Will Viking cover her airfare cost after a surprise portable oxygen problem?

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Christopher Elliott

The end of Bill and Donna Baxter’s Viking river cruise on the Danube took their breath away — but not in the way they had hoped. They ran into big problems with Bill’s portable oxygen concentrator in Prague and missed their flight back to the States. 

The disappointing experience cost the couple an extra $3,216 in plane tickets and left them wondering what, if anything, Viking Cruises would do to cover their costs. But the resolution of this case is even more surprising because the Baxters did something that no reader has ever done to me before.

But first things first. Let’s find out if portable oxygen concentrators are allowed on planes. And let’s take a closer look at the Baxters’ problem and how Viking Cruises wanted to fix it. 

A problem with a portable oxygen concentrator

The Baxters booked their entire cruise, including airfare, through Viking. They needed to bring a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) on their river cruise, so she alerted the cruise line to her special need.

“Viking asked us to get physician-signed approvals for the POC for each airline which we did,” she says.

Their outbound flight to Amsterdam on United Airlines was incident-free, and the Baxters enjoyed their river cruise. Then they took an optional extension to Prague, where they marveled at the breathtaking architecture — the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. 

The Baxters certainly didn’t expect to have their breath taken away in a bad way. But when the couple arrived at the airport for their flight home, that’s exactly what happened.

“On our return flight, KLM denied us boarding,” she says. “An airline representative told us we needed 48-hour notice to the airline regarding the use of the POC.”

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She says Viking never told her about the requirement or asked her to speak directly to the airline. She and her husband handled everything through the cruise line.

So there they were at the end of their river cruise, stranded.

Will Viking Cruises help after they were denied boarding?

So what did Viking do to help their customers? Nothing, according to the Baxters

“Viking refused to book us another flight home at their expense, saying it was our fault we missed the original flight and saying we would have to pay for air tickets home ourselves,” she says.

And that’s what they did. Bill and Donna Baxter paid $3,216 to get back to Chicago. But they were confident that Viking would refund the money once they explained the problem. After all, hadn’t they done everything by the book?

“After we submitted our complaint in writing, we spoke to a customer relations specialist who told us it was our fault that we missed the flight,” she says. 

Viking promised to send them some travel vouchers but said they would not be for $3,216.

“The representative told us to check with our credit card for travel and emergency assistance services coverage,” she added. 

Baxter did, but there was no coverage on their card for missing a flight.

Were the Baxters out of luck?

Can I bring a portable oxygen concentrator on a plane?

A portable oxygen concentrator is a medical device that delivers supplemental oxygen. It’s used by people with COPD, emphysema, sleep apnea and other breathing problems. Most POCs are about the size of a small carry-on bag.

But can you bring a portable oxygen concentrator on a plane? There are two parts to that answer.

In the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration will allow you through security with a POC. According to the agency, certain portable oxygen concentrators are permitted onboard, including Inogen One, Sequal Eclipse, and Airsep Lifestyle. Here’s a full list.

The most important thing is the label. Your POC will need one of these:

Photo Via Caire Inc.

The second – and equally important – question is, will my airline allow a portable oxygen concentrator onboard?

The answer is yes. 

And you do not need to ask for permission. In 2008, the Department of Transportation made that clear in a rulemaking and then reiterated it in 2016. It said U.S. airlines are required to permit an individual with a disability “to use an approved POC, a ventilator, a respirator, or a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP machine) on all flights.”

The exception? If the device does not meet applicable FAA requirements for medical portable electronic devices and does not display a manufacturer’s label that indicates the device meets those FAA requirements, you may be denied.

So bottom line: If you have a label, you’re good to fly in the U.S. But what about abroad?

Can I use a portable oxygen concentrator when flying abroad?

Here’s where things get a little tricky. Other countries don’t have the same rules as the U.S. KLM, the airline on which the Baxters were flying home, allowed portable oxygen concentrators but required advance notice, according to its site.

The Baxters or Viking would have quickly determined this by doing a simple online search.

But whose responsibility was this? Should the Baxters have done their homework instead of trusting Viking Cruises? Or should Viking have known, given its extensive experience with transporting passengers with special needs to and from its cruises? 

Neither party is blameless. If you’re traveling with a disability, you have to do your homework for every flight, hotel stay and car rental. The Baxters handed everything over to Viking, assuming it would take care of the issue. 

At the same time, Viking could have done much better. It took the couple’s money and asked for documentation, leading them to believe all was well. 

Who should pay for the new airline tickets?

While both sides bear some responsibility for this mess, Viking had no business leaving the Baxters to fend for themselves. 

The passengers reached out to Viking after KLM showed them the door. Donna Baxter told me the cruise line tried to rebook them but insisted that the KLM snub wasn’t Viking’s fault. 

After the Baxters were denied boarding, Viking proposed a LOT Polish Airlines flight back to the States via Warsaw, but the Baxters feared it would take them too close to the war in Ukraine. Finally, they agreed on another KLM flight. 

The Baxters spoke with a representative at KLM’s disability desk and received the necessary approval to bring their portable oxygen concentrator. It turns out it was a simple process that involved them giving a representative their POC’s make and model number.

But Viking refused to pay for the new flights.

“Viking told us it was our fault, and we would have to pay for our own flights home,” she says. “We respectfully disagreed and stated we felt it was Viking’s responsibility to get us back to the U.S.”

What does Viking Cruises have to say about this?

Viking Cruises does not like consumer advocates who get between them and their passengers. I’ve come to this conclusion because travelers have been sending me a steady stream of Viking cases this summer, and the cruise line won’t acknowledge any of them directly (at least to me). But I know it is receiving the cases because from time to time, a reader says my contact made a difference and led to a resolution.

You can also contact Viking directly through the executive contacts I publish on this site.

When I asked Viking Cruises to review the Baxters’ case, it responded directly to them, offering the customers a $200 voucher for their trouble.

The Baxters rejected the offer. They wanted a voucher for $3,216 — and not a penny less.

Meanwhile, no comment from Viking Cruises.

I recommended that Donna Baxter continue to negotiate with the company. And a few weeks later, Bill Baxter sent me an update:

Baxter: We had another conversation with Viking and have reached an amicable resolution. We want to sincerely thank you for helping us with our case.

Me: Hi William, thanks for letting me know. May I ask how this was resolved?

Baxter: Amicably resolved…we have signed a settlement agreement.

Me: I’m so glad this was amicably resolved, but I really need to know what Viking did in order to close your case. Did they refund your cruise fare, as you had requested?

And that was the last I heard from the Baxters.

What happened? 

Viking had agreed to the Baxters’ demands — on the condition that they sign a settlement agreement. And the agreement required that the Baxters not reveal the details of the settlement. It was a clumsy attempt to stop this story from being published.

No one has ever done this

It’s not too hard to guess what the Baxters got from Viking. They were insisting on vouchers for the full value of their tickets.

This is the first time a reader has ghosted me after I helped them. 

Nondisclosure agreements are not helpful when it comes to consumer cases. Viking’s intent is obvious — it wants to stop a story from being written and doesn’t want anyone to set a precedent.

But the Baxters’ case led to some revisions in how we advocate our cases. I updated our frequently asked questions to include one more line:

You helped resolve my case but now the company wants me to sign a nondisclosure agreement. What should I do?

You can sign a nondisclosure agreement. But please let us know about the terms of the settlement before you sign it. Otherwise, it will result in an incomplete story that could reflect poorly on the company.

If Viking wanted to stop stories like this from getting published, it was not successful. My team and I willl continue to advocate for Viking customers, despite the legal hurdles. 

Or maybe because of them.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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