Successful complaint letter regarding a weather delay

Here is a redacted copy of a letter that I sent to Delta regarding overnight lodging at the Four Seasons due to a weather cancellation.  The circumstances were the usual chaos when a bad storm comes through the Northeast.  The poor way DL’s ground staff in DCA handled the situation is really the crux of the issue here.  I would have made it home had they handled things better.

In addition to a check (not Delta Dollars) for $411 (which I asked for), I was also awarded 19,000 miles (which I did not ask for)

This felt like a very fair outcome in light of the circumstances.

Most people will say the airlines aren't responsible for your trouble in a weather delay.  However, I find most broad weather delays lead to chaos on the ground.  I've found airlines are receptive to feedback about their staff's performance in weather delays.  Clearly, in this case, Delta agreed.

Importantly, I didn't call and names or say anything negative; I simply stuck with the facts.  In this case, I didn't even cite any staff names (though often I do).  Specificity usually helps.

Your mileage may vary.


[My Street]
[My City/State/Zip]

Delta Air Lines
Post Office Box 20980
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-2980

Re:          Delta SkyMiles Member [    ] (Platinum Medallion)


Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am writing to draw your attention to the events impacting my attempted travel from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to New York (LGA) on June [  ], 2011.  I was booked on DL5924, the 5:30pm shuttle, with a ticketed issued under the “YSH” fare basis.  I paid $732.10 for my round trip journey.  I arrived at the airport about 1.5 hours prior to departure and had only hand luggage.

Throughout the day, there were intermittent weather problems in New York.  At one point, there was even a brief ground stop issued for LGA.  While no passenger enjoys weather delays, I understand they are outside of an airline’s control.  What is entirely in your control, however, is the communication about the situation and communication about what flights will be operating.

Had Delta had better communications, I would have ultimately made it home that Friday night, just a few hours late.  Instead, due to lack of communication, I was stuck in Washington DC overnight.  As this was merely a day trip, I had no toilet articles or change of clothes, making this involuntary stay even more unpleasant.

Having arrived early, I elected to visit the Sky Club to relax for a little bit.  Shortly after I arrived at the club, all of the flights to New York (LGA and JFK) shown on the flight information screens at the club, except the 5:30 flight (DL5924, which I was ticketed on), were shown as cancelled.

I asked at the check-in counter at the DCA Sky Club if DL5924 was the only flight left to New York that day, and was told that indeed was the only remaining flight that hadn’t been cancelled.  This incorrect information proved to be significant later that evening.  Had I been given the correct information, I would have almost certainly made it home that evening.  The SkyClub agent confirmed that the aircraft for DL5924 was on the ground in DCA and that the planned crew was also on-hand for the flight.

After progressive delays of the 5:30 flight (DL5924), around 7:45pm I was back down in the gate area, as this was the new posted time for the 5:30 flight.  There was not a gate number posted on the flight listing monitors, so I looked around at the TV screens at each gate.  DL5924 (the 5:30pm to New York) was listed as boarding on the gate information screen (GIDS) at one gate.  I presented myself at that gate with my boarding pass hoping to board, and was told that despite the information on the screen (which said New York), it was actually a flight to Atlanta that was boarding at that gate.  The agent said she did not know where the DL5924 would be operating from.

I went back to the airport flight monitors to see if a new gate was posted.  There was no gate number listed on the flight monitors for my flight (it said, “OPS” where a gate would normally appear), though the revised departure time had now come.  Not wanting to miss the flight, I looked from gate to gate, checking to see where each flight was going.  An agent at a different gate shouted that she was going to begin to “board the flight to New York.”  The agent simply screamed this out, and elected not to use the public address system (which was functioning).

While the GIDS screen at this gate said this was the flight to Jackson, Mississippi, it seemed I might be in luck after all!  When the agent called first class, I went up to board but was told it was not my flight to New York, but rather the delayed 1:30pm departure (DL5916)!  No one had advised me that DL5916 (the 1:30pm flight) may still run, despite my specific inquiry about other flights at the Sky Club.  The 1:30 flight was not listed on the airport flight monitors or the flight screens in the Sky Club.

The agent said if I wanted to get on the flight, I needed to wait in the queue at the gate podium to try to get on the flight.  I went to the queue as told.

The queue was probably 15-20 people long (this was relatively short for that afternoon, now evening, at DCA).  As luck would have it, there were about half a dozen unclaimed seats on the flight.  While one agent was working with people in the queue in the order they were standing, the other agent at the podium started clearing passengers who had been standing by for the flight and calling them up by name to receive their boarding passes and to usher them on board.

I saw the boarding pass of one of the passengers who was called up and cleared for a standby seat, and it listed Silver Medallion on it.

By the time the agent who was clearing the list invited six passengers on, the line that I was told to stand in hadn’t moved an inch.  After six standby passengers boarded, they announced the flight was full and closed the boarding door.

About 10 minutes later, the original 5:30pm flight was cancelled.  By now, it was too late to take the Acela or hire a car to get home, and I was forced to spend the night in DC.

I have Platinum Medallion status and was travelling on an undiscounted Y-fare ticket (fare basis was “YSH”).  Barring any Diamond Medallions, I would have been amongst the highest priority standby for this 1:30pm flight.  However, because:

  • DL5924 was listed as boarding on a particular gate’s GIDS screen, even though at that gate a flight to Atlanta was boarding,
  • DL5916 was not listed on any airport flight information screen,
  • DL5916 was not listed on the flight information screens in the Sky Club,
  • DL5916 was not listed on the gate information screen of the gate it was departing from, and
  • The Sky Club staff did not advise me of the possibility of DL5916 still operating (despite my specific inquiry to this end),

I was unaware of DL5916 and was unable to get on the standby list when the gate agent screamed out about boarding to New York.  Had I known of the flight, I would have been on the standby list and would have almost certainly cleared the standby list based on my high fare and status and made it home that evening

I understand that weather can bring havoc to an airline’s operations, and I do not hold Delta responsible in any way for the unfortunate weather of that evening.  What is entirely within Delta’s control, however, is communication.  A number of things were poorly handled by your DCA ground staff:

  • Airport and club flight information screens did not display DL5916 (the 1:30pm flight), which was delayed and not yet departed.
  • Club staff did not advise me about the delayed 1:30pm flight, despite my specific inquiry.
  • Flights were departing from gates with the GIDS reflecting incorrect information (showing different flights than the actual flights that were boarding).

Had even just one of these poor communication examples not occurred, I would have called the Platinum Medallion desk (or re-visited the Sky Club) and been waitlisted for the delayed 1:30pm departure.  I would have almost certainly cleared and made it home that night.  Instead, I was left with $411.06 in unanticipated and unnecessary expenses for a room at the Four Seasons and round trip transportation to the hotel.  Copies of my receipts are enclosed.

In consideration of Delta’s DCA ground team’s poor handling of communications, my high fare basis for this trip and my decade-plus elite flyer status on Delta, I’d appreciate it if you could send me a check for $411.06 to cover the expenses which could easily have been avoided had Delta simply communicated a bit better.

Should you have any questions on this matter, I’d be pleased to discuss them with you.  I can be reached on [   ].

Very truly yours,




Congratulations on getting compensated for the hotel!

I was once able to get UA to give me a $350 e-cert for an overnight weather cancellation, although that was during the days of PMUA, not COdbaUA...