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Why I Will Never Fly Delta Again

Your destiny, facing you.

Some people wake up after a long night of drinking and say “I’ll never drink again.” Yet somehow they never learn their lesson, and are soon waking up in pain yet again. That’s how I am, but with Delta Airlines.

Every time I fly Delta, I am astounded by their horrible service, ridiculously late flights, and ability to not give you even what you paid for. Yet about once a year, I find some quick flight that is much cheaper on Delta and think “Oh, it wasn’t so bad. It was a fluke. It was a short flight anyway.” And every time I leave swearing off Delta yet again.

To put this in perspective, I have flown on some impressively bad airlines. One Eastern European airline had us share the cabin with livestock. It was unnerving at first, but by the end of the flight, the chickens’ clucking was hilariously soothing. Another flight had chairs that weren’t even attached. We pulled our chairs into a circle and played loud games of cards for the extent of the flight.

Each of these times, the people working for the airlines were understanding and welcoming. One flight attendant even joined us for a mid-flight game of cards. If I am surrounded by great people, almost any situation is tolerable.

This is exactly where Delta fails. When their systems fall apart, their default is trying to screw you further. One great example is Ze Frank, who was stranded by Delta, had to share a hotel room with a stranger, then Delta backed out of their promised reimbursement. (Warning: non-worksafe vitriol lurks beyond those links) This is the norm for Delta, not the exception.

For a flight last weekend I thought, “This is just a quick flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It can’t go wrong every time.”

I may never learn my lesson.

On the way down, we were grounded on the airplane for a couple of hours before finally taking off, and once we landed, we had to wait around for another hour just to find a gate. Honestly, this is understandable. Delays happen to every airline. The real glory happened when we tried to come home.

After a few days in sunny LA, we arrived at the airport with carry-ons in hand and time to spare. I walked up to the friendly check-in kiosk and went through the entire check-in process, clicking the final button before being told it wouldn’t check me in. So I entered the long, winding queue of people, each one the ruler of their own little fortress of luggage that surrounded them. Another reminder why I never check luggage. I’m not a fan of carrying around a castle.

I arrived at the front of the line and cheerfully told the agent that I needed to check in with her, as the kiosk was acting shifty and clearly had ulterior motives. I was pretty sure I had seen it kick a puppy. By now the flight left in 32 minutes.

The woman looked at my tiny backpack and told me that luggage had to be checked in 45 minutes in advance. I told her we didn’t need to check luggage, and she advised us that we had to be there 30 minutes before takeoff. “Perfect!” I said, “we have time to spare!”, and she said the seats were gone.

Let me say that again, just to drive it home. I arrived on time to claim my paid tickets, and they had sold my seats to someone else.

I stayed calm and asked what we needed to do to get on the flight we paid for. She replied that luggage needed to be checked in 45 minutes in advance. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t dealing with an ordinary agent, but perhaps one who needed a little help tying her shoes in the morning. No problem. I slowed down my speech and told her, again, that we had no luggage, and we needed on the flight we had paid for.

She offered to put me on the next flight, 2 hours later, which was the last one of the day. No problem. Better to take a sure thing than try arguing until the plane takes off.

“I’ll just put you on standby.”

Waaaaait a second. That’s not a seat. That’s not even a promise of a seat. That’s a guarantee that I won’t be put on the next flight and I will be shacked up in a crappy hotel with a stranger for the night, all of which probably smells like cheese. The stinky kind that tastes delicious, but makes everyone stare at you funny.

“Standby? No thanks,” I backpedaled, friendly but firm. “What do we need to do to get on the flight we paid for?”

“Luggage needs to be checked in 45 minutes in advance.”

Suddenly it became very clear that my first assessment was wildly incorrect. She wasn’t slow. She was pure evil, and was just toying with me.

I leaned into the counter and lowered my voice nearly to a whisper. “Listen. We paid for our seats and we arrived on time. By law, you cannot sell our seats. Get us on the flight now, while we still have time to make the gate.”

She picked up the phone and called the gate. While she talked to the other agent, I overheard a girl two agents over who was going through the same thing for the same flight. She was taking the standby flight. May the deities of flying have mercy on her poor soul.

“I found two seats, but they’re both middle.” At this point we were running dangerously close to the flight taking off, and we still had to make it through security.

“Fine. Print them so we can run.”

And run we did, dashing through security up to the labyrinth of empty chairs that sprawled out in front of the two lone minotaur agents at the gate, just barely making the flight before they closed the doors.

Then we waited on the ground for another 30 minutes before they finally left the gate. During the flight, not everyone got served the flat soda and stale peanuts promised on their ticket, which they explained over the PA by saying “This was a short flight.” No apology, just an explanation that apparently the flight took the amount of time that was expected, which caught them completely off guard.

I showed up on time for tickets with good seats bought in advance and had to fight to get the worst seats on a delayed flight. I’m hoping this time I’ve learned my lesson.

Some quick tips to help if this situation arises for you:

• Always start friendly. Nobody wants to help the crabby person.

• Don’t accuse anyone or put all of the work on them. Just ask how “we” can make it better. People are willing to work with you if you are on their side.

• Don’t take no for an answer if you know you are right. There is no reason to back down just because things aren’t going your way. Be polite, but stand firm.

• Never fly Delta. It’s always best to not be in a situation where you have to refer to these tips.

• Ask if they have openings near the livestock. It’s way more fun there.

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