My wife emailed me a story about an actress who arrived late to check-in for her flight and was denied boarding. She wanted to get my take and thought it might make for a good tip. RELATED: 10 Airport Security Hacks Every Traveler Needs to KnowNatalie was right as usual. As far as my take, first of all, I had no idea who Sheryl Lee was but that doesn’t matter, which is actually one of the main points of my take. I don’t mean to disrespect Sheryl Lee Ralph because she seems like a nice lady and is obviously a very talented entertainer. But when it comes to airline operations, it shouldn’t matter who you are when you roll up to an airport counter.

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Here’s the gist of what happened per Sheryl’s video, which she posted on her Twitter account and which you can watch below: “This just happened: I went to the airline — you know, the one I’m a three million miler on — to check my bags and I was four minutes late because they need 45 minutes to check you in. And the woman said there is absolutely nothing we can do for you. I was like, um, it was only four minutes and I’ve checked in on flights later than this.”

According to Sheryl, the Delta agent said: “Oh absolutely not.”

Sheryl ended her video with: “I was just saying that in these days and times, just be kinder, just be nicer because you just never ever know. Anyway, I just bought my ticket on American Airlines and we’ll be flying now. Thank you, God bless you and be well.”

When I Googled Sheryl’s name to see who she was, a Madame Noire article popped up with the headline: “Was Sheryl Lee Ralph Being Nice-Nasty To A Delta Employee?” I’ve never heard the phrase ‘nice-nasty’ but I think it’s spot on to describe Sheryl’s video. 

Sheryl’s a three million flyer on Delta and she arrived only four minutes past the 45-minute cutoff to check a bag. Sheryl says she’s checked in for flights later than this but she didn’t say if it was the same airport.

As most travelers know, airports and airline agents aren’t created equally. Large airports, which appears to be where Sheryl was, given the high ceiling behind her, take a lot more time for a bag to make its way to the plane than a small airport in, say, Erie, Pennsylvania. When I used to fly out of ERI, I could roll up 30 minutes before my flight.

Also with a small airport, frequent travelers can easily create personal relationships with the agents but at a mega airport, it’s almost impossible. Not only that, some agents are new and don’t want to bend the rules. Or they’re just having a bad day and don’t want to go the extra mile. You would think a three million mile flyer would make an agent do everything they can and if they couldn’t at least be kind about it, try to defuse the situation. I wasn’t there so I don’t know. Maybe Sheryl threw some serious attitude or should I say, maybe she was being nice-nasty to the agent and the agent wasn’t having any of it.

Here’s what travelers can learn from Sheryl’s situation:

1. Respect airline rules/cutoffs
Airlines have cutoff times for a reason. Logistically, it’s obviously not easy to get a flight with hundreds of people and bags off on time unless you make sure everyone and their bags are planeside well before departure. Heck, I have a difficult time getting my two kids to school on time and we leave about 45 minutes prior to their school gates closing.

2. Always show up early
These days, planes are going out almost 100% full so if you miss your flight, you might be stuck for a while. Depending on the destination and time of year, it could be days so it’s better to be an extra hour early than be stuck for days.

3. Always be extra nice to agents
Again, I don’t know if Sheryl was being nice-nasty or not but if her frustration came across as attitude, an agent will never bend the rules. I remember once, my wife and I arrived to our gate in the Frankfurt Airport just as the jet bridge door closed. We were late because our flight from Porto, Portugal was a couple of hours late thanks to an air traffic controllers strike in France (what else is new?). We were flying to Doha on Qatar Airways on their brand new A350 plane.

The agent said we had just missed the flight and we would have to take the next one later in the day. I was so bummed but did I give the agent a difficult time? Absolutely not. And when I caught my breath from running through FRA, I quickly and kindly explained the situation and told her how excited I was to be going on the A350 and the next thing you know, she made a phone call and the door opened. A smile and kindness goes a long way. A box of chocolates doesn’t hurt either. 

Having elite status and being famous might help open doors but being genuinely kind, or as I like to call it, nice-nice, goes further.


17 Comments On "What Travelers Can Learn From Emmy Award Winning Actress' Delta Air Lines Encounter"
  1. David R. Miller|

    As usual, her twitter post leaves a lot of information out. Why was she late? She knew Delta’s guidelines about check-in – she was late checking in. She stated that she has gotten away with doing the same in the past. She has no one to blame but herself.

  2. Lopez Dragon|

    I work at an airline and even me traveling in the airlines that I have work for when I’m a few minutes late a have been left behind. Airlines are allow to over sold a flight and there’s always people for a flight that paid and that don’t have a seat. A few minutes before departure the gate agent make every effort to locate the passenger that do have seats assigned and when they don’t showed up they are nock out of their flight and their seat are given to people on the standby list. International flight won’t even pri t you out a boarding pass if it’s less than one hour to departure. And yes a have also made it in less time than that, but it’s not every gate agent that can reopen a flight in the system, the gate agent must have some kind of status and spacial acces to do so. Once in Toronto I was on the standby list and was the very last person when the original passenger showed up and the gate agent told me just go to the plane. As they close the door behind me I heard the customer saying that why they gave me her seatand they told her that the system kicks you out and your seat it’s reassigned to the next person in the list and at this point it would be a delay because it would take too long to do all of that.

  3. Louise|

    She is way way too entitled

  4. Robert Masterson|

    Love you mentioned ERIE

  5. Vic|

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. I’m a frequent flyer with Delta and I can only tell you that when it comes time to flying and particularly the day you fly out, the agent(s) can make or break your day. I’ve approached my privileged status from both aggressive to non aggressive. The slower, kinder approach most always serves me well. Weather an upgrade or additional charges.

  6. Tony|

    Also, a lot has to do with what TSA requires. I was told in large airports TSA requires 40 minutes or more on clearing bags. Yes, TSA clears the bags. By the time she would have been checked in it would have been too late per TSA requirements. Sorry Sheryl

  7. Meg|

    She’s an awesome actress! Fyi

  8. FaithW|

    I am a frequent traveler on Delta and I have to say those gate agents can be something else. I travel to LAX often and sometimes my flights are early. I have had check-in representatives tell me I shouldn’t be in the Sky Priority line when I absolutely should be and ask questions like, “are you flying First class?” I had one woman actually motion to the person behind so she could assist them without even confirming whether or not I am in the “right” line. I have had to stand my ground on numerous occasions. On my most recent flight, two days ago, the person at the Priority counter was busy with another traveler and there were 2 Agents not attending to anyone. I gave them an opportunity to offer to assist me but when they did not, I approached them and asked if they would. One of the Agents acknowledged me and rudely motioned to me to go to her station. She was busy watching an animal video with her colleague and felt it was more important to explain and show her the funny bit in the video before attending to me. I don’t see anything nice nasty in Sheryl’s video. She was merely stating what happened to her. When did it become the customer’s duty to bend over backwards to the Representative? I just want someone to help me make sense of it all!

  9. Tori|

    I recently watched AA close the door on a lady standing 4 ft away from the jetbridge who needed to board but was struggling to zip up her suitcase. If you’d pushed her, she would’ve tripped through the doorway, kind of close. So, yeah, these airlines will all leave you.
    Several years ago, I was on time to the airport but there was no one at the counter to check me in. By the time they showed up, it was too late for me to board. Plus, it was my birthday. This particular airline (I don’t think it’s around anymore) only had one flight a day between these regional destinations, and I pooooor & wasn’t travel savvy so I had to head back home and return the next day. Really put a wrench in my birthday vacation plans. That one incident alone has made me so paranoid that I show up a good 2-3hrs early to the airport and end up just sitting around for 2hrs.

    I’ve been watching SLR my entire life and I believe she was nice-nasty for the gram but 100% doubt she had any kind of attitude with the person behind the counter. If anything, she was offended. I do agree there is a bit of entitlement but that’s also on Delta. When you make allowanced as much as it seems she’s been allowed, it becomes the rule and not the exception for certain individuals. Once you’ve hit 3 million miles with one company, you also tend to get overconfident with time management (or lack thereof) and what they’ll allow. So, I don’t blame her for having that mindset but I wouldn’t have posted the vid.

    This is great advice for the rest of us mere mortals.


    Nice shout out to Erie. Too bad Delta pulled out and there are very limited flights. I now drive to Cleveland or Buffalo to have more flight options and to travel wirh my status since it is so important with the flight issues this year.

  11. Cathy Ann Manci|

    Why is it so hard to be on time??? Small airports check in passenger AND do everything ground handlers do, that’s why the counter closes 30.minutes prior. It isnt as easy as walking in and walking on the aircraft, you still need to go through security! Why should everyone else on that aircraft be delayed cuz you couldn’t get to the airport on time. Be responsible and get there on time!!!

  12. Robin james|

    I agree take some responsiblity and get to the airport early.
    Take responsibilty for your own actions.

  13. Angie|

    I work for the airline and it has nothing to do with counter or the gate agents with anyone’s flights. The computer has a timer set from the second they open the counter til the last second what we call cut off. If you are past cut off they literally can do nothing for you the system shuts off. So Sheryl news flash world doesn’t revolve around your over privileged ass! Show up to your flight on time and you wouldn’t have had an issue! Blaming them is sad and pathetic! I’ve read a lot of comments and some are right the nicer and more understanding the more we go out of our way to help you! We want everyone to make their flights trust me! So moral be kind and on time?

  14. Dennis Whiteside|

    3 million miler and you would’nt put her on…I estimate that a Sheryl has spent 80-90k a year to fly on that airline. I would have made a couple of calls.

  15. Steve S|

    The agents have no control. The computer system is set up so when the 45 minute (or whatever time is set for that particular airport) is reached, the computer does not allow an agent to check a bag. It just can’t be done. Even a Lead agent does not have the authority to override the computer system.

  16. T. Ortiz|

    Really? If it was Julia Robert’s or Meryl Streep excuses for their lateness would automatically be made in these comments! But it’s the incomparable Sheryl Lee Ralph. Things happen in life so why wouldn’t you want to keep a frequent flyer giving you their money, time & business. Ppl commenting have been late to anywhere before, how’s this difficult to understand?

  17. Trolly Dolly|

    It’s not about “you”, it’s about the airline’s schedule since they’ve oversold the flight (because of folks like you who show up late). They’re trying to accommodate stand-bys (passengers who won’t be charged unless they actually board a flight). It’s about accommodating other stand-bys who bought tickets on a cheaper flight but actually want this one. It’s about accommodating their own employees who haven’t given up on flying for free, on stand-by. Those are a lot of people to fit in the limited window of opportunity before pushback. Thank you for your continued patronage on Delta, next time show up on time.

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