Delta delayed our flight and the stress almost made my wife miscarry our baby

Darren Johnson and his wife were forced to cut short their trip to St. Thomas in order to return to Salt Lake City to be with their daughter, who needed major surgery. On the way home, Johnson and his wife found themselves stuck in the Atlanta airport during the infamous Delta computer outage of August 2016.

In their quest to find another flight to Salt Lake City, Johnson says his wife, who was 21 weeks pregnant, was forced to run across the Atlanta airport twice. Several days after arriving at their destination her water broke, and she was confined to bedrest.

Seven months later, thankfully, everyone is healthy, the Johnsons have a new baby girl, and now Johnson wants to revisit Delta’s conduct. He thinks it is responsible for his wife’s health issue and wants us to help him recover $25,000 from the airline.

Johnson told us he and his wife were flying back from St. Thomas to be with their daughter when their flight was canceled:

Upon arrival at Atlanta from St. Thomas, we were told that our flight was still going to be taking off at the normal time. Then 15 minutes before the flight boarding time, they delayed our flight a couple hours (taking us deep into the night, 12:00ish).

Johnson said he talked to every gate agent he could find, telling them about his daughter, and one of them finally rebooked the couple on a flight that was leaving from “the other side of the airport.” They were forced to run in order to make the flight, but when they arrived at the gate they learned that it had also been delayed “a few hours.”

Delta eventually announced it couldn’t find a crew for the flight and canceled it, as well. Johnson was told that he and his wife would not be able to fly to their destination until later that evening. So he left his wife on “that side of the airport” and ran back to the original area where their first flight was scheduled to board:

I ran across the airport searching for any flights going across the country to try and get us out of Atlanta and into an airport closer to Salt Lake City. I found a flight that was leaving to Hawaii, and had a layover in Salt Lake, and when I asked them if I could jump on, they told me if I ran and got my wife we could possibly get on. So hours after canceling our morning flight, I ran across the huge Atlanta airport again, grabbed my wife and RAN across the airport to barely make the flight to Salt Lake.

At some point Delta offered Johnson and his wife $200 vouchers for the trouble. A week after he returned home, he called Delta, and it issued his voucher, but not his wife’s.

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Johnson didn’t follow up with Delta because his wife started having problems with her pregnancy:

My wife’s backaches prompted a visit from her healthcare professional who mentioned she needed to rest and not go to work. Soon after, her water broke at 21 weeks. One of the doctors came to us and told us that the chances of survival were so low, that if we wanted to have an abortion he would schedule one. We chose instead to take the chance, and she was put on bed rest for the next four and a half months, stopping her job. Luckily and most importantly, our daughter was born healthy and strong a few months ago.

Seven months later, after all the publicity surrounding the bad behavior of airline and security personnel, Johnson called Delta to try to get resolution on the compensation the airline promised his wife but never issued. Delta offered to issue the original $200 voucher it failed to issue, plus a $200 “prepaid card.”

Johnson didn’t think this offer was sufficient. He could have reached out to the contacts we list on our website for Delta Air Lines, but instead he wrote to us and asked us to help him recover $25,000:

I thought this was ridiculous, especially considering the circumstances of my wife’s monetary losses AND how much they will pay someone for an overbooked flight. I don’t want a huge settlement, but I want something for her that will at least be somewhat reasonable from Delta.

There are several problems with his request. First and foremost, he’s waited seven months to make his claim. I understand that life gets in the way, especially when you have a daughter recovering from surgery and a wife who is bedridden, but a simple call to Delta or an email to the contacts we list likely would have resolved the missing voucher quickly and easily.

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Waiting more than half a year to make the claim and asking for substantially more than the original voucher that the couple accepted — immediately after high-profile cases that are likely paying big settlements — makes his claim appear to be one of the many cases we get from people jumping on the bandwagon of airline payouts. He even references the huge settlements paid to passengers for overbooked flights. Perhaps he heard Delta’s announcement that it has empowered its staff to increase compensation up to $10,000 in order to resolve overbooking issues prior to boarding. But this isn’t an overbooking issue, and we’re not sitting at the airport waiting to board a flight.

Did Delta mishandle this case? Absolutely. Whether the computer outage was the fault of the airline or outside forces isn’t clear, but it definitely failed in resolving the issues created by the outage in a timely manner. But Delta doesn’t actually have to get anyone to their destination on time. A quick look at its contract of carriage shows:

Schedules and operations:
Delta will use its best efforts to carry the passenger and baggage with reasonable dispatch. Times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Delta may without notice substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, and may alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Delta is not responsible or liable for making connections, or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule or any flight.

But Delta does not have free rein to simply choose not to get passengers to their destinations or to delay their arrival indefinitely without consequences. It is required to either cancel and refund the remainder of the ticket, at the request of the passenger, or get them to their destination:

…Delta will transport the passenger to the destination on Delta’s next flight on which seats are available in the class of service originally purchased. At Delta’s sole discretion and if acceptable to the passenger, Delta may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier or via ground transportation.

Johnson could have requested the airline sign over his ticket to another airline or cancel the remainder of his ticket and purchase a ticket on another airline. If the delay had been weather-related this wouldn’t have been possible, but this delay was apparently related to Delta’s computer outage, and other airlines were operating on schedule during that time.

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Johnson also blames Delta for the stress his wife experienced, which he believes resulted in the problems with her pregnancy. Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta offers both medical assistance and guest relations assistance for passengers with disabilities. While I’m certainly not implying that pregnancy is a disability, I do think either of these offices could have assisted the couple. Johnson also could have requested wheelchair assistance for the long trips across the airport.

We are also not a team of lawyers — we are consumer advocates. We’re here to help you resolve issues with companies when they are dishonest, unfair, or disrespectful. But we also ask consumers to abide by a few “rules” as well:

Honesty means customers should never take advantage of a company, even when the business is unethical or avaricious. They have an obligation to educate themselves to the best of their ability before they buy.

Fairness means giving the system a chance before complaining. We believe that by working within the system, responsible consumers can ask for and receive a just and fair resolution to any service problem.

I think Johnson is trying to take advantage of the bad publicity all three legacy carriers have received in recent weeks, and $25,000 isn’t a “just and fair resolution” of this issue. If the couple wants Delta to give them $25,000 for a case that happened last year, they need to contact a Delta executive or an attorney, not a consumer advocate — and they will need much more documentation than Johnson’s assumption that the stress experienced specifically in the airport and at Delta’s hand caused his wife’s medical condition.

Delta should have immediately issued Johnson’s wife’s voucher when it issued his. It is now offering to do so, and is also offering Johnson an additional “$200 gift card” in recognition of the fact that the airline didn’t do what it said it would do, when it said it would do it. Our advocates believe this is fair and Johnson should accept Delta’s offer.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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