Delta Downgrades Early-Bird Holiday Travelers To Make Room For More Profitable Latecomers

Beware if you managed to snag a cheap Delta nonstop flight for the holidays, you might find yourself downgraded. Airfarewatchdog Blog reports that a reader got an insane $138 roundtrip from JFK to Denver for peak Christmas travel. Then a few weeks ago Delta told him they were adding a connecting flight both ways, and now it’s on a regional jet instead of a nice big jet. Why? Probably to make room for the $600 tickets Delta wanted to sell to last-minute customers.

Delta bait and switch: airline puts passenger on a connecting flight after he buys a nonstop [AirfareWatchdog via Upgrade: Travel Better]
(Photo: Maulleigh)

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  1. ry81984 says:

    Looks like we need a law that prevents a bait and switch for airlines.

    They should never be able to change your ticket unless the original flight is canceled and they should always give you an option to cancel without penalty when that happens.

  2. elf6c says:

    Its Delta, what a shock.

  3. DanKelley98 says:

    I like the word “fraud”.

    Remember that Delta would charge you for modifying your flights after purchasing a ticket like this in advance.

  4. JustAGuy2 says:

    1. If his itinerary was changed, he should be able to get onto that nonstop with available seats. Has he called Delta? This has happened to me in the past (flight cancelled or time changed), and they moved me without issue to any other Delta flight that worked for me.

    2. He can, if they really are trying to screw him, get a refund, but that’s not that much help, since he’ll never be able to get a ticket at that price…

  5. Falconfire says:

    @JustAGuy2: depending on what kind of ticket it was, he might not be able to get a refund. I know I cant get a refund on my honeymoon tickets despite buying them months in advance.

  6. catskyfire says:

    The catch is, -he- didn’t make changes. Delta forced the changes. And the likely reason is better profit. They can get 600+ for that seat…

  7. Buran says:

    What’s wrong with regional jets, exactly? And you’re still getting where you’re going. I don’t see the problem as long as you didn’t get an after-the-fact “we won’t take you until you pay more” price hike.

  8. Tux the Penguin says:

    @catskyfire: The problem here is that Delta is basically making wholesale modifications to a contract between two parties without allowing the other party to make changes likewise. But I would imagine this is due to the fact that the “Agreement” you’re forced to sign has a clause in it that allows this sort of pseudo-fraudulent activity. This is where we need the government *shiver* to step in and disallow this sort of action.

  9. consumerist11211 says:

    These airlines are just begging for more government regulation…

  10. JustAGuy2 says:

    @Falconfire:

    Did they make a significant change to your itinerary? Usually, they’ll give you a refund if they do. If they moved the flights by 15 minutes, unlikely, but if they changed your 9AM nonstop to Chicago for a 3AM departure by way of Austin and Bogota, with a 14 hour layover in Portland Maine, then definitely.

    Usually, it’s just a matter of being nice, but persistant.

  11. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @Buran: They added a connecting flight both ways onto his initial “non-stop flight”. To be quite honest, I read this quickly and thought the same thing as you..but seeing that they basically added extra time and disembarking in there, that’d probably piss me off too.

  12. bilge says:

    @Buran: If he’s flying on a Delta regional jet, it’s probably going to be a Canadair, which are cramped little things. I’m 5’4″ and find them uncomfortably tight. And the windows are placed oddly, too.

    Then again, I think Delta flies a 737 non-stop on this route, which is on the small side as far as jets go. I’d prefer an Embraer RJ.

  13. DanKelley98 says:

    I see no reason to “be nice” when the airline has screwed up one’s plans. Its not what was sold; and if the original flight still exists, its fraud.

  14. mandarin says:

    Delta = airline scumbag

  15. kidgenius says:

    Bilge:

    You find the CRJ’s “cramped”, you think the 737’s are “on the small side”, but you’d pick an ERJ? What crack are you smoking? Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the regional jets are fun to fly on, but they are far from spacious (and I’m only 5’6″) ERJ < CRJ < 737 (from a size standpoint)

  16. dirty foreigner says:

    @JustAGuy2: “Then a few weeks ago Delta told him they were adding a connecting flight both ways.” His flight is no longer direct! That’s a pretty big change if you ask me.

    Delta changed my flight to a day later due to weather (I was going BOS-CHI via NYC, and they automatically changed me to via ATL, very convenient). I called them up and originally got my ticket changed to something a little more convenient, but eventually decided to just get a refund. If they change your itinerary there’s no reason why you can’t get a refund. Just ask for the “Ticket Refund/Re-Issue Dept”, even though the outsourced call center employees will insist it doesn’t exist, it actually does.

  17. csdiego says:

    I wonder if I need to stop reading Consumerist. It’s starting to make me hate everything.

  18. JustAGuy2 says:

    @kidgenius:
    The new ERJ 170 is actually a great airplane (flown by Shuttle America under the Delta Connection brand). Cabin’s 2×2, so no middle seats, the legroom’s at least as good as on Delta’s 737s, the seats are comfy, and each plane has 6 first class seats. I actually prefer them to mainline Delta.

  19. ismith says:

    @AUDITORTUX: You hit it right on the button. I hate gov’t interference, but if in fact this is a breach of contract between two parties then it should be reversed.

    Unfortunately, there probably is something in the terms that allows whatever they did. but in that case, don’t fly Delta or, well, suck it up and accept that a) you’re still going where you want and b) you knew the price you got that ticket for was outrageous anyway.

  20. jtrouch says:

    The vehicle type has never been what drives the deal. I am fairly sure the price covers getting you there in one piece (mostly). You got a deal $$$$$ love it for what it is. Speculation is a very wrinkled suit to wear fellow concerned citizens. What?

  21. Buran says:

    @bilge: I’m 5’4″ also and didn’t find a CRJ all that bad on the two trips I’ve taken on them, but everyone’s experience is different.

    I strongly suspect that you’ll find “we reserve the right to make changes” somewhere on their site — otherwise they’d never be able to upgrade or maintain their fleet as planes are replaced, upgraded, or unexpectedly down for maintenance all the time. I think flying a one-type carrier like Southwest (all of SWA’s planes are variants of the 737 for training, maintenance, and cost reasons) is your only way to ensure you know what oyu’ll get.

  22. Buran says:

    @pinkbunnyslippers: Annoying, sure, but I doubt it’s enough to get a refund or is enough to worry about all that much if they charge a fee (most airlines do; Southwest seems the only one that doesn’t) to change your ticket.

    If you’re meeting someone on the other end, let them know your new arrival time. Tends to not be too much of a hassle… usually.

  23. Buran says:

    @csdiego: I’m amazed no one’s pulled out that tired “Why do you hate America?” crap.

  24. skittlbrau says:

    He should check his ticket terms – I don’t fly Delta enough to know, but usually airline tickets are only for carraige from one place to another, not for a specific itinerary.

    It sucks, but if its in the terms (and I suspect it is, NWA pulls this one all the time) there’s not much you can do.

    I have found that calling and complaining when the itinerary is materially changed usually yields good results.

  25. llcooljabe says:

    @Buran:

    Regional Jet service by Delta at JFK is abyssmal.

    The problem with Delta’s operations at JFK are extreme:

    1) There are too many regional jets taking off from just two gates. If I remember correctly, the terminal’s two gates lead to between 6 and 8 planes each on the tarmac.
    2) All these flights are scheduled to leave within minutes of each other. Consequently, there’s a mad cattle call for boarding. The bottlenecks are huge, usually causing tempers to flare even without extenuating circumstances such as weather.
    3) Even if the planes board quickly, often times they are delayed from backing up because of big boeings and such trying to pull into or out of gates behind them. I literally waited 45 minutes one day for 2 planes to get in and out.
    4) Delta’s schedule for these small planes leaves little room for error, because the crews go back and forth between the JFK and the cities 2 or 3 times each day. Consequently, if you are flying on a late day flight, and there’s even a whiff of a delay, there’s a chance you will be directed back to the terminal to get a new crew due to the FAA’s 8 hour staff rules.
    5) Because these planes are small, ATC weather rerouting may cause the plane to return to the terminal to get more fuel.
    6) This particular point I can’t say with any authority: It seemed to me that the big international flights got prioritized for take off over the small regional jets. Better to make 40 people late than a couple hundred.

    All these observations i had trying to fly from JFK to Buffalo. I was stuck in the plane for 7 hours on the tarmac before take off. When I called Delta for compensation, the operator confided in me with one of those “between you and me” anecdotes: “Stay away from Delta JFK, especially the regional jets.”

    My observations were duplicated twice more this summer from friends who were travelling, one set of friends JFK to Toronto, and another JFK to cincinatti, which is a mini-hub, causing them to miss connecting flights.

    Lesson: don’t use delta at JFK unless you’re guaranteed a large plane, no matter how much money you save.

  26. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @Buran: Agreed. I’ve been in this situation many times for work, and I’ve never gotten a refund. I think they’ve got it buried in their TOSs (or T&Cs? I dunno) that they reserve the right to pretty much screw up your flight any which way, as long as it gets you to your final destination within a “reasonable proximity” to your original flight.

  27. Geekybiker says:

    I would just be annoyed at the non-stop to 1 stop flight. If nothing goes wrong that probably 1-2hrs extra time spent traveling. We all know that each extra leg of your flight increases the odd of something bad happening too.

    I booked a united flight for Thanksgiving this summer. I’m flying the day of thanksgiving so arrival time was super important to me. Ended up going with united because of the arrival time even though they were more money. Literally the next day I get a call they are changing my flights and I’m going to show up 1:30 later than original. So now Im paying more and arriving later than the other options. They wont refund so I can rebook elsewhere. Grrrr.

  28. Ausoleil says:

    Delta’s record of misconduct and customer mistreatment has become so legendary that I now refuse to fly them, even when it might save me a few bucks. Being held prisoner inside an aircraft due to logistics problems for seven hours is not worth any small amount of money.

  29. hollerhither says:

    Yeah, well, I think this is the same reason why I lost my flight on United (booked 10 months before Xmas at an okay fare, 1 stop), changed to a 16-hour w/2 connections to fly 3 hours south, and then after being “permitted” to cancel that atrocity, was “upsold” seats on USAir via United that to my shock and horror cost more than double what I originally paid. I refused, complained to United, and got some reimbursement — I had to go “corporate cust serv” before I got anywhere, but I will admit that I at least got a decent apology and $400 in vouchers…which I am currently not using as we booked full fare refundable on SW. The one freaking year I attempt to see family over the holidays… Grrr, indeed.

  30. doormat says:

    @llcooljabe:
    Here is a tip: stay away from JFK period.

    Many of the items you raised are not issue with Delta, rather all airlines that use JFK – too many RJs with 50 seats, not enough runways, long taxi lines, etc.

    The FAA is working on an airspace redesign and is talking about restricting the number of scheduled ops at JFK.

  31. Neurotic1 says:

    I worked for Delta a number of years and this is not anything new. Every six months or so, Delta makes adjustments to their schedules by changing times and/or aircraft types to maximize their load factors. Passenger inconvenience (and often much more) is just an afterthought to this company. Just one of many things that use to disgust me while I worked there.

    Oh and Gov. intervention is by far a long shot. The airline lobby drops a pretty penny each year to allow them to do some pretty scandalous things like code-share, etc.

  32. JustAGuy2 says:

    @doormat:

    While avoiding JFK overall is pretty darn good advice, the Delta RJ operation there is a particularly deep circle of hell.

  33. FatLynn says:

    CALL DELTA AND SEE WHAT THEY WILL DO. It’s possible that they changed their schedule, and the computer rebooked you based on criteria like “same departure time” whereas you’d prefer they kept you on a non-stop. This has happened to me more than once, and it has always been resolvable.

  34. getjustin says:

    I always thought, and still do for the most part, that any airline is good enough so you can just look for the cheap rates. The one exception to this (maybe to if you count SWA but for different reasons) is Delta. My God, they are useless. Not that everyone else provides stellar service, but it’s basic, and you know to expect mediocrity. With Delta though, you get straight morons from booking to baggage.

    And what is it now, like 100,000 points for a one way coach ticket on a Saturday red eye?

  35. csdiego says:

    @Buran: No idea how you meant that. What I was saying is that there’s a lot of depressing consumer news out there. Delta deserves to be hated, and it’s better to know than not know, but it’s still depressing to read about it.

  36. @JustAGuy2: JFK is abysmal… Delta at JFK even more so. I always try to fly the earliest possible flight to avoid the growing delays on the tarmac, but even at 8 in the morning on a random weekday the lines were backed up to the door with only a couple clerks on hand. Meanwhile, the same number of clerks were on hand at the First Class window dealing with one-tenth of the customers.

  37. theblackdog says:

    I’m wondering if the other problem is that it changed his price, after all, they like to tax tickets based on the number of stops, so now that he has another stop, is he paying more fees and taxes?

  38. JustAGuy2 says:

    @probablyawkward:

    They’re actually reconfiguring those terminals so that Terminal 2 will be only elites and Biz/1st Class, while Terminal 3 will be for everyone else.

  39. Major-General says:

    Perhaps the same thing as happened to my travel plans (changed 3 times): the response I had from the agent when I called was that the airline didn’t sell the number of seats they thought they would, so they were rescheduling due to certain aircraft being out of position.

    Which is fine and dandy, except that I called in because they wanted me to get back to LAX at 2300, which is about 2 hours later than the latest time I can reasonably catch my shuttle to get home.

    But I was rescheduled with no problems on a flight that would bring me in at 1730.

  40. chrisdag says:

    Not all regional jets are bad (I’ll take a jet over the shaky turbo-prop short haul planes any day). For a while I was flying weekly between Boston and Richmond, VA. My only real direct-flight options out of Logan are a United/USAir turbo prop and a JetBlue regional jet.

    JetBlue uses EMBRAER 190 jets on the Boston to Richmond and other shortish flights. 25 rows of two seats on both sides of a center isle (no middle seats!)

    The E190’s are brand new, comfy and an order of magnitude better than the turbo prop planes used on most short haul legs. Add in the JetBlue satelite TV and the “we don’t oversell our seats” and it became a not-to-horrible weekly commute.

    My only JetBlue complaint is their frequent flyer program is kinda stingy at least for the constant short flights I was taking. I had to fly ~13 Boston to Richmond roundtrips before I got the 100 points necessary for a *single* free ticket. Ouch.

  41. gingerCE says:

    I know someone flying United who just had the same thing happen. Totally switching his flight to a terrible time and adding a connecting flight to the travel. It sucks.

  42. davina says:

    Delta = Don’t Ever Love Travelling Again!

    I have almost completely stopped flying now. I used to fly six to eight times per year. This year I have flown just once (on Delta, of course), and it was a disaster! They lost my luggage, I missed a connection because of their non-weather related delays, was yelled at by a nasty flight attendant and was stranded in Altanta for eight hours waiting stand-by for a flight….and they didn’t even offer me a meal voucher (they said they were out of them!)

    I will never travel on Delta ever again.

  43. wise2uguys says:

    This bait and switch happened to me on EVA airlines recently. They called up a couple weeks ago saying my flight to Bali for a New Years vacation had been cancelled and I had to pick a new flight on a different day. They offered an inferior flight to me with a overnight in Taipei. Of course no offers for a hotel coupon,until I called the agent on it. My original flight was a seemless one with one stop but traveling on with a short connection time. My suspicious nature towards airline carriers gave me the wherewithall to log onto the EVA website and I did a flight search as we discussed MY problem. Initially she offered the inferior flight saying it was all they still had left….until I told her the flight numbers of a similar flight to what I had purchased (at double the price of my ticket purchased in August). “OOPS, so sorry, I think we can arrange that.” As to my request for an upgrade in response to my inconvenience? “So sorry that is not our policy.” Despite having to take an extra day from work and spend additional costs for another night at my destination due to the necessity of arriving a day early, my request for compensation has fallen on deaf ears. I have called the Seattle and Los Angeles offices to speak with supervisors and the “supervisor ” is never in the office when I call and no one has returned any of my calls after my last call more than a week ago. I guess they figure if I can’t get ahold of management,they won’t have to compensate. Short term thinking in regards to customer service might work for them at least for now, but I won’t fly these guys again, period. Watch out for this seat flipping scam– its not just being pulled by domestic carriers.

    Davina- I’m with you. I fly less and less as time goes by. Used to do weekenders a couple times a month for awhile for fun. But since TSA and a degrading flying experience from price gouging airlines I may fly 4 times a year at most. I find that leisure travel has become a major hassel and I usually come home peed off and worn out. Why bother. The airline industry and the Fear sellers are going to eventually kill their golden goose.