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24 November 2009

Airline Denies Boarding at the Last Minute and Passenger Can't Get Another Flight

This complaint from Charles is an example of what can go wrong if you are denied boarding, but his actions kept the situation from getting much worse.

Airline: Northwest
Flight: NW4310
Location: Baton Rouge, LA
Date: 17 November 2009

Attached is a description of an incident which occurred with Delta Air Lines at the Baton Rouge, Louisiana terminal on Tuesday, November 17, 2009. I apologize for the length of this description, however I do want to present all of the things I feel are relevant.

I booked reservations with Northwest Airlines for flight NW 4310 leaving Baton Rouge at 6:20 AM and for following flights. At the time of the reservation, I provided the airline with my credit card information and was advised that I had confirmed reservations and paid for tickets. I received a conformation by e-mail. I arrived at the Baton Rouge airport and checked one bag. I was given a boarding pass and a baggage coupon which indicated the $20.00 charge and a baggage claim check. I was advised by the Delta counter person that I was “all set” and should proceed to the gate area.

After presenting the boarding pass and my ID to the TSA agent, I was allowed through the security screening and preceded to the assigned gate. The Delta agent at the gate explained that it was a small plane; gave me a claim check for my carry-on and told me to surrender it at the end of the ramp before boarding the plane. I was perhaps the fifth person in line to board and when I tried to board the gate agent advised me “that there is something wrong with your boarding pass” and then asked me to wait until the others had boarded. After the plane was loaded, the agent had to ask another agent why the boarding pass wasn’t valid. The second agent advised me that the ticket had never been paid for and I needed to give him my credit card to pay for it. After I did, he advised me that there would be an additional fee (I believe it was $35) since I was paying at the gate. When I objected to this, he told me there was nothing he could do about it, he then advised that it was too late to buy a ticket since it was within ten minutes prior to the flight departure.

I asked the gentleman to at least get my checked bag off the flight, as there were no other flights to Tulsa that day and I would have to hurry and drive to the New Orleans airport for a flight on Southwest. My bag was returned to me at the ticket counter where I was originally issued my boarding pass. They had time to retrieve my checked baggage but didn’t have time to sell me a ticket. I asked to speak to the manager, and a man came up who did not have a name tag, and did not introduce himself. I believe that other counter attendant referred to him as Robert. I explained that I wanted compensation for denied boarding and Robert said it did not apply as the airline had done nothing wrong. I asked to see a written copy of Delta’s procedures on denied boarding and Robert refused. He then gave me a small note with a phone number and advised me to call Delta Customer Service if I had any complaints.

I asked Robert if there was any federal agency I could complain to and he responded ”don’t bother – they ignore complaints.” I then asked him to at least issue a refund for the $20.00 they had charged for my checked baggage. Robert went into an inner office, and some twenty minutes later, he emerged to tell me he had canceled the charges for the checked baggage and had double checked to make sure there were no charges on my credit card for the tickets.

After my trip, using Southwest, my wife called Delta customer service at the number Robert had given me, only to learn that indeed there were charges for the tickets but the airline would issue a refund.

I believe that I was denied boarding on Delta flight NW4310 due to the mistakes of no one other than Delta personnel and subsequently I have been denied compensation. I would appreciate any assistance your office could provide me with this matter


Charles xxxxxxx

Cc: Manager, Delta Terminal, Baton Rouge Airport
Richard H. Anderson, CEO Delta Air Lines Online Complaint Form Responds
It seems that Charles did everything right. The ticket was purchased ahead of time, he received confirmation of the purchase by email, and the check in and security screening process went smoothly. For whatever reason, the airline issued a boarding pass, and by the time Charles when from the check in counter to the gate, the airline decided to not accept the ticket.

Unfortunately, there isn't much that Charles can do. Except for cases where a passenger is involuntarily bumped from a flight, there are no federal requirements for reimbursing passengers for delays or flight cancelations. If it turns out that the airline was mistaken about the ticket, then Charles may get some kind of compensation, but that would likely be up to the airline. Charles has certainly done everything to make that possible, including documenting the process.

At one point after he was denied boarding, Charles asked to see a copy of the airline's denied boarding procedure. This was a reasonable request, and he should ask the airline in writing for a copy of their policy.

We agree with the airline that complaining about this situation to a federal government agency will likely do little good. The most relevant agency is the Department of Transportation, and at best the complaint may end up in a statistical summary of airline complaints.

The one recommendation would give for requesting compensation from the airline is to be very specific in the request. If the airline were at fault, requesting a refund of any extra costs associated with the trip is reasonable. However, Charles may want to consider other compensation such as one or two round-trip tickets.

Photo: Casino Jones


  1. HI a,
    I wonder if anyone can help.
    My wife was flying to Riga (Latvia) this afternoon, due to bad weather she was delayed and only turned up to check in 50 minutes before departure. Air Baltic told her that gateas were closed and she will not be able to fly. I rang Information of Gatwick Airport, they said that they are not held responsible for other airline terms therefore they cant help. They also said that I should contact Air Baltic, which I did but some rude lady in Vilvius told me that she is not going to do anything and I should prove it that she was there.

  2. Sue in small claims court.

  3. gogilos, this just happened to me today with Delta...I missed my flight because of bad weather and Delta is going to charge me to get on another flight.,,,50 dollars...and if I can't get that flight, it will be another full ticket price. I missed a flight once with American Airlines and they got me on another flight and did not charge. I will never fly Delta again and make sure that everyone I know who flies never uses this rip-off airlines.