When Siu-Fun Quan’s aunt and uncle decided to visit her in Minneapolis, they made the long trip over from China without incident. When it was time for them to return home, she wanted to make sure everything went smoothly as well. They do not speak any English, and Quan says that since she’d purchased their tickets from Delta, she spoke with a Delta representative who told her that an interpreter would meet them at the airport and escort them to the gate. The representative also assured her that an interpreter would meet them at their connection points as well. She did not have any of this in writing, but she was surprised when she arrived at the airport and there was no interpreter and the Delta representative told her that they have no such service.
Unfortunately, when her aunt and uncle arrived in Detroit their flight was delayed, then canceled. Quan says the couple was able to find their way to the hotel the airline provided for the night by following other passengers, but went hungry because they had no money and didn’t have the language skills to ask for a meal voucher.
Any of us who have travelled abroad, know how scary it can be to deal with unexpected circumstances in a place where you don’t speak the language. We’re lucky as Americans that English has become the lingua franca in many parts of the world, and it’s hard to find an airport that doesn’t have English-speaking personnel. Sadly, visitors to this country often don’t find the same accommodation in their language.
There are no interpreter services included in any airline’s contract of carriage that I know of — it’s unclear why Quan thought this was available, although it’s a bit surprising that in an airport from which a flight bound for China originates, the Delta staff couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find someone who spoke Chinese. I’ve been to pharmacies that offer a phone translation service for their customers in multiple languages. Seems like this might be an excellent service for the airlines to offer as well.
That said, it would have been prudent for the couple to have at least a Chinese-English phrase book with them. Or better, one of the many translation apps available for smartphones. My favorite is Google Translate, because unlike many of the others, it will work without an internet connection. And while I understand that since they thought they’d soon be boarding a flight out of the U.S., they might not have wanted to have much American currency on hand. But given the uncertainties of airline travel you can’t assume that everything will go as planned, and having a little cash, or a credit card for emergencies would have been prudent.
The couple did finally make it aboard their flight to China the next morning. They were each offered a $175 credit toward a future Delta flight as compensation for the delay. But given how traumatic this experience was, they are unlikely to visit the U.S. again. Quan had hoped that the airline might issue the credit to her in cash or as a American Express gift card so that she could take it to the couple on her next visit to China. Again, this is not something that the airline is likely to do. She could try pleading her case using the Delta executive contacts on our website. But otherwise there isn’t much we can do to help, and must file this under Case Dismissed.