Q: I need your advice on an uncomfortable problem I had on a recent trip. I was on a Delta Air Lines flight from Philadelphia to Atlanta, and was one of the last people to board the aircraft. When I got to my seat, half of it was missing.
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Sitting next to me, in the middle seat, was an extremely large woman. So large that she not only took up her own seat, but half of mine. There was no way for her to put the armrest down. She said she hoped there was room for me.
I discreetly asked one of the flight attendants if I could buy a seat in first class, and was told that first class was full. I asked if the remainder of the plane was full, and they said that there were no empty seats.
A flight attendant suggested that the only way to change my seat was to “find a cute boy or girl” and sit on their lap. Not only did I find this offensive, but also it was distressing.
One of the flight attendants came over and offered the large passenger next to me a seat belt extender. I tried to sit down, but ended up spending half of the flight on this woman’s lap and the other half spilling over into the aisle.
I e-mailed Delta after the flight and asked for a refund. I bought one seat, and I didn’t even have half of one. Delta thanked me for the feedback but refused to do anything. Don’t you think I deserve something?
— Julie Liening, Henderson, Nev.
A: You paid for a whole seat, but got only half of one. Do you really need me to tell you that you got ripped off?
Not really. But here it goes, anyway. You got ripped off.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say the XL passenger next to you got a deal on her ticket — two seats for the price of one. Either way, it’s wrong — and the attitude of Delta’s flight attendants and customer service representatives didn’t exactly help.
Delta, and most of the other network airlines, tends to look the other way when someone unusually tall or wide boards their aircraft. At least one carrier, Southwest Airlines, doesn’t. It requires that plus-sized passengers buy an extra seat (but they get their money back if there are empty seats). I could find no policy regarding these above-average travelers on Delta’s Web site, which says to me that your seatmate wasn’t out of line in booking only one seat.
I think you took all the right first steps in resolving this dispute. Asking a flight attendant for another seat, and offering to buy a first-class seat, was a good start. You were also smart to brush off the crewmember’s insensitive comments. Your next step would have been to appeal this to the chief purser and pilot. Obstructing the aisle of an aircraft is a safety hazard, not a punch line in a flight attendant’s joke.
Similarly, your decision to e-mail Delta was correct. But you shouldn’t have taken its “no” for an answer. You could have — and should have — appealed this to someone higher up. I list all of the customer-service contacts at Delta and other major U.S. airlines on my Web site, (click on “help” for the details).
I encouraged you to appeal Delta’s denial. This time, the airline sent you a flight voucher for $250 and an apology.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations” on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.