Wow: Delta Significantly Raises Voluntary Denied Boarding Compensation Limits

Filed Under: Delta

I think it’s fair to say that United has a bit of regret for the policies they had in place that led to Sunday’s “dragging.” While we can argue all day about how the blame should be split between the airline and airport security, there’s one thing I think most people agree on, including United’s CEO.

Frontline employees should be given more discretion to apply common sense to situations, including oversold flights. United looked for volunteers to give up their seats on the flight from Chicago to Louisville, and presumably if they raised the offer someone would have eventually accepted it. Instead they involuntarily dragged someone off the plane.

United said they’d look at their policies and update them to make sure something like this never happens again. Well, rather impressively, United isn’t the only airline updating their policies following this incident.

Delta wants to make sure passengers aren’t involuntarily denied boarding from flights, so has given their frontline employees more discretion as to how much compensation they can offer for voluntary denied boardings, based on the situation. Per an internal source, here’s what’s changing:

  • Previously gate agents were limited to offering $800 worth of vouchers in compensation, while supervisors were limited to offering $2,000 worth of vouchers in compensation
  • Delta has now increased compensation limits for voluntary denied boardings — gate agents can now offer up to $2,000 worth of vouchers, while supervisors can offer up to $9,950 worth of vouchers


Delta deserves huge kudos for this. Airlines make a business decision to oversell flights, so it’s completely unacceptable when they involuntarily deny boarding to passengers. With these increased limits, they’re authorizing frontline employees to increase the compensation when situations warrant it, to ensure that they’re minimizing the number of people who are involuntarily denied boarding.

Just to be clear, I wouldn’t expect voluntary denied boarding compensation on most Delta flights to be higher than before. They’ll likely continue to start as low as they can, and only increase compensation as needed. However, in situations where they’d otherwise have to deny boarding to passengers, I suspect the limit will go up.

Delta is actually already among the best US carriers when it comes to involuntarily denying boarding to the fewest passengers, so they’re just taking that commitment to the next level here.

United is “investigating” what they can do to prevent a similar occurrence in the future, and something tells me a similar increase in voluntary denied boarding compensation will be part of that.

  1. Delta used to have an ad that said “The rules shouldn’t get in the way of common sense.” When you hire smart people, train them well, and allow them to use their best judgement, things like the United incident are less likely to happen.

  2. Smart by Delta to get out in front of this….. But I bet some of your peers that fly Delta will be gaming the system even more now, flexing the “I am a Diamond, you can go more, here is an Amazon gift card for you.”

    Agree we won’t see huge numbers as there are always some who take lower amounts.

  3. I have been on a Delta flight where $1,000 or maybe $1,200 cash was offered! The 4 people they needed off moved so fast it was crazy!

  4. The media managed to create the $1350 limit rule that airlines could offer for VDB, when in reality they confused the IBD maximum payment. Delta’s announcement just confirms their was never a limit the airlines could voluntarily offer. Smart move for Delta.

  5. I had an interesting thing happen on a Swiss flight from ZRH to CDG. Full flight. I was among the first ones to board. Towards the end of boarding a passenger approached and tells me I’m in his seat. There’s gotta be a mistake! He shows me his boarding pass. Same seat number. But we also had the same name! First of all, how did they not realize they had 2 different passengers with the same name and thought we were the same person?? I mean just for security reasons? Then what do they do with the guy? They didn’t deny him boarding since he made it inside the plane… but he had to leave and stayed in ZRH. What would United do? Beat him up just because they can??

  6. Hopefully United will continue its money see monkey do relationship with Delta on this issue. Would be a positive for passengers.

    I imagine the upper limit is really only relevant for first/business. If say due to a plane change (a la United in Hawaii a few days ago) they need to get several people off the plane who may have bought a full fare first class ticket, 2K may not do it, especially on a longhaul flight. Getting a business traveler to accept a arriving in Tokyo 12-24 hours later could require real incentives.

  7. Are these limits for vouchers only?
    Can agents/supervisors offer cash (within same limits) instead of voucher?

  8. The $1350 limit is an implied limit: why would an airline offer more to volunteers than they are staturorily required to offer to people you deny boarding to against their wishes? Delta clearly already realized that it was a good idea to sometimes offer more (hence the $2000 limit for supervisors). The Dao incident is breaking the connection between the statutory IDB limit and the airlines’ self-imposed VDB limits. That’s a good thing – for passengers, and also for airlines themselves, because (a) they can avoid a repeat of this horrific incident, and (b) if they proactively fix the problem that caused it, there will be less inclination among legislators and regulators to impose a fix the airlines don’t like.

  9. I think I’d want cash since vouchers have conditions. But I guess people who like vouchers will be happy. I’ve read that DL asks you what your price is at check in and then uses that to decide who gets bumped. Seems like a good system. I wonder if people will raise their bids now.

  10. @raksiam

    When Delta asks for VOLs at check in, they are prompted to select 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, or enter an amount. That amount has been capped at $800.

  11. I was bumped on a Delta flight last night. I bid $500 knowing that next flight was wide open and it was only two hours. The agent said he needed two and was just going to offer his max of $800. So I got the $800.

  12. My friend was supposed to go from NYC to STL on Friday to run a marathon over the weekend. When Delta offered $1,300 for his seat, he decided to take the money and NOT run.

  13. @Nico M – do you really honestly believe what you wrote, or are you just being unnecessarily hyperbolic, given the seeming free pass that everybody has to ridicule UA nowadays? Seriously, that one sentence diminished your entire question. Think before you write.

  14. @nico. Absolutely, implied limit. Just because the law permits a company to excercise their legal rights and save money does not mean it is a good business policy….as United has found out to their expense. The entire episode is indicative of (1) general arrogance of airlines to their customer base and (2) society where everyone is a cub reporter. Hopefully something good will come from this, but I doubt it.

  15. I’m confused by the voucher restrictions to which some of you refer. In my experience, Delta’s vouchers are essentially gift certificates that can be used at Delta like cash. Did I miss something?

  16. I am afraid of how the compensation levels will vary, especially if they can vary in the thousands of dollars.
    I like Air Canada’s approach that the compensation is a fixed amount.
    No bidding, no guesswork, no negotiating. Everyone is clear on what is offered all the time. There is something to be said for consistency. It also is a clear and easy way to implement for the frontline workers.

  17. I feel like pretty much every type of business out there ends up with better outcomes when they empower their front line staff to deal appropriately with situations, especially if there isn’t always a supervisor around to authorize them to act when needed. If you treat your employees like they can’t be trusted then you’re just going to end up with unhappy employees, unhappy customers, and the potential for problems to escalate like that UA flight did.

  18. They will never get that high. It is a supply and demand situation and as I mentioned before as soon as the magic word “thousand” is heard they will have more volunteers than they need. Unless the non financial offer is terrible (a flight couple days later, many connections or a special date like Thanksgiving or Christmas) there will always be someone that will take an offer a bit over $1,000. I saw that happen just the other day on a flight DTW-SEA. It was the last flight in the evening on Delta and they needs 6 volunteers to stay. They were offering $800 in vouchers + hotel + meals + flight next day but nobody was taking. As soon as the word “thousand” was announced people started running to get it and soon they had more volunteers than they needed. A family of 4 took the offer and I heard them saying very clear “it pays for our spring break trip to Mexico” 🙂

  19. I’m immediately turned off by any “voucher”, guess it goes back to the day they had to be brought to a counter. Also many put conditions on it.
    Make it a gift card or cash only thank you.

  20. Incredibly good public relations by Delta that will most likely cost it very little since 99.9% of the time the normal amounts work fine.

    AA lucked out on this incident since I’m pretty certain they would have handled it much worse.

  21. And, now, maybe the mainstream press will stop talking about the federal $1350 limit…

    Not much of a Delta fan, but this is a nice gesture.

    Does anyone read the “Employees” section over at It’s pretty illuminating to read all the fired customer service ex-employee comments… many, many comments along the lines of “Was a 17 year Cust Svc employee– got fired last week for allowing a 1K and his wife to move to first class in IRROPS. Their only coach alternative was a flight 4 days later. I thought it was the right thing to do, but my supervisor said ‘You cost the airline $8000. You are fired.’

    That’s not verbatim, but there are lots of comments along those lines. So, I’d propose that the “United problem” isn’t just ‘lack of operating discretion and ability to move outside the rigid rules’. It’s really that with high load factors the majors have gotten much more attached to the idea that they’ll screw a ticketed passenger in lieu of the ‘god of revenue optimization’. And, in reality, the majors have all become astonishingly profitable by chasing the “maximize revenue for every single seat” mantra. But, you obviously get some bizarre side-effects.

  22. Could the government just ban IDB? It seems like that would fix the problem. Everyone has a price and they should let the market decide what that price is. Is there a reason why we must have an IDB process?

  23. I think the vouchers thing is still not the right solution. The airlines give you a voucher worth $800 or so currently but the problem is its a one time use thing that cannot be used over multiple trips currently. So if you aren’t making another relatively high cost economy trip or decide to go overseas one way in business this can offset it. If however you need to make multiple trips say across the US in a year and your rough costs per trip are in the $200-400 this will cover essentially 1 trip/one way segment which means basically the voucher is effectively losing half its value in the above case. Of course that’s AFTER you go through the hassle of trying to redeem these things which is not always simple for the non-experienced flyer. If Delta and the rest continue to want to issue vouchers they need to make them first less restrictive and easily able to portioned on its use otherwise this is all just putting more “lipstick on a pig” equivalence.

  24. @Lucky: Calling Delta’s compensation “vouchers” is unfair. They are the only airline to offer gift cards for outlets like Amazon, Macy’s, etc.. One of the options is also a straight up AMEX gift card. This is miles ahead of what AA and UA offer, which is simply airline credit so you are forced to fly them again.

  25. Does Delta always offer gift card now or is it still vouchers at times? In the past week I’ve heard different Delta GAs offer both. At MSP it was clearly gift cards. At ATL it was vouchers. Given the typical service at ATL I wouldn’t be surprised if it was really gift cards but they haven’t bothered to learn the new plan.

  26. The problem with vouchers is that you have to use them usually within one year. And you can only use it once. If you are thinking you’ll spend less than the voucher’s face value and get the rest as another credit, it ain’t happening. Cash of course let’s you use the money any way you like, on another 2-3 flights, on another airline, for hard liquor, strippers…. Thats why it’s not likely airlines will offer cash. They want your business within their organization.

  27. For what it is worth, in the good old days , I use to volunteer my economy seat if I did not get the upgrade as a platinum on the LAX- ATL redeye .
    Those flights were Diamond heavy in both directions.
    Anyway, taking the bump always got me a confirmed first class 767 seat the next morning and a nearby Westin Airport room and two meal vouchers and 10-20k points and most times, a $250 voucher.
    I thought it was fair for the times and it put me back in Atlanta before lunch the next day.
    Make the cut for a red eye upgrade and go …or…take the bump and go eight hours later.
    It worked for me for a long time commuting back and forth from the west coast.
    Good Karma with the gate people helped. It always does.

  28. As others have eluded to above, this “internal memo” is completely not true. DL AGENTS have offered $2000 CASH for many many years. The airline has one of the oldest fleets, routinely has mechanical issues, swaps aircraft frequently, and is prone to overbooking all the time. Not to mention that one person running a gate by themselves is common. They have had to empower their employees to compensate more. Apparently, this is less costly than running an airline with common sense, since the public rarely complains to the CEO.

  29. This is like a self-imposed punishment from a NCAA team. They are hoping to avoid more strict regulations/penalties if they take actions themselves.

    BTW I saw Delta gift cards at Staples… an interesting 5X… Too bad they are still skypesos….

  30. Wow. The media was making it sound like there was a cap on what could be offered. This just makes United make soo much worse.

  31. Although the gesture is sensible methinks this is a stunt by Delta to get the feds off their tail. How many times do you think they’ll go up to $10K? It would be more convincing if US airlines would commit to never ejecting a passenger once he/she is inside the plane unless there is a true security threat. Overbooking would end if passengers had to forfeit the price of their ticket if they do not show up without 24 h notice unless there is a proven and reasonable case for their no-show (with a % forfeited regardless).

  32. There seems to be some wrong information about the Delta vouchers from some commenters. Yes, they expire in a year, but they can definitely be used for more than one flight. Here is the language from the voucher I just got from Delta’s latest meltdown:

    “Residual value: If redeemed for less than its face value the residual value of a voucher may be applied to subsequent ticket purchases at The expiration data of the original voucher will apply to any residual value. Residual value of a voucher may only be used by the original voucher owner.”

  33. Cash or forget it. Some stingy Boston/american folks only offer $500 bucks, 6h+ layover without any lounge access, etc….Unless at the very least 800$, plus lounge access, ba bye. Say no to american hustling.

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