No, a stuck seatbelt on your Delta Air Lines flight doesn’t lead to a $5,000 windfall

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, then you’re familiar with the “fasten seatbelt” sign. But what if your seatbelt won’t unfasten? Is a stuck seatbelt worth $5,000 in compensation? That’s what Delta Air Lines passenger Beverly Milne wants to know.

Milne encountered the stuck seatbelt in an exit row on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Vancouver to San Diego.

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.

Trapped by a stuck seatbelt!

“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 found it a bit amusing at first. But then I started to worry. 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.

A dangerous situation?

The Delta Air Lines flight attendant and Milne struggled for several minutes to release the stuck seatbelt. 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.

Contacting the CEO of Delta Air Lines

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.

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 repeatedly asked Delta if it had interviewed the flight attendant or the passenger next to her, but the airline stopped responding to her

Delta Air Lines offers a $300 gesture of goodwill

Delta offered Milne $300 in “Delta Air Lines gift cards,” which she accepted. However, she didn’t think that Delta Air Lines offered enough compensation for the “several minutes” she endured, trapped by the stuck seatbelt. 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 our advocacy team, 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. That inconvenience lasted 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 that Delta Air Lines could not have foreseen this unusual stuck seatbelt problem.

Jumping on the “bandwagon”

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 tried to sue Delta Air Lines, she didn’t convince us that a few minutes of inconvenience entitles her to a $5,000 windfall.

Milne informed Delta Air Lines of the issue. It apologized, made its maintenance and in-flight service teams aware of it, and provided Milne with a small compensation as a goodwill gesture.

In short, we feel Delta Air Lines handled this one correctly. Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman advised Milne that the advocacy team would not be able to assist with her $5,000 request. Friedman 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.

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