How is a transatlantic downgrade worth so little?

Janet Haspel and her husband book premium economy reservations on Delta Air Lines. But on their code-shared flight on Alitalia, they find themselves seated in economy class. Delta offers only $66 as compensation for their involuntary downgrade. Can our advocates persuade Delta to offer the Haspels the price difference between premium economy and economy seats?


My husband and I booked a code-shared flight through Delta Air Lines on Alitalia from Boston to Rome. We paid $3,500 for nonrefundable premium economy seats. But on our return flight, Alitalia made an equipment change that involuntarily downgraded us to economy class. We requested a refund for the downgrade.

According to EU 261, we should receive a refund of 75 percent of the price difference between the two classes of airfares. Alitalia told us that we should receive $683 each, but it can’t process this refund because we purchased our tickets from Delta. And Delta Air Lines offered us only $33 each. This is a ridiculously low amount.

Can you help us get the compensation for the involuntary downgrade to which we are entitled? —
Janet Haspel, Wayland, Mass.


I’m sorry that you received such a small refund from Delta. I suspect that part of the reason is that your flight was code-shared on Alitalia.

The EU 261 compels an airline to pay a passenger 30-75 percent of the cost of the ticket for an involuntary downgrade. Because of the length of your trip, the airline owed you 75 percent of the cost of the ticket. But the question of which airline owed it to you arose because your flight was code-shared. Delta and Alitalia engaged in circular blaming and finger-pointing instead of helping you out.

The perils of airline code-sharing

Your case is a strong argument against the airline practice of code-sharing. This practice, in which one airline sells tickets on another airline’s flight, leaves everyone confused when things go wrong. Unfortunately, as you experienced, both airlines often engage in runarounds instead of assuming responsibility for assisting passengers.

After you complained to Delta about the low refund, the airline offered you two $200 vouchers for future flights. This still wasn’t enough compensation.

How not to self-advocate with an airline

It’s understandable that you were upset to receive such inadequate refund offers from Delta Air Lines.

Unfortunately, the aggressive tone you took with Delta didn’t help your case. Here’s an excerpt from your email to Delta:

Our experience with this issue has been terrible overall. We have been contacting both airlines since the downgrade occurred and having you email me with this small token refund just adds insult to injury.

I truly feel like money was stolen from me. As a result, I will never book another Delta flight and will begin the process of alerting any travel-related sites of how this was handled and how we were basically cheated by this airline.

Accusations and threats are never appropriate courses of action when trying to resolve a customer service problem. They are counterproductive as well. Why should a business try to help you if you are never going to purchase its goods or services again?

Our advocates always advise adhering to the three P’s of consumer advocacy when writing a letter of complaint: patience, politeness and persistence.

Getting the right compensation for an involuntary downgrade

Alitalia owed you the EU 261 compensation for the involuntary downgrade.

You might have escalated your complaint to higher-ranking executives of Delta Air Lines and Alitalia. (Executive contact information for Delta and Alitalia is available on our website.) Instead, you asked our advocates to help you obtain the correct amount of compensation for your involuntary downgrade.

Our advocate Carrie Livingston reached out to Alitalia on your behalf. Alitalia corrected the problem and paid you and your husband each $683.

Have you ever been involuntarily downgraded on a flight subject to EU 261? Did you receive the full amount of EU 261 compensation?

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