Delta downgraded me on my flight with no refund. P.S.: I’m in a wheelchair.

Photo of author

By Christopher Elliott

Beth Warner has a complaint I hear too often: “Delta downgraded me on my flight.” To make matters worse, she’s in a wheelchair. And to make matters even worse, they seated her next to a bathroom. Does she deserve some kind of refund?


I flew from Florence to Atlanta via Paris earlier this year. My ticket was on Air France but operated by Delta Air Lines. Delta downgraded me from premium economy to economy class on the transatlantic flight.

I was in a wheelchair. When I protested, an Air France representative told me to go on the website and they would make it right. I contacted Air France, but the airline referred me to its code-sharing partner, Delta, for a refund.

My new seat was in the back of the plane near the toilets. I endured the sights and smells for over seven hours. When I left the plane, I had a severe angina attack.

Delta keeps saying I have a voucher in an email, but I don’t. I want a $250 refund, the price difference between premium economy and economy. I’ve asked several times, but this hasn’t been resolved. Can you help me? — Beth Warner, Georgetown, Texas


Air France should have given you a premium economy class seat. A passenger like you should be the last person downgraded to steerage. When Air France representatives saw you were in a wheelchair, they should have upgraded you back into the seat you booked.

Delta operated your flight on an Airbus A330-200. It only has 32 premium economy seats (with 35 inches of seat pitch, which is one inch less than pre-deregulation economy class seats) and 168 economy seats (with about 31 inches of seat pitch, which is five inches less than the pre-deregulation economy class seats). (Related: A blown tire and bizarre bathroom break for this Delta “vacation”.)

Now, some of my dear readers love this kind of configuration. They celebrate it as the perfect expression of a free market, while at the same time complaining that airlines are over-regulated and that passengers asked for just 31 inches of seat pitch when they tried to book a low fare. I realize that’s a little bit of a contradiction. (Related: I took a seat downgrade to get home on time. Do I get a refund?)

Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to providing our employees with a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

But as I’ve often said, the conditions you endured are wrong. Just because they’re legal doesn’t make them right. Lawmakers in New York recognized that when they passed the tenement laws at the turn of the 19th century. I believe we will look back on these conditions and feel a sense of shame that we tolerated them. If Delta downgraded me the same way, I’d be upset. (Related: Delta told us we needed passports for Puerto Rico — is that true?)

There’s something very un-American — indeed, also un-French — about torturing your customers in economy class.

Delta downgraded me — but now what?

You took all the right steps, trying to resolve this in real time. You received assurances that you’d receive a refund, but then only received notice of a nonexistent gift card. This is also wrong. (Related: Will Norwegian Air ever refund my Eurostar tickets?)

You might have appealed this to one of our Delta Air Lines executive contacts. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Delta’s top managers on this advocacy site. (Related: Delta Air Lines rescheduled my flight by 9 1/2 hours. Do I have to accept this ticket?)

Again, I think Air France and Delta are playing that little code-sharing game where one promises one thing, the other promises another, and at the end, they both say, “Who, me?” But somewhere, I’m pretty sure someone has your refund request. (Here’s what you need to know before booking your next airline ticket.)

And sure enough, when our advocate Dwayne Coward contacted Delta, it confirmed that your $250 refund was “in process.” It’s now out of process and in your bank account. I would advise you to avoid code-sharing airlines the next time you fly to Europe, but I’m not sure if that’s even practical.

Photo of author

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.

Related Posts