The strange case of a vanishing Delta Air Lines flight crew

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.”

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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.

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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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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.

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