Her Delta flight crew didn’t show up for work. Is she entitled to anything?

Deborah Glotzer showed up for her recent Delta Air Lines flight from Boston to Seattle. Her flight crew didn’t.

“We were informed by the gate crew that the reason for the cancellation was that the flight crew did not report for the flight,” she says. “They were not reachable through any method of contact.”

It’s definitely one of the stranger reasons we’ve heard for a flight cancellation. And it makes me wonder if dereliction of duty is a reason for upping a passenger’s compensation. Or offering any compensation at all.

Glotzer says after some delay, Delta reached the first officer, but not the pilot. No replacement flight crew could be assigned.

“After several more delays, the flight was canceled,” she says. “I consider these circumstances a dereliction of duty, and thus Delta’s responsibilities toward booked passengers differ from those in which flights are canceled due to issues related to weather or mechanical difficulty.”

Is she right?

In the explanation of airline passenger rights on its website, the Department of Transportation notes, “Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

Even when the crew doesn’t show up.

Delta’s contract of carriage, which you agree to when you buy a ticket from the airline, spells it out:

Delta will exercise reasonable efforts to carry passengers and their baggage according to Delta’s published schedules and the schedule reflected on the passenger’s ticket, but published schedules, flight times, aircraft type, seat assignments, and similar details reflected in the ticket or Delta’s published schedules are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Delta may substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, delay or cancel flights, change seat assignments, and alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket at any time. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Except as stated in this rule, Delta will have no liability for making connections, failing to operate any flight according to schedule, changing the schedule for any flight, changing seat assignments or aircraft types, or revising the routings by which Delta carries the passenger from the ticketed origin to destination.

In the event of flight cancellation, diversion, delays of greater than 90 minutes, or delays that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger’s request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment in accordance with Rule 260 of these conditions of carriage. If the passenger does not request a refund and cancellation of the ticket, 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.

Here’s how the legalese above applies to Glotzer. Delta offered to put her on the “Delta’s next flight on which seats are available in the class of service originally purchased.”

But that reservation wouldn’t get her and her husband to Seattle until the next day. And they’d miss a planned meet-up with family members. So they declined. The situation was made even more difficult by communication problems as Glotzer tells it.

“I informed Delta via email of this decline,” she says. “I was unable to notify them via telephone due to the estimated call back times posted on the Delta recorded message when I attempted to call, as we would be in transit and without telephone service.”

Then they made arrangements to fly other airlines that would get them to Seattle sooner.

Through the help of our travel agent, we were able to rebook on a combination of United and Alaska flights via San Francisco that allowed us to arrive in Seattle approximately eight hours later than the original plans, and though not ideal, allowed us to coordinate with the family member. The costs for this revised itinerary totaled $3,308 (flights $1,294 X 2, baggage fees $110 X 2, travel agent fees $70 X 2).

I can’t help but wonder why a travel agent (who’s charging them $70 each to rebook their flight) didn’t have a way to reach Delta’s customer service more quickly and try to sweet-talk them into honoring the part of the contract of carriage that says: “At Delta’s sole discretion and if acceptable to the passenger, Delta may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier…” Admittedly, though, it’s a tough ask when the original tickets were secured with frequent flyer points.

But that didn’t happen. And now she’d like the airline to reimburse her for her additional costs. Which, as noted above, it has no legal obligation to do.

Delta did reimburse the frequent flyer miles she used to buy the original tickets, give her an additional 20,000 miles, refund their baggage fees and give her about $500 in vouchers. But if, indeed, the story of the vanishing flight crew is true, should Delta have done more as a goodwill gesture?

Should Delta have offered Glotzer more compensation?

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Editors note: This week we’re looking back at some of our best stories of 2017. This one was a reader favorite, and something tells me we’ll have more cases like this in 2018.

Dale Irvin

Dale Irvin is a semi-retired writer and editor, now living in south Florida after three years roaming around North America in an RV. You can read about those adventures at fabulousfifthwheel.com.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    A full refund, more miles, and $500 in funny money isn’t bad for a one day delay. Not quite what the European rule would provide, but not bad.

  • Bill___A

    “Editors note: This week we’re looking back at some of our best stories of 2017. This one was a reader favorite, and something tells me we’ll have more cases like this in 2018.” -so we are getting reruns??? I guess it is the end of the regular Elliott “season”

  • Michelle Friedman

    No, @Bill___A:disqus, we have plenty of new articles coming your way. But for the next 2 weeks, the 11am article will be a Best-of-2017 story.

  • Bill___A

    Thank you for the clarification. Not too excited to be watching the re-run ones, I must say.

  • Michelle Couch-Friedman

    You never know…there might be a story you missed this year :)

  • BubbaJoe123

    Might want to move that editor’s note to the top, or include “Best of 2017” in the headline…

  • fairmont1955

    You don’t have to read them, and for people like me, it’s something to look forward to!

  • Xraj

    Why would you think that a travel agent has a magic number to contact any airline, when there are back logs on the whole system? Why would you suggest that sweet talking an airlines works? The airline agent are already over worked under the delayed situations, and if they could do something, wouldn’t they do it for all the customer? I am not understanding the logic here?

  • SierraRose 49

    Here’s something I learned while stranded in Fort Lauderdale trying to fly back to PHX on SW. Another passenger suggested asking the ticket agent that since our flight was cancelled were there any other SW flights going WEST. Perhaps he could put us on a SW flight going to Dallas, Denver, somewhere West and possibly from that point, he could get us on a SW flight to PHX. The agent got us on a flight to Austin. It landed at 1AM. We spent the night in the airport (nice airport, by the way, quiet and clean) and we caught the 6AM flight to PHX. We landed 8 hours behind our original schedule. We were happy!

  • David Bernath

    A couple of years ago, my wife and I were scheduled on a Delta flight to Tampa from RDU for a special Dance cruise. There were several other couples that were part of our group scheduled on the same flight. It was a direct flight that was supposed to get us there by 10AM so that we could board the ship late that afternoon. However, the LIGHT in the one restroom was out. Because the light was out, the flight was initially delayed. After 2 hours of waiting for someone to check it, the pilot made the decision to cancel the flight, and Delta told us they would fly us the next day. We tried other airlines, but no one could get us there in time for the cruise.
    I sent multiple letters to Delta, eventually searching online for the email addresses for executives. I did end up getting some very nice letters of apology, 25000 miles added to my Frequent flier account (and my wife’s), and a nice gift basket, but it obviously did not make up for losing out on a week long cruise that cost several thousand dollars, nor for the months of dance practice preparing for the cruise.
    As an engineer, I understand the logic, for while it was just a light on the surface, it could have been a sign of a larger electrical issue that without investigation, was a safety issue. My problem was that when the first hint of problems occurred, we talked with the agents at the desk and they kept assuring us that it would only be a short delay. And even when we begged for them to move us, they basically would not help until they officially cancelled the flight, and by then it was too late. The sad part was that couples that took a much later flight all made it there on time, but those of us that opted to take the earliest flight to give ourselves extra time did not.

  • Lindabator

    actually – we DO have special numbers not available to the public- but when ff tix are booked, the airlines are not going to pay to put you on another carrier, so should always pad your time – or settle for the next flight with space available

  • jsn55

    I agree … haven’t we been here before over the years? If it’s a rerun, just state so at the BEGINNING. This is not rocket science, only good care of your audience.

  • jsn55

    There are all kinds of ‘levels’ of customer service. “Whole system backlog” only refers to the ‘public system’. Elite flyers and travel agencies have access to far better CS than the masses, including overt problem solving. And ‘sweet-talking’ is a very viable term when it comes to dealing with an airline. So often asking nicely will get you a good long way. Fortunately, most people are so busy screaming and demanding that those of us who are ‘nice’ are able to get some decent CS quite often.

  • bayareascott

    Article didn’t say the entire flight crew. It was clear they couldn’t find a captain…one person. And an “entire flight crew” isn’t 10 people on a domestic flight.

  • bayareascott

    Flying to get to a cruise leaving the same day is always risky. Literally anything can delay a flight. If you are flying to a cruise, go a day early so something like this isn’t a dealbreaker. Make it part of your vacation.

  • bayareascott

    Again, you are reading this incorrectly, and you are significantly off on the composition of a flight crew.

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