Waaaa! Baby gets socked with surprise $320 fuel surcharge on Delta flight

Oh, baby! Your domestic flights are free as long as you sit on a parent’s lap. But travel internationally, and Daddy must pay. Factor in the recent fuel surcharges, and taking junior on vacation can be prohibitively expensive.

And now that oil prices have fallen off a cliff? Flying families are still getting socked with ridiculous fuel surcharges. Yes, even now.

(This chart pretty much says it all. Any travel company with a fuel surcharge is engaging in illegal profiteering.)

Here’s what happened to Brian Burns when he flew to Athens with his family on Delta Air Lines recently. The outbound flight was uneventful. But on the return …

The agent asked for our ticket for our son. I will not go into all of the details, but an hour later (and 35 minutes to flight departure), we were forced to pay 332 euros ($423.10) to get my son a ticket so he could return back to the states.

Words cannot describe my outrage at the time, especially the justification of the fees ($320 fuel surcharge – $160 each way??!!). How can they legally charge that much when our ten pound infant does not even have a seat?

Here’s how Delta responded.

Dear Mr. Burns,

Thank you for your e-mail describing your recent experience with Delta. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your taking the time to share the details.

We realize you expect to receive accurate information when you call us. Our Reservations Sales representatives are carefully trained in all our procedures, including providing a positive experience for our valued customers. Sometimes mistakes or misunderstandings occur, and we’re sorry there was a problem.

All passengers must be ticketed on transoceanic flights, including infants without a seat. Infants not occupying a seat on international flights are required to be ticketed at 10% of the applicable base adult fare (plus taxes and surcharges). The total fare collected is based on a combination of the applicable infant and applicable in-seat fare along with applicable taxes and surcharges. This policy is used throughout the airline industry and we regret any misunderstanding.

We value the relationship you have with Delta Air Lines and would be delighted to have another chance to restore your trust and confidence in our service.

Ah, don’t you just love those form letters? This one didn’t even address his question about fuel surcharges. Burns wasn’t charged an infant fare by the Delta agent; he says the extra fee was described to him as a fuel surcharge, not an infant fare. In fact, he had notified the airline of his infant and paid the required fare before leaving for Athens.

Related story:   Has the travel industry stopped listening to its customers?

Think Burns will give Delta a chance to restore his trust? You don’t need me to answer.

Here’s the real issue: With fuel prices down, Delta shouldn’t be forcing infants to pay a $320 fuel surcharge. In fact, it shouldn’t be charging an infant 10 percent of any fare. If lap children fly free in the United States, they should fly free internationally.

This incident raises the question of how much fuel a 10-pound infant accounts for on a flight. If you said $320, you must work for the Air Transport Association.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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