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The airline that makes you buy a seat for your instrument, but won’t pay air miles

A friend of the cellist Lynn Harell has shared a stunning customer relations letter from Delta Airlines. It informs the distinguished cellist that while he is entitled to buy a seat for his cello, it cannot earn privileges.

Since Lynn has been claiming miles for his cello, despite a previous advisory, his Delta account was terminated with prejudice. He was further informed that he will not be allowed to rejoin the airline’s SkyMiles program. Ever.

As an object lesson in customer relations, it could hardly be bettered.

Let’s avoid Delta until they show a little respect to musician passengers.

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  1. I’d settle for Delta’s showing respect for *any* passengers.

  2. That’s odd. I received credit for my cello’s travel last time. It just took a few emails to sort out. This is the last email I received from them:

    Dear Mr. Baron,

    Thank you for contacting Delta Air Lines regarding mileage credit for
    your travel. We are sorry for the delay in processing your request.

    We have posted the miles for second ticket you purchased for a musical
    instrument as requested. It may take as long as 24 hours for the mileage
    to be reflected in your account.

    To view your account balance, visit the following URL:

    We genuinely appreciate your support and trust.


    Andrew Klose
    Online Customer Support Desk

  3. Rena Fruchter says:

    Delta’s attitude is inexcusable! I just spoke with a representative from United (whose mileage program is now merged with Continental’s) and I was assured that someone buying a ticket for an instrument would be eligible to use miles accumulated from the instrument’s flights. Although I can’t fly with my piano, I am nevertheless happy to boycott Delta until they change this policy, or return Lynn Harrell’s miles (both his and the cello’s).

  4. No surprise there. Even by the poor standards of United States carriers, Delta – to use an Americanism – sucks. And it’s getting worse with the constant mergers.

  5. To be fair, if this is policy, then it’s policy. ‘Earning’ frequent flyer points is not a right; it’s an incentive program by airlines. They don’t have to give anyone miles, and nor should they have to. Supermarkets don’t have to award loyalty points on products they choose not to; why should we expect an airline to be different?

    • Christopher Lee says:

      If a policy is a policy, then an airline seat is an airline seat. If a passenger pays for a seat, whether it’s occupied by a person or a cello, the value of that seat doesn’t change. Nor should the incentive attached to it change. The money that pays for my own seat is as good as the money that pays for my cello.

    • Anon: if you read the comment just three spaces up from yours, you would see that your comment is illogical, and if you consider the timeline on this it is also stupid. Delta DOES award frequent flyer miles – the outrageous thing is that they removed even those that were awarded according to their policy (regardless of Carl Baron’s comment), despite the fact that they are the ones who have been “incorrectly” posting miles to the account for 12 years!

    • @Anon
      Your argument doesn’t fly. The products are not different; it’s just that one is used by an animate object. Yes, businesses can make their own rules, such as charging double to anyone named Anon, but they usually maintain a position that appears fair and reasonable. As inanimate objects are usually cleaner , better behaved, and use less resources than their animate counterparts, one would think they should attract extra bonuses.

      • Disagree. Inanimate objects are significantly less likely to decide to fly with that airline again, or to spend extra money on duty free and other products & services.

        Many frequent flyer programmes (not all) do not permit you to claim miles on tickets you buy for someone else (people still claim them and get away with it – but read the small print and you’ll probably find that they are in breach of the T&C’s). Why should the situation be different when you buy another seat for the ‘cello?

        • Anon: the inanimate object is less likely to decide to fly but it’s owner is exceedingly likely to decide to fly one airline over another. Whether its a fair policy or not, it’s bad business. What other type of passenger guarantees you two fares for the price of one? A very very shortsighted business decision especially if this boycott gains legs among other musicians who buy double seats. Now they’ve lost not ONE seat per boycotter, but TWO.

        • Anon, READ THE COMMENT where Delta was happy to assign miles for a musical instrument. Clearly, there IS no consistent policy. What are you missing here?

    • To be fair, if this is policy, then it’s policy. ‘Earning’ customer loyalty is not a right; it’s an incentive to provide a decent service with reasonable policies. We don’t have to give anyone business.

      • The problem is, it’s NOT policy, to judge from the other comment where Delta is perfectly content to assign miles to a musical instrument.

  6. Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    If you claimed airmiles for a musical instrument seat after being told specifically by the airline 11 years before that you could not do so, you would probably be committing an offence under the Theft Act in respect of the benefits for those miles (using miles for free flights, etc). The vital missing part of this story is why the airmiles were continued to be claimed after the advisory in 2001? This has nothing to do with customer service or respect for musician passengers. You cannot normally even claim miles for a ticket purchased for your spouse/partner/child!

    • I claim miles for tickets that I purchase for a family member who does not have an account with that airline, or use it often enough to benefit from the miles. I had no idea that was against any rules. I thought the miles were awarded to the purchaser of the ticket.

      • It was my understanding that the miles were awarded to the traveler in the seat. This is what has occurred with me in the past. I don’t believe it has anything to do with cost of ticket or anything paid. It is dependent on miles traveled.

        Still, the cello travels and will continue to travel. Why not award it at least a portion of the miles it earns?

        Finally, why does it appear certain passengers receive miles for the instrument (according to Carl Baron above), while others do not?

        • Perhaps some of the service representatives have common sense and appreciate musicians’ custom. We had better be careful publicising these good people; it might cost them their jobs…

  7. Following Westjet’s treatment of Paul Katz, I guess Delta is trying to beat them in the area of ignorance, stupidity and sheer dishonesty. Come on cellists and musicians, boycott Delta too and send them a letter informing them of this. The musician air travel business is worth tens of millions of dollars a year, so let’s make sure Delta gets none of that. I will now close my SkyMiles account. The musician air travel business is worth tens of millions of dollars a year, so let’s make sure Delta gets none of that. There are other airlines that can fly me to the same places more cheaply, in greater comfort and with a minimum of decency towards their customers. Anyway, everyone I know who flies on Delta has reported that it has become the US’s worst airline since the Northwest merger and their miles are worth diddly-squat.

    • “There are other airlines that can fly me to the same places more cheaply, in greater comfort and with a minimum of decency towards their customers.”

      So why the heck do you fly with them anyway? And if you don’t, what possible difference will formalising your already effective boycott make?

  8. They did the exact same thing to me, cancelling well over 100k miles in my own personal account that were unarguably legitimate, as well as my cellos account . Same letter signed by the same guy. Calls to the number listed were never answered and messages were never returned. Customer care claimed they were unable to help. I will never fly Delta again if I can help it…

  9. I have to say my experience with Delta has been completely different.

    Yes, my FF account for my cello was abruptly terminated, even though they told me that they had e-mailed several warnings (perhaps similar to the above situations).

    However, when I called they told me that the miles could be retroactively applied to my own account. I had an interesting conversation where I went over my past trips and identified for them-on the honors system – which ones were accompanied by my cello. They granted me double miles for those trips, and told me that any future cello miles would be applied – I just had to call to arrange this. So far, this has worked – and I find myself in the unusual situation where I’m able to buy a seat for a cello to receive additional miles. That is something that I could not do if I was purchasing a seat for another human being.

    And in all other areas of benefits, customer service, and cello-friendliness, I’ve found Delta to be better than most other airlines.

  10. What is the issue here? Delta has a policy, warned him of the policy, and now took action.

    Big deal.

    • Read the rest of the comments — clearly, Delta has NO consistent policy. None whatsoever.

  11. @Cellist, although it does appear that someone has an example of award mileage accrued for a musical instrument, it’s still against the Skymiles program rules for mileage accrual. It’s unfortunate that the policy has been inconsistently applied in the past.

  12. he violated the rules and did so knowingly. look:

    “Mileage credit will not be given for the following:

    Tickets purchased to carry excess baggage such as musical instruments and pets or to provide extra space for the primary passenger”

    • Then why was Delta happy to assign miles to an instrument in one case, and transfer miles to a passenger account in another? They have no consistent policy. Jesus, don’t you people read the existing comments before you post your own?

  13. BOYCOTT DELTA!!!! Idiots. They didnt need to wipe Lynn’s account clean, and it is their fault for not noticing he was collecting for his cello all these years!!! WHY ARE WE CELLISTS BEING SO PERSECUTED by AIRLINES???

  14. Zoe Keating says:

    It’s not only Delta. Jetblue said that points are for “people only”.

    I fly with a toddler too, so nowadays I transport my cello in a flight case in the hold. I rank airlines by how much they charge for it. The packed case weight 34 lbs but is 53 inches x 20 inches x 17 inches.

    I never fly Delta because they consistantly charge $175 to transport my cello in the hold. No special handling and even if it is the only thing I’m checking. Jetblue is $50. Southwest $0. If I’m ever forced to fly Delta again I’ll try telling them the cello is Golf Clubs, since they don’t charge for those (since businessmen are so cash-strapped in comparison to musicians?)

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