Delta Air Lines offered passengers $10,000 each to get off an oversold flight

June 30, 2022, 6:28 PM UTC
Passengers at the LAX Delta Terminal.
Gary Coronado—Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Passengers on a Delta flight from Michigan to Minnesota say that the airline offered them $10,000 cash to give up their seats on an oversold domestic flight.

In the end, the hour-long flight departed just 20 minutes later than scheduled from Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, according to Cirium’s flight tracker

Jason Aten, a tech columnist at Inc. magazine, boarded the plane with his family and was waiting for it to leave the gate when a flight attendant came over the intercom, he wrote earlier this week. The crew was looking for eight volunteers to give up their seats on the apparently oversold flight, offering them $10,000 cash each. 

“If you have Apple Pay, you’ll even have the money right now,” the flight attendant said, Aten wrote.

Delta, along with other airlines, has canceled huge numbers of flights recently because of major staffing shortages. Holiday weekends in the U.S., including Memorial Day and Juneteenth, have been marked by chaos. 

The airline has gone as far as to offer July 4 weekend flight changes at no cost. And on Thursday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian apologized to its customers for a wave of flight cancellations and delays. 

“We’ve spent years establishing Delta as the industry leader in reliability, and though the majority of our flights continue to operate on time, this level of disruption and uncertainty is unacceptable,” Bastian wrote to its SkyMiles frequent flier program members in a letter reported by Bloomberg

Another passenger on the flight out of Grand Rapids, Todd McCrumb took to social media to confirm Aten’s experience. “It’s a true story. I was on that flight!” he tweeted. “Unfortunately, my wife has some health issues and cannot travel alone. She would not bump bc she was anxious to be home, for health issues and some other concerns. I couldn’t abandon her for any amount of $$.” 

McCrumb told Fortune there were earlier offers made by the flight crew, and an agent made an opening bid of $5,000 while people were waiting at the gate. After there weren’t any takers, Delta bumped its offer up to $7,500 once boarding began and reached $10,000 by the time most passengers were on board. 

Though some passengers got up and took the money immediately, Aten told Fortune it took a second announcement of the $10,000 and 20 minutes of waiting for enough people to take Delta’s cash offer, and the flight to take off. 

While the offer was tempting, Aten’s group of eight ultimately turned down what would have been $80,000.

“The reason we didn’t jump on it was because they didn’t initially say how many volunteers they needed. Had we known it was eight, we would have gotten off. By the time that was clear, four or five people had already left,” he said. 

When reached for comment by Fortune, a Delta spokesperson did not confirm or deny whether the flight offered passengers $10,000. 

“The ability to provide compensation empowers our employees to take care of our customers and get our aircraft out on time,” the spokesperson said. 

In 2017, Delta increased its maximum compensation from $1,350 to nearly $10,000 for passengers removed from oversold flights, according to a leaked bulletin to staff published by CNBC. That policy change happened in the wake of United’s 2017 incident, where passenger David Dao refused to give up his seat and ended up being dragged off the plane.

But even today, it is rare for airlines to offer $10,000 for denied boardings, especially for such a short flight and in cash rather than gift cards or travel vouchers. 

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