Why Some Business-Class Passengers Are Finding Themselves Suddenly Downgraded to Coach – Condé Nast Traveler

Five hours before travel blogger Tyler was about to board his Delta flight from New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport to Los Angeles on December 21, he got a text that he had suddenly been reassigned from his Delta One business class seat to a seat in coach. These types of downgrades from business class to coach are seemingly becoming more common over the last year or so, as airlines have struggled with operational issues like delays and cancellations that can force them to swap aircraft at the last minute. 

That was exactly the situation for Tyler, who runs the blog Takeoff to Travel and prefers to use his only his first name. His flight was originally on board a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, and then was switched with a different plane that had fewer premium seats. “In order to prevent a significant delay or cancellation, Delta teams made a necessary equipment swap on flight 2801 from JFK to LAX on Dec. 21, which resulted in fewer Delta One seats from the original aircraft,” the Atlanta-based airline said in a statement. 

Are airlines downgrading more passengers?

While many travelers have voiced experiencing similar instances on Delta, experts say it’s an occurrence that happens on most airlines. “The issue isn’t Delta-specific,” travel expert Gary Leff of View from the Wing says. “When there’s an equipment swap, the airline changes planes at the last minute to one that has fewer premium seats [and] they no longer have enough premium seats for all of the passengers booked up front.”

It’s a harsh reminder for passengers who have splurged on a bigger seat at the front of the plane: purchased premium seats aren’t always guaranteed. For Tyler, his original best-in-class Delta One ticket, which would have had a lie-flat seat, was downgraded a couple tiers, past the Premium Select class, to a Comfort Plus seat in coach, which did have more legroom than the basic seats in the cabin.  

“I didn’t realize it happens to so many people. It was kind of surprising to me,” he says. “The general consensus is that a refund of the fare difference plus the $250 eCredit is a bit low given the circumstances.” He mentioned in his original post that passengers who voluntarily choose to take a different flight at the gate are often offered more. 

Leff says that, comparatively, Delta does tend to take more action to ensure its operations are running smoothly. “Delta goes to greater lengths than other airlines, usually, to avoid canceling,” he says, adding that often the change is a result of mechanical issues that can’t be predicted. “They may be more likely to substitute a new and different aircraft to keep the flight operating. Delta and United have both kept more slack in their fleet, not quite rebuilding their schedules to full capacity.” In light of last year’s travel headaches, both carriers have defended that choice on their earnings calls in recent weeks.