Delta Did Nothing Wrong “Denying” Upgrades To US Olympic Gold Medalists

Filed Under: Delta

I don’t envy those who work in social media for US airlines. It’s a pretty thankless job, and you’re dealing mostly with angry people. That’s why I find yesterday’s situation between the USA Curling team and Delta to be especially interesting, since it wasn’t inherently a negative interaction. Yesterday the USA Curling team Tweeted the following:

@Delta our Olympic #curling champions are flying home on Monday. Upgrades?!? 🙂

Delta responded as follows:

Hi, there. Congratulations, gold medal champions! We are honored to be your ride back home! While we don’t have any upgrades to offer, we look forward to seeing you on board. Thanks for flying with us!

This has caused a lot of people to respond in an angry way to Delta (and it’s being combined with some backlash regarding their stance on the NRA — or perhaps their lack of a stance). Like these Tweets:

Here’s the thing — Delta doesn’t deserve any backlash here, though I do think the did a poor job communicating . Upgrading the curling team wouldn’t be just upgrading one person, but presumably we’re talking about a team of 5-10 people when you include coaches. Having looked at the inventory on Delta flights out of Seoul Incheon yesterday, no flight had more than a few business class seats remaining.

Personally I think Delta should have said they don’t have any upgrades available, rather than that they don’t have any upgrades to offer, which sounds more like they have them but aren’t going to give them.

The way I see it, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for an airline to upgrade those who win Olympic gold medals from their country, space permitting. For example, in the 2016 Olympics, Singapore Airlines gave a gold medalist one million KrisFlyer miles, Gold status, and an upgrade to first class on the flight home. That’s of course an over the top reward, but certainly generated a lot of goodwill, and wasn’t out of line for a small country like Singapore.

So the only thing I blame Delta for here is how they phrased their upgrade denial, as I think they could have avoided some of the backlash by making it clear that upgrades just weren’t available, rather than saying that they had no “upgrades to offer.”

A lot of people are flying back from Korea to the US following the Olympics, and flights are packed. I don’t think anyone expects Delta to downgrade paid business class passengers to make room for Olympic champions.

Was the question tacky on the part of the US Curling team? I don’t know. I don’t think they were meaning to “trap” Delta, but rather they were just going by the philosophy that it can’t hurt to ask, and I can’t blame them. I feel like if Delta had responded differently, no one would be talking about this.

Lastly, United is the official sponsor of Team USA at the Winter Olympics, so am I the only one who assumed that the athletes were flying to & from Korea with them?

What do you think — did Delta do anything wrong here, or is it this a non-story?

  1. Airlines feel like they have to respond to EVERY tweet sent to them. In this instance, what they did wrong was responding at all. No response would have been the best move in this case. It would have been a non-story.

  2. Apparently every good thing warrants freebies in this entitled culture…I got an A in Economics, can I have an upgrade?!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!

  3. This is a non-story, I agree with Lucas above. I’m also assuming that the flights out of Seoul right now are pretty full with the Olympics having just completed and there weren’t that many J class seats available for upgrade. It’s also harder given that this was a team. Had it been an individual gold medalist, would have been easier.

  4. “Airlines feel like they have to respond to EVERY tweet sent to them. In this instance, what they did wrong was responding at all. No response would have been the best move in this case. It would have been a non-story.”

    Precisely right. And yes, it was tacky and awkward to tweet an upgrade request. But given how people use Twitter for the most tacky and awkward purposes I guess nothing is surprising any more.

  5. The entitlement mentality, especially among athletes, stars and public figures is sickening. You’re a human being just like the rest of us.

  6. Singapore doesn’t win many gold medals – so that’s why they can award such a prize. Meanwhile how many medals do US athletes have? In Malaysia when they won an Olympic medal for badminton the country had a national holiday and Baskin Robbins gave out free ice cream.

  7. Pretty sure the request itself was tongue-in-cheek based on the emoji. Considering the s*itstorm that would have ensued if DL downgraded a bunch of passengers to Y to accommodate the entire curling team, I’d say it’s a good thing they didn’t. What they perhaps could have done, though, is offer up the empty J seats they did have, and maybe offer everyone else a bump up to Comfort+ or Premium Select if they had empty seats in those cabins. That would have garnered some goodwill anyway.

  8. It would have been a nice gesture for Delta to upgrade them but by no means need to. I think it was kind of tacky of the curling team to blatantly ask for an upgrade.

  9. Very tacky for a whole team to ask. As if there are a dozen empty seats in biz waiting to be filled by Olympians. Sorry, I’m not impressed by them. AT ALL!!! Stupid!!! Olympians are not the best of humanity in any way shape or form. They had parents who supported their passion and interests. So!!!!!!

  10. Ben,

    Most of these guys live in Duluth; 1 in Madison. Try getting to Duluth on United versus Delta and get back to me….. 🙂

  11. United flies most of the athletes, however most of the Mens Curling team is based in Minnesota, so Delta is definitely the best option for them to get more direct routing.

  12. @jeff I would ask you to do some research before spouting off. The curling guys are just like us…a bunch of regular joes not professional athletes.

  13. One of my first thoughts was that United was the official sponsor but then I started thinking about the number of people leaving Korea at the same time and realized no one airline – or even alliance – could handle all of it.

    Agree they could have worded it better but I didn’t think there would be any available upgrade space. I was surprised there were a few seats available.

  14. Man , the crying over people asking for an upgrade is hilarious. People did something online that has no affect on your life? Cry about it online. But, you know, snowflakes.

    Best response would have been to mention no upgrades available but already have a response similar to Singapore’s if it’s not violating some sort of US IOC policy. Everybody’s happy: those who aren’t pressured into giving up their seats, the athletes, the airline, and people online needing their daily outrage porn fix.

  15. Woah, I didn’t know Delta hated the US Constitution as well. That’s disappointing. We have to stop giving women without ideals but time on their hands access to social media.

    Or just tell them to shut up. Oh no, blue-haired SJWs won’t buy your product? So what.

  16. Delta should have sent their VIP plane to pick up our Gold Medalist and turn this “expense” to a PR gain and to show genuine care – a missed opportunity. For our curling champions, this is a once in a lifetime deal.

  17. Technically “no upgrades to offer” could still mean the same as “no upgrades available”. Better response would be “our business class seats are already sold”

  18. It wasn’t even the Men’s Curling Team, it was the governing association, who is too cheap to buy the team J in the first place. Completely tacky, but not the team’s fault. I suppose it’s still better than the gymnastics association…

  19. I mean if they really wanted the upgrade they probably could have gone well out of their way to fly United but that many connections wasn’t worth it for them so kind of a choice they made as well. Seems the athletes who flew United like Adam Rippon, Gus Kenworthy etc were all in business class.

  20. Lucky,

    You come across as a sour loser here. Just because you’re not sporty and wouldn’t get a free upgrade yourself. I think that’s why you wrote this…you just want a free upgrade yourself because you think sport stars dont deserve an upgrade.

  21. I totally agree with you Ben. Delta did nothing wrong, but like you said, they could have worded it differently. With the A350 now on the ICN-DTW route instead of the 747-400 they used in the past there are far fewer J seats to go around. These flights now tend to be consistently full in J and PE so upgrades, paid, miles, or otherwise are increasingly scarce. I don’t fault the team for asking, either. It never hurts to ask, provided you’re willing to accept the answer, whatever it may be!

  22. Just watched Lufthansa flying back home their Olympic athletes with welcoming committee at FRA… No upgrades? Provide a plane. Be proud! Yes I know LH and the Germans do often, if not always, provide special plane for their athletes (the soccer team springs to mind).Wonder why cannot the ever so proud USA do something similar!

  23. @James: “I always thought curling were just the people sweeping up the ice before the real sports.”

    And which Olympic sport, pray tell, did you win your gold medal in?

  24. And yes, this is about Delta, my point was – would that be so difficult to communicate with whoever responsible for the US Olympic team and organise a special flight? …

  25. Almost 100% guarantee that tweet wasn’t written by anyone actually in South Korea but by some low level person back home trying to be tongue-in-cheek. Did you watch any of the interviews with the guys on the team? I find it hard to believe that they feel entitled to an upgrade because they are Olympians or won a medal. We’re talking about a bunch of Midwestern guys who have regular day jobs at Home Depot or selling insurance. I would bet that of all the gold medalists for the US this Olympics, these guys are probably the least likely to see much difference in their daily life once they get home. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any of these guys getting huge endorsement deals or going on Dancing with the Stars… except maybe Matt Hamilton because that mustache is just too good…

  26. “Shame on Delta, this was a chance to show off their National pride!”

    There you go folks, if you don’t upgrade gold medalists to business class then you don’t have national pride. What a stupid comment.

  27. There seems to be this perception among the non-frequent flying public that upgrades are easy, that no one in premium cabin actually pays for the privilege and that the airlines can easily move passengers without penalty. Downgrading six premium passengers who actually paid for their seats to economy to make room for the curling team might have set off another sh*t storm on Twitter. And would other medalists expect the same treatment? Imagine the gold medal USA Women’s Hockey team members all requesting upgrades – those athletes could easily fill the entire premium cabin.

    Delta did the right thing. They paid for economy and they fly economy.

  28. Embarrassing move by USA team to BEG for an upgrade. Nobody is entitled to an upgrade. Asking for it on social media is a manipulative way of trying coerce Delta to give an upgrade. Good for Delta to say no. The team should pay for the upgrade just like the rest of us do.

    Shame on the USA team. Good for Delta, who stood up for what is right.

  29. DL was not the US Olympic airline, that was UA. My understanding is that UA laud on several “charter” flights give its limited scheduled capacity between Korea and the US thus it could put medalists into business class seats without worrying about revenue loads. The US curling team was out of line in making the request. Perhaps some comp champagne for team members of age but not J cabin seats!

  30. Embarrassing for USA not being able to offer a special flight, even if it’s “only” gold medalist amateurs many people at home, heck, in the whole country were cheering for? Other countries also had amateurs playing for them and are able to organise special flight – see Germany and Alex’s comments above. I think the French athletes got a special flight too.

    And YES, agree Delta decided correctly. At the end of the day, this was just a normal scheduled flight for them. If someone wanted upgrade I’m sure s/t availability, pax status and all they would have done so.

  31. @Jeff Those complaining on Twitter seem to be from the “how dare you kneel during the anthem. You disrespect the troops” crowd, i.e. people that think to talk on behalf of a group/a nation.

    Most people won’t care about this (most people don’t care about Olympics in the first place). Any reasonable person will understand that an airline doesn’t necessarily have the capacity to upgrade all athletes. Larger countries sent more athletes than most international business could fit.

  32. Firstly congrats, to the team, and all who entered, even if you did not win a medal, you still got to go, Upgrades, of course everyone would like one? Myself, if i were Delta, leave it up to the gate agent, . so say 10 members traveling, 5/6 upgrades, let them have it on the basis, anyone Delta member, that has flown in pay year with Delta? our on upgrade list, member of sky team, your on, list, then at random, as long as not taking it away from , a Delta Members. that was due an upgrade, as they are the people that pay, for Delta,ps the upgrade, is also the fact , that you have been to the games, but spare upgrade seats , let them have them, What do people think?

  33. United is the official sponsor and yes the flight would have been free if they flew United (or a star alliance carrier with UA codeshare.) I’m not sure why they opted not to do that as I’d imagine UA would have flown them in J.

    I’m actually more surprised that NBC didn’t pay to fly them in J or F via Korean Air or Asiana on the nonstop flight to NYC. Normally NBC flies the gold medalists to NYC to do a media tour (last week a few Olympic medalists went to NYC to do autograph sessions, media stuff, magazine stuff, and even ringing the NYSE morning bell… and thereafter those Olympians went back to Korea to tkae part in Closing Ceremony.)

    But I do agree with you that DL tweet team could have worded its response better. It makes me wonder if the DL people who responds to tweets are interns who lack experience in customer service (or common sense.) If anything, DL could have at least told them to direct message them.

  34. More than likely this feed is manned by a $15/hr worker who has hundreds of responses to work through….I’m sure they meant no offense to the USA team. Why shouldn’t USA Curling’s federation handle something like this instead of some poor hourly person being put in the spot.

  35. Kudos to Delta for that polite response. If Delta upgraded everyone for free because of their achievements, they’d have no business class seats to sell. Do you know how many American Nobel Laureates there are out there? Not to take anything away from these gentlemen but I would think winning a Nobel Prize is a far greater achievement than a Curling Gold Medal. What about our veterans? Aren’t they just as deserving for putting their lives at risk for our country? And Gold Star families for losing a loved one in our defense? The list goes on and on. Those criticizing Deltar are idiots.

  36. Apparently a passenger in Delta One traded seats with the U.S. skip, John Shuster. A very nice and selfless gesture.

  37. Delta did NOTHING wrong here. The team asked for an upgrade, which is fair, and Delta kindly responded and refused in a normal manner. Why the backlash?? Delta firstly reserves the right to upgrade whoever they want, and upgrading a whole team could cost them (although in the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the ocean). Secondly, they didn’t even have the space (which readers don’t know but can’t they connect the dots?). Delta is one of the better airlines in the North American continent, so just because the rest (spirit, frontier, American and United ; not including Hawaiian, Southwest and JetBlue) SERIOUSLY lag behind in comparison we shouldn’t be pounding Delta on the head for any small thing. Neither Delta nor the team are at fault here, but the responding public who don’t think before they tweet and say any old gibberish. Delta is a great airline and the only thing I can think of which I disagree about with them is their stance against Middle Eastern airlines and the open skies agreement.

  38. @Peopleamazeme thanks for the info, boss. I live in Duluth where a lot of curlers are from. I’m quite aware of their “status” as “regular Joe’s.” If you want to fly business, pay for it or cash in your points. End of story.

  39. An unsurprising response from the loreless bobolynes on social media
    Anti American. Boycott Delta !?
    Ok let’s offload all the customers who actually paid for their tickets and replace them with a group of DYKWIAs who didn’t pay
    Must congratulate the Netherlands though
    They almost got as many medals as team USA with just 33 competitors and almost everyone of them won a medal.

  40. Super tacky to ask for an upgrade like this publicly.

    In regards to the backlash against Delta, no I don’t think it would have made a difference if Delta worded it differently.

  41. Delta needs to fire the PR team. They could have spun this:

    1. Upgrade them and get good publicity

    Delta seriously fire them.

  42. @CT

    +1. The United Twitter team is even worse. When someone complains or has an issue they respond with all the compassion of a terminator.

  43. Having been to multiple winter games leaving after the games is always a nightmare- flights are chock full-Finding seats for the whole team likely impossible— Curling put Delta is a tough position with the request- Delta’s answer was inartful to say the least- just say planes are full.

  44. Does anybody really think there is unlimited upgrade space available on flights out post-Olympics? I have to assume every flight is packed and based on the event most business and first seats are paid.

  45. Whether Delta should or should not give upgrade or what they could have done better, their reaction to the upgrade request is just another sign that Delta is not very smart!

  46. I was on DL 158 with the members of Gold Medal winning curling team. The plane was also carrying members of US Skating team. Also on board were Members of Team Great Britian, Ukraine, Germany and others.
    Prior to boarding, the entire cockpit crew came out to welcome the Gold Medalists. Photo ops galore. In the aircraft, the purser, provided Champagne to every passenger and we all raised our glass in a toast to our Gold Medalists, in unison at the Purser’s directive.[toast followed by the whole plane clapping in unision]
    Delta also handed a small bag of gift to almost all US Olympians. Sitting next to me was a member of US Skating team and she had one of those bags.
    The cabin was especially attentive to our Olympians. To me this is indicative of utmost regard and love displayed by Delta.
    I am pretty sure upgrades were not possible, because of availability issues, so let us not trash Delta on this!

  47. I get that some people care about sports, but it’s meaningless to me. I don’t see why they deserve special treatment. Why are their accomplishments more important than mine?

  48. To add on to the bit about Singapore – he wasn’t just a gold medallist but the first ever Singaporean to win a gold at the Olympics (winter or summer) in any sport, in the entire history of the country.

  49. The Swiss Olympic committee for example paid every medal winner an upgrade to business class on their way home. It’s not the airline’s job to ensure they get upgraded, especially not Delta as they are not even the main sponsor of USA team…

  50. The US Olympic committee should just get paid biz tickets for who they feel deserve the comfort or do what many other sports organizations do – get a private chartered flight. It’s not the airline’s responsibility to determine who is a gold medalist worthy of an upgrade. There are many flying daily who have remarkable accomplishments in life – they don’t get upgrades generally. Humility is the mark of a champion.

  51. Singapore’s Olympic champion “gifts” from SQ was not over the top at all…. It was Singapore’s FIRST GOLD MEDAL EVER in ANY Olympic EVENT. If any, he was deserving of more…

  52. I wouldn’t micro-analyze their response: we can quibble over the semantic difference between “none available” and “none to offer” but I’d suggest that it’s a difference without a distinction. Airlines don’t hire Pulitzer-prize winning writers to reply to emails/texts. I can conjure up a lot of criticisms against the airline industry but this isn’t one of them.

  53. @CT its kinda hard to upgrade them when the flight was full.
    The Curl team was just like any of us, asking to see if there were upgrades, they didnt get it, they didnt complain, they understood that.

    the problem with this story is over people cared and had to express their opinions and putting others down.

  54. I think the problem with most airlines in general ( and Delta – United – American in particular) is that they are 1. very poor communicators 2. they generally don’t care a lot about passengers 3. they have entered into an adversarial relationship with much of the public. I can still remember the days before the first low cost carrier, People’s express, when airlines were trying to get people to fly by treating them well. Delta started the first loyalty program and set the standards for the industry. Today we are back to city buses in the air where just get on and hold on and keep your mouth shut till we get you there is the prevailing attitude.

  55. I am not exactly a fan of US airlines, I avoid them every chance I get, only when I have a pure domestic flight, will I consider flying on them.

    That said, I don’t see anything Delta did wrong. Indeed as other comments mentioned, the way it was asked was kind of underhanded, putting on the spotlight on Delta so should they say no, the public would raise a shitstorm. If the curling team wanted to fly J class, they should have asked the sponsors to fork over for the upgrades, not try to get free upgrades by publicly shaming the airline.

    I remember about 7 years ago, a non-story story broke out how the US airlines were making servicemen and women “pay” for excess baggage and the shitstorm that followed. The real story was the servicemen paid upfront for the excess baggage, then got REIMBURSED for the fees by their branch service. But the public lashing compelled the airlines to transport soldiers’ bags for free (while passing the costs on to other passengers).

  56. Social Media will be the downfall of humanity. But since nobody talks to anyone anymore, nobody will ever know it!

  57. Besides the comments mentioned about there being enough seats. Delta is a company. It would be unfair to value credentials that have nothing to do with payment or status for them to be upgraded.

  58. Lol there are some hilarious people ITT who genuinely think Olympic athletes are not better than them. 99.99999 percent chance they are better and more important than you. Sorry.

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