Bitten by bugs on my Delta Air Lines flight to New York

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Christopher Elliott

Patricia Sweeney says she suffered multiple insect bites on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to New York. “The bites were most likely bed bugs or fleas,” she says. “I had a severe reaction to them and developed an infection.”

But that wasn’t the worst part. Sweeney, who later that day made a connection to another Delta flight to Shannon, Ireland, notified her flight crew about the bites. She says they gave her three choices:

• Leave the flight immediately.

• Get off the plane, seek medical attention, and fly later.

• Give up my the economy comfort class seat and sit in the rear of the plane.

It isn’t immediately clear why the airline wanted her to surrender her premium seat. Maybe the crewmembers were afraid that she had brought the bugs on board with her. (If that’s true, then why would it be OK to unleash a swarm of bedbugs on economy class passengers, and not the rest of the Delta flight?) She allowed herself to be downgraded and flew to Ireland.

Now Sweeney wants answers.

“If you looked at my entire flight itinerary, you will have noticed that I had been in and on Delta’s terminals and planes for the previous 10-plus hours,” she says.

Her first email to Delta Air Lines resulted in a boilerplate response and the offer of a $200 voucher.

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

“Please allow me to express my sincerest apologies regarding the lack of interest the Delta Supervisor showed when you sought assistance,” it said. “In addition, I would also like to apologize for the numerous bites and discomfort you experienced during your Delta flight.”

Sweeney wrote back, saying a $200 voucher was unacceptable. She wanted a full refund for her Delta flight, or at the very least, a refund of the upgrade.

Delta Air Lines wrote back, agreeing to refund her upgrade. But it declined to offer more compensation.

Sweeney appealed that decision. She claims the airline’s flight crew was negligent in handling her problem and rather than trying to following proper procedures (filing an incident report, fumigating the plane she’d arrived on) tried to unload her.

For dramatic effect, she also described her current medical condition. “I am still suffering with the bites as they are now oozing and very uncomfortable,” she wrote.

That prompted the following letter from United States Aviation Underwriters, Delta’s insurance company.

We understand you reported you experienced a rash on your lower body which you believe was caused by insect bites from the plane. We reviewed the pictures and it is apparent that there is some type of skin irritation. However, as of this date, we have not received any reports from other passengers making the same allegations.

If perchance the aircraft was infected, it would not be limited to one seat. In addition the Board of Health would be alerted and the aircraft fumigated.

As I said, as of this date we have not received complaints of insect bites from other passengers traveling on the same flights as you.

Although we sincerely regret that you associate your discomfort with your flight on Delta, it is unclear as to exactly where, how and what you were subjected to, to cause this reaction. Even though we do not view this as a case of liability against our insured, we are prepared to make a goodwill offer of $500 to help defray your medical expenses.

Again, this is strictly a gesture of goodwill and should in no way be misconstrued as an admission of any liability.

Sweeney wants to know if Delta is offering her enough compensation.

I’m troubled that it took the airline several exchanges to take her complaint seriously. I mean, the $200 voucher was a lowball offer. Not refunding the upgrade on her second Delta flight? Come on, guys. But the last response from the insurance company was at least something.

Was it enough? I don’t know if we’ll ever know if her plane was infested by fleas or bedbugs. I have no doubt that her bites are real. I’m not sure if Delta Air Lines can do any more for her, though. Or if it should.

(Photo: Soul Rider .222/Flickr)

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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 three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and 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. He is based in Tokyo.

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