Delta’s Comfort+ upgrades could turn into frequent flyer problem

Up FrontSome of Delta Air Lines’ most valuable passengers are being hit with a predictable problem as the carrier transitions to selling its Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seats as a separate fare class: the unwanted middle seat.

In essence, now that elite passengers must upgrade into a Comfort+ fare class, and upgrades for Gold and Silver Medallions are processed at 72 and 24 hours before departure, they are unable to decline the upgrade if it means they get stuck in a middle seat. Many — likely most — passengers would prefer an exit row window or aisle in the regular economy fare class, but they are unable to select those seats once upgraded to Comfort+.

Delta’s website tells passengers in this situation that “you may only select seats that correspond with your purchased fare”, as frequent flyer Chris O’Leary demonstrates:

It’s unclear whether this is an intentional or unintentional situation, but the use of the phrase “purchased fare” in the error message suggests it may be unintentional. Clearly, a passenger who has been upgraded is not selecting their “purchased fare”.

Yet there is evidence that it is by design as well. Delta’s website tells its elite passengers: “During your respective upgrade process, Delta Comfort+ aisle, middle or window seats will all be assigned based on availability. Once the upgrade has been granted, you may select a different Delta Comfort+ seat, if available.”

Delta Comfort+ extra legroom economy seats. Image - Delta

Delta Comfort+ extra legroom economy seats. Image – Delta

Delta confirms elsewhere: “All seats in Delta Comfort+ are part of our premium experience. If the Delta Comfort+ upgrade clears, you will be assigned into the best available seat, which may be an aisle, window or middle seat. Following an upgrade, you can always select another seat in the same class of service through the seat map.”

The fact is, being “upgraded” into a seat that they consider is less desirable is likely to rankle Delta’s most frequent flyers, who in the era of revenue-based programs are even more certainly the highest value customers. These passengers know whether they want a window or aisle — nobody, except 2001-era Milo Ventimiglia, wants a middle seat.

And it’s not clear why Delta would choose to make its system behave this way. It’s difficult to see that there could be a technical limitation here. Surely, if the system is able to restrict seat selection based on fare class (or even “purchased fare”), it should be easy to add the W fare class into the list of fares that can select seats back in regular economy.

Rockwell 2016Surely it would also be possible to create functionality that enables elites to either decline middle seats (and indeed aisle and window seats) in Comfort+ if they have an existing non-middle seat. That would make both that the declining passenger and the next middle-seat-okay passenger on the upgrade list happy.

Delta could even message this positively for the declining passenger: “We would have loved to upgrade you to Comfort+ to recognise your Gold Medallion status, but only middle seats were available today and we respected your preferences to remain in your original seat. Click here to change those preferences for future flights.”

Passengers are mobile, social and vocal. Upgrades are supposed to be a positive, not negative, experience for valued customers. It’s frankly baffling that an airline would choose to make it a net negative.

RGN asked Delta four questions to try to learn more about the situation:

  1. Is this functionality (namely, being automatically upgraded into middle seats) intentional or unintentional?
  2. If the latter, what testing did Delta do to try to foresee this issue?
  3. Does Delta have plans to remedy the problem, and how?
  4. Would Delta please give an overall current statement on the purpose and effects of the new W class Comfort+ situation, and how it relates to the recent announcement of premium economy?

Delta spokesperson Anthony Black responded:

The upgrade for Delta Comfort+ is entirely elective. Either prior to purchase or after purchase, Medallion customers have the option to select an upgrade to Delta Comfort+. Anytime Customers elect make the selection to upgrade to Delta Comfort+ they are made aware that they’ve agreed to be placed in either a window, middle, or aisle seat. If after being selected, they’d like to change their seat selection, they can contact reservations, or make a change at the ticket counter or the gate, prior to travel.

Middle seats are very often the least desirable and not always considered an upgrade regardless of the extra legroom. Image Delta

Middle seats are very often the least desirable and not often considered an upgrade regardless of the extra legroom. Image Delta

27 Comments

  1. Carl

    So Delta is basically telling Golds and Silver Medallions to check the seat maps at T-96 (in the past some of my F upgrades cleared earlier than T-72 when I was Gold), and if they don’t like what they see de-select the “Comfort +” upgrades when they look at their itinerary.

  2. Delta has decided that all of us Million Milers are no longer important to them.
    As a 2M Miler, I have been faithful to Delta, even when it has not been in my best interest to do so. But now, I get treated just like the in-frequent fliers sitting in the back. I rarely get upgraded, only if I’m willing to pay more.

    I am starting discussions with a couple other major carriers and one has indicated they would elevate me to the same level I have with Delta. …I’m thinking. BOO Delta.

  3. Travis

    I this exact experience two days ago. I had a nice window seat on an exit row and was happy with that. I am 6’0″ with broad shoulders so I feel cramped in the middle and my shoulder sticks into the isle, so naturally I prefer window seats. I didn’t realize I had been upgraded until I was walking onto the plane and ended up in 10B on a MD90. I asked if my original seat was available and that I preferred to decline my upgrade but of course it was not and only middle seats were available throughout the plane by then.

    I have no problem with delta selling these seats as a separate fare class instead of using an upgrade fee, however, I wish they would still allow me to simply select my Comfort+ upgrade the same way I used to do it.

    • Rod Bergstrom

      I had this exact thing happen to me and had no other option by the time I caught what Delta did! All ailes and windows were booked so I had no other choice than a middle seat. Soooo Disappointed in my experience expecially when I see this article and now know they know and haven’t done anything about it.

  4. james lawrence

    I am a Delta Diamond customer. This is moronic and unbelievably frustrating. They have taken a nice experience and made it terrible. It is unfathomable (a) that this is now an upgrade and (b) that one can’t chose to decline a middle seat. For the love of America, make it a preference option (if middle seat and I don’t have a middle seat already, do not downgrade me to a middle seat). The brain child who thought of this should have to answer the Diamond line to hear the

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  6. William Vaughan

    I am also a Diamond Medallion member who was caught in the “middle” trap this week….TWICE. Each time was on flights of three and 3.5 hours, the longer of which I was in the back of the plane. The comfort class middles are no treat either and I have to assume that Delta no longer cares about rewarding their most loyal customers. I, like many here, fly weekly and feel that my loyality is worth my ability to choose the best available seat at time of purchase. I pay higher prices for Delta flights…perhaps I should adopt Delta’s philosophy and shop the other airlines.

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  8. Kevin

    It seems like Delta is trying to avoid a situation where people try an upgrade, see that it’s to a middle seat and then hop back to a lesser class. If it allowed this, and people did it, it could end up with a bunch of empty middle seats in Comfort+ that it would do what with? Discount? I’m not sure. But by forcing people into a middle seat upgrade it avoids dealing with that situation.

  9. Jay

    I’m also a Delta Diamond and am extremely dissatisfied with how Delta is doing the Comfort upgrades. If I set my preference to not automatically upgrade to Comfort, then I’m not allowed to select a Comfort seat – this is ridiculous. If I set my preference to upgrade, then I get stuck in an undesirable seat – and to top that off, I can’t get back into a good seat in coach without calling the Diamond line. – absolutely ridiculous. I can’t fathom why Delta doesn’t understand that a desire for an aisle, window, or exit row set preference significantly outweighs being moved to an undesired Comfort seat. Comfort gains you very little.

    This seems to be strictly a website problem as a call to the Diamond line immediately gets the requested seat per the medallion member rules. An exception however is when I change a flight just prior to departure (I fly the NYC-DC Shuttle a lot). Yesterday I moved up to an earlier shuttle flight and the check-in agent could not get me back into Comfort and neither could the Diamond line as the gate agent has the seats locked. When I got the the gate, the gate agent refused to put me back into Comfort until she “cleared the upgrade lists”. This is a clear violation of the Delta Comfort rules for medallions.

  10. Vish Phadnis

    Delta needs to at least allow ability to ‘decline’ the upgrade to Comfort+, especially if offered a middle seat… I would take Aisle over middle seat anyday (perhaps only exception is the middle at bulkhead)

  11. Raoul

    The tech issues continue: I booked a future trip, being careful to ‘deselect’ the Comfort+ option during booking. I looked at my reservation in My Trips on the DL site a bit after the booking completed, and the “upgrade to C+” indicators had green checkmarks! I *hope* this was an IT fault, and not some brilliant idea by someone at Delta to try and fob off middle seats to people who aren’t paying attention!

  12. Ken Shapero

    I have been a Diamond Medallion flyer with Delta for a couple of years now. I like being a Diamond medallion because of my ability to upgrade into their premium comfort seats. However with this new policy, which hit without warning about a month ago, I can no longer do that…. I get messages that I can only book seats in the class of service that I purchase.

    This isn’t the deal I signed up to! I often time book a less convenient Delta Flight, so that I can keep all my miles there. That’s part of the bargain. I take a less convenient flight and maintain brand loyalty to Delta. Delta honors my Diamond status. It’s a two way street. This new policy by Delta is essentially them reneging on their part of the bargain. If they maintain this policy, I’ll be switching airlines.

    It’s just incredible to me that they just quickly flip me off, after all the years of brand loyalty. Incredible!

  13. Diamond Dave

    I am a diamond and I assign looking hard at South West, something I swore I would never do. Delta is making more money on this somehow ( a company this big does not make changes this big without there being a lot of money in it fit them). This time I think they may start to lose anchor customers. I hope so, to teach them a lesson

  14. Bring Back NWA

    My wife, a GM but soon-to-be PM, has been “upgraded” into a middle seat (at 72H) three times in the last month. Each time I called Delta to get her put back into the exit row aisle she was in originally. Each time, the rep is full of apologies. Each time I ask, When is Delta gonna fix the mess, or at least undo the “upgrade”? Each time, the rep says, Yes, I wish they would because we are dealing with this all the time.

    In 2015, they stopped upgrading us PMs on overseas flights. Now they are downgrading loyal customers into middle seats. When/where will the punishment of loyal customers end?

  15. Delta is killing me

    I am only silver medallion so I don’t expect much, but what I could do before this “benefit” came along was easily get an exit row seat when purchasing flights because the Gold, Platinum and Diamond members could “upgrade” their seats to comfort at the time of booking. Now that this insane policy has gone in, exit row seats are brutal to get so I get stuck in the back of the plane, in an aisle most of the time at least, but no leg room and the feeling that Delta is doing whatever it can to lose customers. Maybe they have too many and need to clear some out…who knows but it has gotten extremely frustrating to have to sit in the back with no legroom while delta comfort seats fly empty because no one wants to take the chance of being “upgraded” to a middle seat.

  16. SometimesIFly

    I got passed this when I asked the gate agent before boarding if I could be moved to a window seat. Luckily there was an empty window seat in Comfort+.

  17. MSP flyer

    I just booked a return ticket from MSP to SFO. Gee, thanks Delta. I have been a Platinum for several years now. And you reward me with a middle comfort+ seat and no option to say no thank you? Rewards are considered rewards, when the receiver sees it that way. In my case I see it as punishment for electing a choice of a free upgrade. I am going to take my select choice reward in January and good bye Delta. If I am to sit in a middle seat, I can do that with half the ticket price I pay you Delta. You do not deserve my business Delta, if you can’t treat those people who go out of their way to give preference to Delta clearly your IT is running your medallion program. It takes years to build loyalty but a year of this type of attitude means you lose long standing customers, and for what?

  18. I am so angry. Have had a window seat in an exit row since March on a flight that surprisingly puts me in Platinum Medallion status for 2017. They upgraded me to a middle Delta Comfort seat and I lost my exit row seat that actually has more leg room than Delta Confort. There is no way that a middle seat is an upgrade. I now have switched back to the one regular main cabin seat at a window that was still available. Much further back with no leg room. Delta’s answer. Don’t ask for automatic upgrades. Are you kidding me?

  19. Terry

    Hard to imagine Delta execs’ thinking on this snafu…. what frequent flyer on earth would welcome a middle seat even in Delta Comfort? I am a Platinum member and all this change did was alienate folks like me.

  20. Mary

    Although I appreciate the upgrade, my husband and I were put in middle seats 2 rows apart. I was able to move us one row apart. It is a short flight and I would probably have opted out of the upgrade if I knew we weren’t sitting together. Who is going to want to trade me an aisle or a window for a middle–NO ONE!

  21. Roger F

    I live in Auburn, IN and out of our nearest commercial airport (Fort Wayne – FWA) there is far more choice with Delta then with any other carrier. So, I am somewhat stuck. Also, going to Detroit – DTW can often save several dollars even with the 2.5 hour drive plus overnight at local hotel to catch an early flight. I am gold now, but anticipate platinum for 2018. I think I like the idea that status allows for selecting a “premium” coach seat when you book, like an aisle exit row. I then look at the seat configuration of the equipment used for that leg. If the config is 2-2, I opt for comfort+ (as there are no middle seats to be worried about). If 3-3 or 2-3, I do not opt for comfort + unless it is a relatively empty flight with plenty of aisle/window comfort+ available. I do check 75 hrs out and opt out if it is looking like a full flight and only middle comfort+ available. That is a lot of work for a medallion member who only wishes to be recognized for having spent a bunch of money with a particular company. In the outside chance there are no platinum/diamond members ahead of me, I always leave the 1st class upgrade checked. I must agree with many of these posts – this is less than ideal. But with all things, if you know the rules and how the system works, you can manage around it. My hope is that if we all do this (because really, who will PAY for a comfort + middle seat?), the flights will fly with comfort+ middle seats EMPTY. That alone will change the policy, because when in doubt, follow the money. If it hurts Delta financially, they will make the change. Allow them to herd us into the middle seats, they will invariably make money and thus be encouraged to continue the behavior. Of course, totally disgruntled medallions who leave Delta for another airline can only hasten the modification. Delta is betting that the medallions are not savvy enough to figure out the work-around. I suggest we demonstrate that we are not that easily fooled.

  22. C.M.

    The same thing happened to me on a flight to HI. Only, the attendant said my original seat had already been given away. After paying a $200 change fee (as the were nice enough to waive the difference in fare to be downgraded back to coach?) and letting her choose a less than desirable coach seat, I went back online and found my original seat still available. This is not only a bad policy, but they are also lying to get their way. To top it off, when I woke up the next morning they had repeated the upgrade to the same middle Delta Comfort+. I had never screamed so much over the phone.

  23. Dan

    My wife and were flying together on the same booking and selected two adjacent seats on the “2 seat side” (D&E). The night before departure I was notified that we had been “upgraded” to two middle seats on different rows in Comfort Plus. The flight was full and we couldn’t select anything else. To make sure it didn’t happen on the return trip, I unchecked “Upgrade Requested” but it wouldn’t take it. In the end, I was able to get two seats in the back by calling the Medallion customer service, but what a hassle.

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