Change Your Altitude

Family Kicked Off Delta Flight for Trying to Sit Toddler in Seat Paid For But Not Checked Into

Sorry for the crazy long title but I was trying to avoid a click-bait type title.


Thanks to United’s PR nightmare over an unfair bump in passengers who had already boarded that ended in a physical harm to one passenger, the travel industry has become very hypersensitive to any airline employee power-tripping/passenger injustice that takes place. Following United’s debacle (where they took their sweet time providing a response to the incident), American Airlines (AA) was in the hot seat next (so to speak), when a Flight Attendant was filmed aggressively snapping at a crying mother over a stroller. AA responded swiftly, suspending the FA in question and investigating the matter internally.

Well it looks like it’s Delta’s turn in this odd game of musical chairs meets hot potato.


The Scoop

A family of four were kicked off a Maui-Los Angeles flight on April 23, 2017 when the family tried to sit their two year old (who was traveling on this flight as a lap child on one of the parents’ tickets) in a seat that the family had initially paid for – but had not been checked into. There’s a lot of moving parts so here we go:

  • Family of 5 are returning to Los Angeles (LAX) from Maui (OGG).
  • Older son, Mason (18 years old), is sent home on an earlier flight (note: we’re still not clear on if he was rebooked on an earlier flight or if an entirely new ticket was purchased – but let’s assume a new ticket was bought).
  • Remaining 4 family members – Mom, Dad, Grayson (2 years old), and a 1 year old – board Delta Flight 222, where they believe they have an extra seat (that they paid for) since Mason was sent home early and did not use his ticket on this flight.
  • Family boards, Mason’s ticket, however, is not scanned.
  • Grayson is seated in Mason’s intended seat
  • Family is asked to remove Grayson from the seat
  • Parents refuse (incident is filmed, posted on youtube by the father) as they feel that they paid for this seat
  • Family is asked to leave flight
  • Airport Security is called, Flight Attendant drops threats that family will end up in jail
  • Family deplanes, flight takes off without them
  • Family spends $2,000 on return tickets on United the next day


In response to the incident, Delta issued an apology today once the video went viral:

“We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta, and we’ve reached out to them to refund their travel and provide additional compensation. Delta’s goal is to always work with customers in an attempt to find solutions to their travel issues. That did not happen in this case and we apologize.”


Some of the incident was filmed – it was posted on YouTube, if you’d like to see for yourself. (The comments on the page are… interesting.)


The Takeaway

So in theory – the family had a great idea. Send their oldest son home earlier on an earlier flight (I have to assume they couldn’t get an extra seat on this flight), use his seat on this flight to put Grayson, who was traveling as a lap child, to sleep in, everyone gets a, uh, decent night’s sleep.

So here’s where they went wrong – they didn’t scan Mason’s boarding pass when they boarded the plane. 

On domestic flights, gate agents don’t check ID. Your ID is checked against your ticket when you go through security. At best, gate agents will do a headcount when boarding a family just to make sure they have the right number of tickets. They could have scanned Mason’s boarding pass and this would have never happened.

But they didn’t.

Since Mason’s boarding pass was never scanned, the seat came up as empty in Delta’s inventory. And they wanted to use that empty seat for a passenger. While it’s unclear if the flight was oversold or if the passenger was a standby ticket – either way, Delta is allowed to sit a passenger in what they see in their system is an empty seat.

But here’s where Delta went wrong – one of the airline employees threatens to send the family to jail if they didn’t comply. Threats like this are never acceptable. The family was not causing potential harm to other passengers on board during this exchange, so not only was the comment unwarranted, it was also unlikely to be true.

I do want to clarify – I’m not defending the actions of the Delta employee who tossed out false threats. There are better ways to handle these kinds of difficult situations, and untrue comments intended to instill fear are never the answer. Delta’s apology speaks to compensation, so it sounds like they are taking responsibility of the situation – a good move on their part.

Meanwhile, it’s painful to read news outlets report on this issue where they completely miss the fact that the ticket was never scanned – you miss a pretty major piece of the story. You see a similar theme in the comments left on the YouTube video. Everyone brings out their pitchforks to attack another big bad airline for forcing passengers off plane. It’s easy to see why – airline employees (be it gate agents or Flight Attendants) have long been calling the shots, but thanks to social media and decent video quality on cellphones – everyone’s actions can be filmed and easily judged, all with the push of a button. Look, I’ll be the first one to  call fowl when Delta’s doing something wrong, so please don’t take this article to mean I’m saying they’re right – as a frequent passenger, I’ve probably felt wronged more times than I’d like to admit. But what happened here seems to be a big misunderstanding on the passenger’s side and then a really terrible strike from the Delta side with threats of prison. Hopefully this stream of bad airline press coupled with video availability will lead to better behavior – both on the airline and the passenger side. 

Back to the incident at hand – our stance is simple: the family should have moved their child onto their lap as instructed – plain and simple, they were no longer entitled to the seat since the ticket was not scanned. But more importantly: Delta should not have been dishing out threats in response.


This is an instance in which we see both sides try to dominate the situation, pushing it to escalate – and neither side was right for doing so. 


Where do you stand on this seat issue? 



Featured image credit: Delta

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