Polite Complaint Letter To Delta Earns Passenger 5,000 Extra Miles

A glitch in Delta’s website bumped Jesse’s return date up by a month, which sort of interfered with his travel plans when he showed up at the airport to check in. Here’s the complaint letter he sent to Delta, and their response.


On February 12, 2009, I arrived at Newark-Liberty Intl Airport to take a return flight home from a business trip. The automated kiosk was unable to locate my reservation and I had a gate agent assist me. The gate agent found that my return flight was booked for March 12, not February 12. She then gave me the number for Delta customer service so I could try and figure out how to fly out that day.

While I was making the call, another gate agent, Samantha B., asked me to come over to the counter so she could assist me. She explained that a website glitch had caused several other travelers to have their flights booked for next month as well despite specifying the correct date on Delta.com. Had I checked the e-mail confirmation, I would have caught the error and been able to correct it prior to travel. Samantha did a great job at re-booking me for a later direct flight and handled the situation very well.

Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there. The flight I had originally planned to take would have left at 10:55AM that morning; the new direct flight left at 5:10PM. Later that afternoon, I was notified that the flight was delayed until 8:10PM, then 8:30PM, then 8:55PM. The plane did not actually leave the gate until 9:20PM and had to spend 45 minutes on the tarmac since we were 20th in line for takeoff. This new flight ended up arriving in Salt Lake City at 12:40AM, over 8 hours after I had originally planned to arrive back home. The flight was also very uncomfortable as I had spent nearly 12 hours sitting in the airport in uncomfortable chairs only to spend nearly 5 more sitting on the plane.

Granted, I should have reviewed the confirmation e-mail to catch the Delta.com website glitch that fouled up my booking, but I think it a reasonable expectation that if I specify a date, the website should not attempt to automatically change it. The website glitch cost me a very significant chunk of my day and left me unable to return to work today due to a lack of sleep. (I’ve never been able to sleep on planes, so this was not an option.)

Since my employer has paid for the travel costs, I would like to seek compensation in the form of additional frequent flier miles in an amount you deem appropriate. I would appreciate a quick response in this matter.


In less than 24 hours, I got the following response:


Dear Mr. Harris,

Thank you for your e-mail describing the inconvenience you experienced due to flight irregularities. We’re sorry you were inconvenienced.

Your time is valuable, and operating on schedule is equally important to us. In the process of providing air service over many different routes each day, we sometimes encounter mechanical problems, adverse weather, air traffic restriction’s and other unavoidable interruptions. These are situations faced by all airlines and no carrier can guarantee that all flights will depart and arrive as planned.

We apologize for the difficulties you encountered due to a problem on delta.com. We have received reports like yours, for some customers, when selecting the return date and purchasing the ticket, the date will book a month later. While the customer is given several opportunities to review their itinerary choices before purchasing the ticket, some customers miss the opportunities to review and end up purchasing the wrong return date. Our website development team is dedicated to continuously improving our site to minimize this technical difficulty. Your valued feedback will help us to eliminate the problem you encountered.

As a goodwill gesture, we have credited your SkyMiles account with 5,000 bonus miles. They may be applied toward the travel award of your choice, and the adjustment will be noted on a future statement. You may also view your account balance online at delta.com.

Again, thank you for writing. Please accept our apology for the inconvenience you experienced. We look forward to serving you under better circumstances.

Mark P. Benson
Customer Care


I really like flying Delta since they have a hub in SLC and things usually go a lot smoother than this. Good job, guys!

(Photo: Andrei Dimofte)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Corydon says:

    I think 5000 miles is the standard apology the airlines send out these days. On a recent United flight back home, a flight attendant accidentally bumped my elbow just as I was trying to have a drink of tomato juice and it spilled. No-one’s fault really, and he couldn’t have been nicer about helping to clean up and everything, but he also brought an apology card that gave me either a discount on a future flight or 5000 miles.

  2. jmndos says:

    Probably costs a fortune in special fees to redeem…

  3. GayNerd says:

    I loved Delta’s little dig at Jesse: “While the customer is given several opportunities to review their itinerary choices before purchasing the ticket, some customers miss the opportunities to review and end up purchasing the wrong return date.”

    • XTC46 says:

      @GayNerd: Its true, and it reminds the customer that the ultimate responsibility is on them. They also be sure to note that this is a good will gesture, and not compensation for the delay, becasue by putting a price on the time he spent on the ground, it would open them up for other people to say “I was 1 hour late, I want x miles”

  4. kathyl says:

    I actually think that is about as snarky a customer service response could be while still having a patina of politeness and a 5,000 miles award. The fact remains that THEY munged up his return date in their system, and regardless of whether he had the opportunity to catch the error in his confirmation email, they still were responsible for the original screw-up. Scolding him and reminding him that the delays for his rescheduled flight are often unavoidable is hardly the fodder for an adequate apology for screwing up his itinerary in the first place.

    • dave23 says:

      @kathyl: I don’t know if I totally agree. Every time that I have ever booked travel online I was informed that I would receive a confirmation email which I checked to ensure the accuracy of my order. In fact, that is why they are called Confirmation Emails. Delta had a website glitch and they accepted responsibility for it, while at the same time reminding the customer that the best practice is to confirm the information in the confirmation email.

  5. PLATTWORX says:

    I must underscore here that I have worked in and run many customer service organizations. I am 100% certain the POLITE and PROFESSIONAL customer (even when they have every right to me angry) get 100 times more than the nasty, mean and immatue one who makes threats.

    Everyone on this site should make that their first rule. ALWAYS POLITE AND PROFESSIONAL. Sure, you can be firm and sure you should take your complaint as far up the chain (and to other agencies, etc.) if you need to… but always remain calm.

    I have seen so many nasty customers get NOTHING just because of their approach.

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      @PLATTWORX: pro tip: use

      • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

        @Gstein: hm, looks like i forgot to close some tag there. at any rate, use those tags to create bold text- this way it doesn’t look like you are yelling.

    • woot says:

      @PLATTWORX: The same goes in both ways, though.

      Back when I was at college I worked for a rental car company and sometimes things went very, very wrong. I always tried to see see things from the customers perspective and show a bit of empathy. Sometimes the most appropriate thing to do is to agree and tell the customer that you share their view that what’s happened is unacceptable. At that point, you’re both on the same side working to resolve the problem. Stupid little stuff that costs nothing – like offering to let them leave their baggage behind the counter and go get a coffee or use the internet while you work the problem – goes a long way. Attitude makes a big difference.

      I thought the letter from Delta was a bit too formulaic. When you’re wrong, just admit it and personally apologize. It’s simpler and much more meaningful.

    • pollyannacowgirl says:

      @PLATTWORX: I completely agree.

      You should always start out as calmly and politely as possible (even try to smile). You can always get tougher if things escalate. But if you start out as a demanding jerk, there’s nowhere to go. Even if you back down and apologize, the customer service person has their defenses up and they don’t want to hear it.

      And having been on the receiving end of nasty customer attitudes, I will be SURE that I make things as difficult as possible for you while smiling and apologizing the whole time.

  6. RedwoodFlyer says:

    I was a Plat. Medallion on DL a long while back, and one thing that amazed me was that everytime that I got stuck in a middle seat, they would send a nice letter apologizing and giving me 5,000.

    However, their miles have proved to be worthless, so I switched alliances. Book early…you could end up spending upwards of $150 in booking fees, plus $100 if your plans chance, $15 for your 1st bag, $20 if you need to talk to a human since there are numerous problems after the res system merge…etc.

    I’m perfectly content flying on Southwest – half the time, tickets with them are less than the fees on DL!

    • SpiderPaintingDollars says:

      @RedwoodFlyer: Southwest is better in many ways indeed! And now they plaster bikini clad models on your plane!*

      I read that as “…plus $100 if your plane crashes” I thought that you had inside knowledge of up coming increases to the pricing.

      *All customers wishing to ride bikini-clad model plane with sorry-for-the-inconvience miles must fly from Anchorage, Alaska to Bumfuck Nowhere, Utah at 12:17 PM on a Friday falling on leap day in a year that is a multiple of 3, providing that there are no lightning strikes within 300 miles of the nearest penguin 6 months 4 weeks and 5 days prior to take off. Booking fees will be increased by 5 dollars per projected flight hour unless you are bumped in the arm while holding tomato juice, in such circumstances please call Customer Service and file a claim. You should receive a letter and a 5,000 Mile Credit within 13 weeks of the receipt of your letter.

  7. conquestofbread says:

    I sent a complaint to Delta a month and a half ago and haven’t heard dick.

    Mailed physical document, also emailed Delta twice. Emailed consumerist also, didn’t get posted.

    My complaint was polite and very specific, and they haven’t even acknowledged the receipt of my complaint, as requested in both of my email correspondances.

    So whose dick do I have to suck for them to deal with my issue?

    This guy was lucky, Delta’s customer service has been 100% non-existent for me.

    Buyer beware.

  8. bdgbill says:

    I am, unfortunately, a frequent flyer. Of all the remaining domestic airlines, Delta defenitely sucks the least.

    Their Skymiles program has been gutted, at least as far as free travel goes (The fees they attach to so called “free” flights are often 80-90% of what you would pay if you just bought the ticket with cash). But Medallion status will still get you on the plane before the rest of the herd and gets me upgraded to first class on about 30-40% of my flights.

    Delta has never lost my luggage (US Airways has lost my luggage every single time I have flown with them through Philly. More than 6 times!). They have never bumped me from a flight without rewarding me handsomely and their employees seem to be slightly less hateful and rage-filled than the average for the industry.

    Because they suck the least, I will often pay a $50.00 to $100.00 premium to fly Delta over another Airline. US Airways needs to be at least $200.00 cheaper each way for me to take the enormous risk of flying with them.

  9. darkryd says:

    Miles are worth less than even pesos these days.

  10. JHebert says:

    There’s a reason I always fly Alaska Airlines if at all possible. Screw-ups seem to happen just as often as any other airline, but every time they’ve caused a problem for me, their customer service reps always go above and beyond to solve it.

  11. Meretrice says:

    I just returned from a trip yesterday and the same thing happened to me, wherein the website bumped my return flight by one month.

    The Delta staff at the Denver airport picked up on the problem immediately (probably because they had seen it before) and quickly and painlessly re-booked me on the correct flight.

    I feel for the OP who had such difficulties with his flight. But I just wanted to shoot some kudos into the ether for the Delta dudes who helped me yesterday.

  12. Yamunation says:

    Nice. But I’m waiting for the follow-up story, where Delta tells him he can’t use his miles for 3 years or something equally ridiculous.