ATLANTA, GA - Following the busiest weekend on record for airlines that saw overflowing gates, full flights, and oversold cabins, one Delta Air Lines deployed a novel approach to compensate passengers for being denied boarding.
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ATLANTA, GA – Following the busiest weekend on record for airlines that saw overflowing gates, full flights, and oversold cabins, one Delta Air Lines deployed a novel approach to compensate passengers for being denied boarding.


Passengers on flight 397 from Atlanta to San Francisco described the unusual approach from beleaguered airline staff.

“The gate agent announced that they were looking for volunteers to take a later flight. No one came forward or even made eye contact with anyone else. Everyone just wanted to get where they were going.” Paul Delano said to a TTN staff reporter. “The guy tried a few times, then moved up the bidding from $500 per person to $3,000.”

That’s where things took a turn for the strange. The gate agent wanted to avoid the headline-grabbing offers of $10,000 per passenger for a bumped flight.

“That’s just not sustainable. I want to have an airline that can afford to pay me and if we keep giving away $50,000, $70,000, even $80,000 per flight, we are going to have to shut the doors at some point and hang it up.” Tim Pimm, the gate agent working the flight said.

Rather than offering a pile of cash – even if it were in the form of vouchers for future travel – Pimm had a novel thought: what about offering miles instead of cash? He started with 50 SkyMiles which raised eyebrows, but then it was his approach of inching up the offer in a leading way that sent passengers to take him up on the offer. 

“When no one said anything at 50 miles, I acted shocked and then said, ‘really? No takers? I didn’t want to have to do this, but, ok you got me, 51 miles. Then a person darted forward” Pimm said. “Once they saw the window was closing, I started to get some rebookings.” In the end, Pimm was able to rebook 28 passengers with the last pair, Jim and Luanne Mobely of Palo Alto accepting 58 SkyMiles each to take a later flight. 

“It seemed like a lot. It’s a lot, right?” Jim asked TTN. 

“Sometimes [Delta] offers roundtrips for 5,000 points in coach across the country, other times it’s 500,000 just for an upgrade to business class on a cash ticket. It seems even the program bosses have no idea what a point is worth so I figured there’s no way a customer could. But if I just acted like they had value then maybe, they would bite.”

TTN regularly assesses the value of loyalty program points and recently concluded Delta SkyMiles were worth 0.48¢/point at the time of writing or roughly $25 to rebook the Mobely’s.

“We heard him offer $3,000, but with inflation what it is and flight prices what they are, we just figured the SkyMiles had to be worth more.” Jim Mobely reassured himself. 

The Mobelys made it to San Francisco two days later and described their ordeal as inconvenient but ended positively, “all is well that ends well. We lost some time but have these SkyMiles to use so it all works out in the end.”

Kyle Stewart

Kyle is a freelance travel writer with contributions to Time, the Washington Post, MSNBC, Yahoo!, Reuters, Huffington Post, MapHappy, Live And Lets Fly and many other media outlets. He is also co-founder...

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