Delta’s spontaneous goodwill gesture is a welcome act of kindness

James Hager and his wife are looking forward to a relaxing trip to Arizona after she finishes her treatment for a brain tumor. Unfortunately, before they can leave, they receive the troubling news that she needs further treatment. Can Delta provide some relief?

Question: My wife was to have radiation on a tumor in her brain. This is a procedure she has had before and at that time was released for travel the next day.

Anticipating the same release time frame, we purchased two tickets to Tucson on Delta Air Lines and also purchased travel insurance — just in case.

When my wife was examined during the procedure, the MRI showed that the tumor had grown significantly since the last MRI; so much so that the procedure was considered too dangerous to do. Instead, my wife was immediately rescheduled for whole-brain radiation, a 10-day procedure — starting on the day we were to travel to Tucson. We could not have known that the tumor’s startling growth would change the treatment from a two-hour procedure to a 10-day one.

Because of our inability to fly, we requested reimbursement for our tickets from Delta who rejected our request. Allianz rejected the claim stating that my wife had a pre-existing condition.

To me, that is like saying we can’t honor your contract even though you were hospitalized for double pneumonia because you had a cold when you bought the tickets. Is there anything that you can do for us? James Hager, Monroe, Wash.

Answer: First, I am very sorry to hear of your wife’s illness. But, I am not sure that others would agree with your analogy. Your wife’s condition was a pre-existing condition that, unfortunately, worsened. And the stance that Allianz took was predictable.

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Although Allianz does offer policies to insure travelers with pre-existing illnesses, there are conditions that must be met.

On its website, Allianz details how pre-existing conditions are handled. It appears that you could have purchased a policy that would have covered your wife as long as she had a physician certification to say that on the day that you purchased this policy, she was approved for travel.

Unfortunately, It appears that you did not purchase a policy that covered the pre-existing medical condition of your wife.

In this particular situation, it may have been prudent to purchase refundable tickets instead of the trip insurance policy. The terms of these tickets are quite flexible and would have allowed for a full refund when your plans abruptly changed.

Of course, refundable tickets come with a much higher price tag than their nonrefundable counterparts.

Checking the exact routing on your ticket, the current lowest non-refundable, round-trip rate is $321. However, if I add the refundable criteria to that same reservation, the fare jumps to $951. The nearly three-fold increase illustrates why most travelers choose the non-refundable rates and hope for the best.

These nonrefundable rates suit most travelers’ needs, and they are able to complete their trips with this low-cost option without incident. But your situation was more complicated and this risk didn’t pay off.

The good news is that we have consistently seen that airlines are typically amenable to waiving change fees and allowing these types of tickets to be used within one year of purchase if there is an extenuating circumstance. And I believed that your situation would qualify.

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So I approached Delta and explained your predicament and your hope to be able to travel with your wife sometime soon.

I was pleasantly surprised that our contact at Delta asked me if you would prefer a refund of your tickets.

Of course, you did. In fact, you had previously asked both Delta and your insurance company to refund your tickets. Our contact at Delta only requested proof of your wife’s condition and inability to travel at this time, something you swiftly provided.

You have now been refunded for the tickets. This should give your wife plenty of time to recover from her procedure — without worrying about rebooking these flights before the credit expires.

I wish your wife a speedy recovery, and I hope that you are able to enjoy your much-anticipated vacation to Arizona sometime in the near future.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Congrats to Delta, particularly given that the OP purchased traveler’s insurance (even if that failed). On a case-by-case basis, this sort of humanized and appropriate treatment of customers really is customer service.

  • Alan Gore

    Kudos to Delta for showing some compassion, but we may not necessarily always expect that these days. Rather than paying a fortune for refundable tickets for a trip that might be delayed by medical needs, book Southwest. You can change penalty-free if needed.

  • jsn55

    Another great job, Michelle. To those of us without life-threatening tumors, it seems obvious that you’d book the trip AFTER the treatment. But I don’t think anyone can understand how wonderful it is to have something like a lovely trip to look forward to … as you endure the treatment and your spouse endures the waiting and worry. SO GLAD you got this taken care of for them. The Hagars deserve all the compassion available as they walk this awful path.

  • jdsonice

    Great work Delta.

    On the flip side things are so bad that when an airline does something that it should do as a normal business practice we all stand up and clap. For one of these stories there are a 100 that end badly.

  • Bobby Dale

    Delta customer service bottomed out in late 2011 and early 2012, it seems they made a genuine commitment to people as individuals, I have had great service with them since late 2012 ( I buy Comfort+ so that may have some bearing)
    This may also have to do with the arrival of Southwest in Atlanta and New York, plus JetBlue’s viability.

  • Karen Donner

    Delta was amazing when we were struggling with travel for my mother. We had non-refundable tickets and NO travel insurance on a cross-country trip, and while we were on the trip Mom fell and broke a bone, necessitating emergency surgery.

    When we called, we expected them to basically say “Too bad so sad.” Instead they converted mom’s return ticket to a voucher and did the same for my sister who was staying in our destination to take care of her. We scheduled the return trip after mom had recovered enough to travel – and then she came down with pneumonia! We thought surely we were SOL at that point – but nope, Delta changed the tickets again. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe they never even charged us the change fee, just asked for the difference in fares, which for my sister amounted to a whopping $10 and was only a little bit more (about $50) for mom.

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