Three parties denied me a flight and compensation — where does the buck stop?

By | September 18th, 2016

Andrew Ong didn’t expect anything to go wrong with the flight he booked for his friend’s wedding. But when it did, he expected the companies involved — WestJet, Delta and Chase Ultimate Rewards — to help him fix it.

None of them did.

All three companies passed the buck, insisting that none of them could help him because they were “not responsible” for his issue. It’s bad enough when one travel company does this to a loyal customer, but three?

That’s infuriating, ridiculous — and unconscionable.

Ong was traveling from Gatwick Airport in London to Seattle via Calgary. The day before his flight was scheduled to depart from Gatwick, Ong received a confirmation email from WestJet, containing hyperlinks that were supposed to allow him to check in for his flight online. When none of the links worked, Ong decided to check in for his flight at the airport.

At Gatwick, Ong checked in, but was given only one boarding pass for the London-to-Calgary leg of his trip. He thought this was simply how WestJet operated and that he would have to get a boarding pass in Calgary for the Calgary-to-Seattle portion of his trip. But as that leg of the flight was on a codeshared Delta flight, Ong was told by a WestJet agent when he arrived in Calgary that WestJet could not print his boarding pass for his flight to Seattle and advised him to go to the Delta kiosk for his boarding pass.

At the Delta kiosk, its agent noted that Ong had purchased a ticket through Chase but his flight was overbooked. Ong did not have a seat and would not be permitted to board the flight, which was the last flight to Seattle that day. He would not arrive in Seattle in time for his friend’s wedding and would have to spend the night in the airport. Delta did not offer Ong any travel vouchers, a hotel voucher, or a meal voucher; nor did it agree to put Ong on the first flight to Seattle the following day. Its agent told him that he would have to contact Chase to book a seat.

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Ong spent an hour on the phone waiting to speak to a supervisor at Chase Ultimate Rewards, who told Ong that the problem was not Chase’s fault but WestJet’s. Ong then returned to the WestJet kiosk, where its personnel shifted the blame to Delta, arguing that the problem was not WestJet’s since the airline does not fly to Seattle. And Delta’s personnel shifted the blame to WestJet and Chase but took no responsibility for it themselves.

Ong tried to speak to a supervisor at Chase again, only to be told that it was not Chase’s responsibility to communicate to him that the flight was oversold, but his own responsibility to check the status of his flight online and that the situation was his own fault.

The supervisor then agreed to give him 5,000 Chase points and booked the next Delta flight to Seattle for him the next day – according to Ong, “as if she were doing me a favor.” Ong thanked her, hung up, slept in the airport, and the next morning went to check in for the Delta flight – only to be told that he still didn’t have a ticket for that flight.

Ong tried speaking to the WestJet and Delta personnel again, and this time the WestJet agent to whom he spoke was sympathetic to his situation. The agent spoke to the Delta agents, who finally got Ong a seat on the flight to Seattle.

Just whose responsibility was it that Ong was prevented from boarding the original flight to Seattle?

WestJet’s confirmation email to Ong should have contained working links so that Ong could have printed boarding passes for all his flights, including his Delta flight. When those links didn’t work, WestJet should have taken responsibility for that error by helping Ong to print a boarding pass.

Delta is responsible for overbooking its flight. Despite it being a common airline practice to overbook flights, it’s terrible customer service, because it leaves passengers stuck with paid-for airline seats that they can’t sit in. Airlines realize that – and their contracts of carriage do generally provide for compensation for passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding. The laws of many countries, including the U.S. and Canada, also protect passengers by requiring cash refunds and other forms of compensation.

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As the Delta flight on which Ong was denied boarding originated in Canada, Delta’s Canadian contract of carriage applies to his situation. It provides that:

Transportation For Passengers Denied Boarding Delta will provide transportation to passengers who volunteer to relinquish their seats or who are denied boarding involuntarily due to the oversale of a flight as follows:

1) Next Available Flight — Delta will transport the passenger on its next flight on which space is available to the passenger’s next stopover, or if none, to the passenger’s destination, at no additional cost to the passenger.

2) Transportation on Other Airlines — Delta Canadian General Rules Tariff Page 55 of 62 — At Delta’s sole discretion, Delta may instead arrange for transportation on any other carrier or combination of carriers to the passenger’s next stopover, or if none, to the passenger’s destination, at no additional cost to the passenger.

3) Overnight Stay Required — If the transportation provided to a passenger pursuant to this section requires that the passenger stay overnight before continuing his/her travel, Delta will provide hotel accommodations to the passenger at no additional cost. If hotel accommodations are unavailable, Delta will compensate the passenger with a credit voucher valid for future purchases from Delta in an amount commensurate in value with the local average contracted hotel rate up to $100 CAD, to be determined by Delta.

Compensation For Involuntary Denied Boarding — When a passenger with a confirmed reservation is involuntarily denied boarding on an oversold flight pursuant to this rule, Delta’s sole liability to the passenger shall be to provide alternative transportation … and to pay denied boarding compensation, if applicable, pursuant to the terms and conditions of this rule.

According to this language, Ong was entitled to be placed either on the next Delta flight to Seattle, or alternatively, either booked on another airline’s flight to Seattle or given hotel accommodations or a credit voucher. Delta did none of these for Ong and disclaimed all responsibility for his situation, passing responsibility to Chase — violating these provisions of its own contract of carriage.

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And Chase’s customer service was atrocious. It kept Ong on hold for hours. Then its agent first blamed Ong for the situation by accusing him of not being proactive and checking out the status of his flight. (It’s not clear to us how Ong is responsible for his flight’s being overbooked — or what he could have done about it while airborne between London and Calgary.)

Then she claimed to have booked him on the next Delta flight to Seattle — and failed to do so. And no, she wasn’t doing him any “favors” by blaming him and not following through on her promises. In fact, it could be argued that she wasn’t doing her job either. Chase needs to retrain its supervisors in how to appropriately handle complaints from customers.

All this back-and-forth between WestJet, Delta and Chase jerked Ong around, instead of helping him get from Calgary to Seattle.

Ong contacted our advocates, requesting some reparations from the three parties for what he went through, particularly from Chase. As Ong notes, 5,000 Chase points “wouldn’t even cover half of a hotel stay.”

After our advocates reached out to all three companies on Ong’s behalf, he heard nothing from Delta. WestJet denied responsibility but offered $150 CAD as a gesture of goodwill, which he accepted. Chase refunded an additional 48,820 points, as well as the previously offered 5,000 points, to Ong’s account.

Which party was responsible for Andrew Ong’s situation?

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  • AAGK

    Delta messed up. I’m not sure he would’ve been able to board even if the link worked as Delta overbooked. Delta owes him for the hotel, IDB comp and any additional costs to get him to Seattle.

  • Bill___A

    I find it very unusual, as someone who has flown for decades, that the airline in Calgary would have not have simply re-booked the flight. It is my understanding that once the ticket is in their system and there’s that kind of situation, they are the ones who are in a position to do it. Chase likely did not know what to do about this.

    One of the takeaways from this column, as I see it, is that we readers are supposed to learn how to avoid these problems ourselves, but when there are pieces of the puzzle missing, it is difficult to know what to do. There are other ways to find out about your flight if the “links don’t work”, such as searching out your flight, confirmation number, name, etc. on the airline’s website. Calling on the phone to find out the PNR number.
    I can’t tell where the train went off the tracks on this one and therefore I have no idea who was to “blame” but we can see that the OP had some sort of indication that something was amiss. Unfortunately, that’s the time to get it sorted.

    When I go to an important event, I go a day early because I know things can happen. In fact, I have an upcoming trip which involves me taking the first leg of one flight and the first leg of another one. I have one day built in there so if I don’t make it I can make it the next day and still be on time.

    There are realities in this day and age, as there have always been, and allowances need to be made for something happening.

    I’m sorry the OP was late, that’s unfortunate.

    As an aside, I was subject to “blame ping pong” involving Delta Airlines in 1996 in Houston. The other airline had a ticket desk right beside them and you’d think they could have just looked to their left and talked to the agent in the other stall (the wall was low enough) to resolve it, but no. I went to the back of the line over and over again. One airline and then the other.. It is now 2016. I have not even considered booking them on the many flights I have taken since then.

  • Rebecca

    It really sucks that EU 261 doesn’t apply here. I looked to see if Canada has any similar provisions, and they do not. However, the OP can file a complaint for not being provided enough compensation. This includes if Delta technically complied with their CoC, but it isn’t reasonable. I would say Delta telling him to pound sand is “unreasonable and unjust”, the standard they use:

    I understand there are several parties involved here, and it may very well be that Delta isn’t ultimately responsible. But he has to start somewhere, and Delta is the airline that overbooked.

  • Jeff W.

    I am torn between Delta and Chase. Although the problem started with WestJet, their systems may not have been able to generate a boarding pass for a flight that was already in an oversold situation. Especially for a flight from another airline.

    Delta should not have oversold the flight and did not execute the correct steps for an involuntary boarding. But he booked through Chase, so Chase should have provided a reservation with a confirmed seat AND since they were acting as the TA, provided more assistance when the travel plans went awry.


    I am really undecided as to who takes the largest share of the blame. Did Chase book this as a through ticket or two different tickets? That makes a difference at check-in. Why did Chase not get his seat assignment in advance or advise him that a)he needed to get the seat assignment himself or b) there were no seats left to assign.
    Westjet should have helped him at Gatwick, at least advising him of what the problem appeared to be and helped him contact Delta from Gatwick.
    And finally Delta. This flight (when I looked on line) is a regional jet operated by Delta Connection who I have found to be less than helpful with customer service issues. The OP should have been given accommodations for the evening and more help than he got.
    While I think DL should have done more to help him I cannot help but wonder if he might have been traveling on two separate tickets to save money or points through Chase. Two separate tickets would explain how this mess got started but will not excuse any of the three–Chase, Westjet or Delta from their customer service failures.

  • Chase means well (I am on the same Visa loyalty program) but it doesn’t have the years of travel wrangling expertise that Amex has. I use my Chase points for Amazon purchases and do all my airline bookings direct.

  • Notice how many of our airline complains involve the Great White North? I would avoid connecting through it if I were not actually going there.

  • sirwired

    On first glance, I’d say “Delta”, (since he was denied boarding) but I have a feeling that WestJet may have flubbed talking with Delta, letting them know he was checked in. If he had a tight connection in Calgary, then he would have missed the check-in deadline.

    But it sounds like pretty much every party involved royally screwed up here. Delta, by accepting bookings from WestJet, should work out paperwork issues on their own time, and should have gotten him on to Seattle. WestJet should have done the check-in correctly. And, of course, Chase should have been in the middle; not pawning him off to the airlines.

    (But on another note, don’t we get a case a month where a traveler tries to save money by connecting through Canada, and it all goes South? (pun intended) Does this EVER work? At least this booking actually made sense; instead of connecting through the Great White North to go from the US to Mexico.)

  • mbods2002

    I’m so confused, I have no idea who is responsible, and there lies the problem. Poor guy, terrible customer service all the way around, as usual.

  • JewelEyed

    Can he seek compensation under the contract of carriage in Canada?

  • Lindabator

    true – and the fact that the link didn’t work tells me Westjet may have never sent over the proper info to Delta in advance – which may be why Delta was “oversold” – they could have rightly assumed they were no-shows, and as you get too close to checkin, might already be gone – usually will seay seat assigned at gate, but to clearly state oversold tells me they were too late to checkin

  • Lindabator

    not simple – we have no idea if Westjet forwarded the confirmation, or showed them as no shows — the fact they did not ticket them trhu leaves me to see this as Westjet’s fault

  • Lindabator

    this was ticketed thru Westjet, so if their connection with Delta was oversold, THEY should have rebooked – so wonder where they dropped the ball?

  • Lindabator

    But if Westjet never checked him thru to Delta, and then he did not have enough time to connect for the Delta flight, he may have been bumped as a no show or too late to check in — frankly, have a lot of clients who travel thru Canada, and no problems (think Westjet may have dropped the ball here)

  • joycexyz

    I’m totally confused! Just who is responsible for this mess? It’s time that codeshare be required to clearly state the ultimate responsibility. As of now, the airlines simply indulge in finger-pointing.

  • cscasi

    I wonder if when he got the hyperlinks to use to check in online and they did not work, had he telephoned to check in, might the Delta flight at that time still had seats on it. People who check in early as possible many times avoid being bumped when flights are oversold. I do not know how many hours passed from when he received the hyperlinks until he checked in at the counter at Gatwick, but those hours could have made the difference.
    Aside from that, he should not have had to go through all the runarounds he went through with Chase and the two airlines. But, when one buys a ticket through someone like Chase and it involves two different airlines, things can become convoluted, Not sure why he couldn’t have gotten a flight from Gatwick or Heathrow to Seattle direct, unless he found a deal with WestJet he couldn’t pass up.
    Someone should have paid for his hotel and meals while he had to wait in Calgary. I believe Delta, since it oversold the flight.
    Sorry he was late to the wedding, but I am glad he finally got there.

  • AAGK

    I agree. I wonder if there was an alternative way to check in directly with Delta. I would’ve maybe tried that but if I was pressed for time with a wedding to catch, I may have just figured I deal with it when I arrive and not anticipated the Overbooking.
    I booked travel once with Chase bc I was semi stranded and it sent me the ticket confirmation after the flight left. Then wouldn’t let me use the funds/points for an alternative ticket until the dispute was resolved. Once home, it took nearly a month to resolve w calls/faxes, etc. so I would be happy to blame them for this too.

  • Annie M

    Is he entitled to EU denial of boarding compensation?

    I don’t know if it is Delta or Westjet problem. If Westjets link worked, he would have been able to check in to his Delta flight and may have not been the one canceled due to the overbooking issue. Many times the first people bumped are those who have not checked in online. So Westjet very well could bear the full responsibility of this, although I think he could have gone on Deltas website and put in the confirmation number and printed his Delta pass for that flight.

  • greg watson

    Unless I am mistaken, Delta would at least owe him compensation for not allowing him a reserved seat because of overbooking. I believe that the Canadian Gov’t recently increased the compensation for this type of situation

  • Hanope

    I think there should have been a choice for A-C (both airlines and Chase, but not Mr. Ong). Frankly, I fail to see how an ordinary consumer is supposed to know what to do sometimes or how to fix things, when the airlines, travel agencies and their employees don’t know either.

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