me wonder if maybe they had a case.

They played by the rules, and lost. Now they want my help in righting a wrong.

“There were several events that made the trip less than enjoyable,” says Rod Mourant. “From our perspective, the most irritating were Delta’s attitude and their baggage policy. Through actual experience, we found out that Delta’s carry-on and checked baggage policies are a joke.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The couple had purchased Economy Comfort seats together for all of their flights. But Delta had other plans.

“We discovered changes that affected arrival times, departure times and seat assignments to every flight segment about one week prior to departure,” he says. “We were not notified and only discovered them because we checked our confirmed reservations about one week before the trip.”

The remedy? A complex series of flight and schedule changes, which allowed them to sit together. But it turns out that was just the beginning. Their premium economy seats, for which they paid an extra $498 and should have come with “priority” boarding, did not live up to their billing.

He explains,

We were consistently not allowed to board for those three flights where we had made the purchase until Zone 1 was called. This meant that “assisted boarding,” “children and accompanying family,” “first class,” and several levels of mileage plan fliers were boarded before us.

On more than one flight, people had to be asked to move out of our assigned seats and on all three flights the overhead bins anywhere near our seats were full before we were even called to board.

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Because our seats were in the first row of Economy Comfort, there were no seats in front of us to slide our carry-on canvas bags under. When we sought assistance from flight attendants, we were told that they were too busy, there was nothing they could do and that we should just live with it.

And then the final straw: the luggage.

We paid $150 in baggage fees for one suitcase each. The suitcases were standard roller size that would fit in an overhead bin.

We chose to check them and pay the fee. We were shocked that on nearly every flight those who had chosen not to check their bags before traveling to the departure gate were given the opportunity to check their bags at the gate for no cost!

So much for doing the right thing and paying in advance to check bags. We could have checked them for free at the gate, saving $150!

Some of you are probably saying to yourself: cry me a river! Don’t these people understand air travel in the 21st century? But what does that matter? When you sell me a premium seat and promise me boarding “priority,” I expect that seat assignment to stick — and to be notified if it doesn’t — and to get on the plane early, and not after the families and people with colorful plastic cards.

And yeah, if I didn’t fly as often as I did, I’d be pretty upset too if other passengers were getting their luggage gate-checked for free when I had to pay $150. (Here’s how to get a refund on a non-refundable airline tikcet.)

Mourant reached out to my advocacy team and asked for a $498 refund, which represents the Economy Comfort fees paid to Delta on their $1,392 tickets.

So how did Delta respond? Like this:

I understand your disappointment with [your] schedule change notification and the flights you were [sic] rescheduled. I realize your dissatisfaction with the seat assignment on the rescheduled flight due to which you had to rearrange your travel plan and seat assignments. I am sorry you were frustrated when other passengers were allowed to check
their carry-on bag at the gate without paying a fee.

Historically, we know when we are getting close to the amount of carry-on bags our flight will hold. At that point, our guidelines suggest we invite those who have not already boarded the plane to check their carry-on bag.

Additionally, I recognize your disappointment with our boarding procedure and the inconsistent handling of the same by our gate agent. I acknowledge that you had paid the Economy Comfort seat fee and were not satisfied with the service you received.

Feedback like yours will help us to improve our customers’ overall travel experience. Be assured I will be sharing your comments with our Reservations Sales, In-flight and Airport Customer service leadership team for internal follow-up.

Further, please know that we are unable to honor the many requests that we receive from others in similar situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us.

Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request for a refund of the checked baggage fee and Economy Comfort seat fee. However, as a gesture of apology for your displeasure with the service you received, schedule changes to the flights, changes to your seat assignment and inadequate flight update provided to you, I have issued two Delta Choice gifts in the amount of $25.00.

You know, I don’t think the Mourants’ request was unreasonable. They didn’t ask Delta to refund the luggage fees and they stuck to one issue, which is that they didn’t get what they paid for. But Delta would counter that they did indeed sit in Economy Comfort seats, so they got almost everything they booked. (Here’s a related case about a traveler who was unable to fly and had to request a refund from Delta.)

Never mind that those economy “comfort” seats have about the same amount of legroom as all economy-class seats used to, and that it was widely considered to be a civil amount of space back then. Point is, they got what they wanted. More or less.

Should I mediate Rod and Carol Mourant's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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