Delta Apologizes as Mom of 3 Bumped Off 'Near Empty' Flight Without Family

A Delta Air Lines passenger is seeking compensation after his wife—and potentially more than 100 other passengers—was unable to board a "near empty" flight after the airline allegedly "screwed up" and her booking was canceled due to a "system error."

Mike Smith, a 40-year-old engineer in Winnipeg, Manitoba, told Newsweek that his family of five (including his wife, Shannon, a 37-year-old teacher, and their three sons aged 10, 8 and 5) were due to fly back home to Canada from their vacation in Orlando, Florida.

The family was scheduled to travel on Flight DL2504 (from Orlando to Minneapolis) and then Flight DL1663 (from Minneapolis to Winnipeg) on April 2.

When Shannon checked in online about 14 hours before the flight to Minneapolis, she saw that both legs of her return journey were canceled, while Smith and their three kids were to fly as scheduled. Delta never informed Shannon about her flight cancellations, according to Smith.

In an email exchange in May, which Smith shared with Newsweek, a Delta representative told him, "I'm sorry to hear...Shannon's ticket was canceled, and she was not allowed to board the flight with the rest of your family despite seating available. This certainly isn't something we want to happen to any customer."

Empty seats on a Delta flight.
Pictured is Delta Air Lines Flight DL2504, which departed on April 2 from Orlando, Florida, to Minneapolis. Mike Smith says he is seeking compensation after his wife was unable to board the "near empty" flight following a booking cancellation due to "a system error." Mike Smith

Delta automatically rebooked Shannon on a second set of flights leaving on April 3 (DL1121, from Orlando to Minneapolis, and DL257, from Minneapolis to Winnipeg). But Smith said "her rescheduled flight wasn't OK with her job," so she booked an emergency red-eye flight with Air Canada instead, which "left immediately" on April 1.

Smith and his sons traveled on their scheduled April 2 flight to Minneapolis and were surprised to find that "the flight was near empty."

Speaking with a Delta representative, Smith later found out that his Minneapolis-bound flight on April 2 had a capacity for 197 people but carried only 70 passengers/crew members. "From Delta customer service, I found out they screwed up and canceled 100-plus passengers in error," Smith said.

He said he believes Delta may have canceled Shannon's booking due to an "incorrect note" allegedly associated with this flight cancellation.

In August, a Delta spokesperson told Newsweek that this case "may take some time to check fully into" and has not provided any updates since. Newsweek has contacted Delta by email again for further comment.

Must U.S. Airlines Comply With Canadian Aviation Rules?

According to Smith, Delta "failed to satisfy" several key requirements mandated under Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), including informing the passenger about the cancellation and monetary compensation for the inconvenience.

However, Delta said the airline has "not violated any passengers' rights and this does not follow under Canadian regulations."

A representative of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) told Newsweek: "As a quasi-judicial tribunal that might be asked to rule on the matter, the Canadian Transportation Agency cannot comment on the specific case" of Shannon's flight cancellation.

The CTA representative said that the rules of the APPR "apply to all fights to, from and within Canada, including connecting flights."

Airline obligations under the APPR can include "providing compensation for inconvenience depending on the reason for the flight disruption," according to the CTA.

"If a passenger is entitled to compensation for inconvenience under [Canada's] APPR, the amount will depend on the size of the airline but not on the airline's status as Canadian or non-Canadian," the CTA representative said.

Passengers Bumped Off Flight

Smith said that "through discussion with Delta, I found out that DL2504 [scheduled to leave] on April 1, 2023, was canceled due to weather" and that an "internal note" in Delta's internal system "suggested weather was the cause" of Shannon's flight cancellation.

The April 1 DL2504 flight cancellation "suggests a likely cause for Delta's incompetent cancellation" of Shannon's April 2 DL2504 flight, "considering the incorrect note that Delta associated with Shannon's cancellation," Smith said.

He said he believes "it's very likely" that the reservations of over 100 passengers who were due to fly on Shannon's April 2 flight "also had weather-related cancellation notes," leading passengers to be "needlessly displaced simply due to their [Delta's] own incompetence."

According to an email exchange in June, which Smith shared with Newsweek, a Delta representative told Smith: "Admittedly this was a system error, while at the gate with you, our agent didn't take the opportunity to reach out to our reservations department to put her on the same flight as the rest of you but allowed the flight to leave with open seats."

According to Smith's reply to Delta's email in June, "Delta gate agents postponed takeoff of April 2, DL2504 by 20 minutes due to the 127 (197–70) open seats. Delta staff were scrambling to figure out what mistakes occurred to have such an empty plane."

Empty seats on a Delta flight.
An image shows empty rows on Delta Flight DL2504, which departed on April 2 from Orlando. Mike Smith's wife was "not allowed to board the flight" with the rest of her family "despite seating available," a Delta Air Lines representative confirmed in May. Mike Smith

Did Delta Provide 'Suitable Compensation'?

The U.S. Department of Transportation told Newsweek that each airline has its own policies about compensation beyond a refund for delayed or canceled passengers. "If an airline has made a commitment to provide a particular service or compensation, then the department can hold the airline accountable," the DOT said.

Smith said Delta failed to fulfill several requirements mandated by Canada's APPR (as outlined in sections 13, 17 and 19). They include informing the passenger about the cancellation, providing an alternate flight within the required time frame or a flight with another carrier, providing the "minimum compensation of inconvenience" or "an explanation as to why compensation is not payable."

Smith said Delta refunded Shannon's canceled flight on May 26, more than seven weeks after the cancellation. However, the airline is refusing to refund the cost of her Air Canada flight ($1,024.33) and offer further compensation.

He suggested "a suitable compensation" amount of $1,400, but "Delta has not provided any reason to me as to why the compensation I've requested is not payable." His family was previously offered travel vouchers, which he neither redeemed nor accepted as compensation.

In email exchanges with Smith in May, which Smith shared with Newsweek, Delta said the airline is "truly sorry for the inconvenience caused" but "tickets from other airlines are not covered by our reimbursement process."

The Delta representative said at the time: "We have issued a maximum goodwill gesture in accordance with our policies and we will no longer [be] adding additional compensation in relation to the cancellation of [Shannon's] flight."

Smith filed a complaint in this case with the Better Business Bureau in July, and Delta responded to Smith via a letter sent to the BBB, which Smith shared with Newsweek.

In the letter, the Delta representative told Smith: "Each of you were given compensation due to Shannon's ticketing error. As explained in the previous correspondence; our airline has not violated any passengers rights and this [does] not follow under Canadian Regulations. We appreciate your understanding."

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