Case dismissed: A strange delay dooms a ticket rebooking request

This may be one of the oddest cases I’ve ever been involved in. It’s particularly upsetting because someone, somewhere pushed a wrong button and made the problem impossible to fix.

Here’s what happened: A few days ago, I received the following email from Sherlene Stepp:

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. 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.

I hope you can help me. I was supposed to fly to Ohio on Delta to assist my sick grandmother. I booked the ticket through Priceline.com.

I was getting ready for the trip when I received a call that my brother was in a very bad accident. I rushed to the hospital. My brother died about three hours later.

My brother was a police officer and his partner actually called Delta for me to let them know that I had an emergency and could not fly. They gave him a confirmation number and said when I was ready to rebook to call them.


Airlines often waive their refund rules when someone dies, so Delta did the right thing.

I finished with the funeral and tried to rebook. Now Delta says that Priceline has to rebook the ticket. I called Priceline and they said they needed proof because I should have thought to call Priceline as well as Delta that night.

I told them I was sorry but I was very distraught over the situation. I never thought I needed to call them as well. I faxed them the funeral information, death certificate, even the memorial handout with pictures.

Priceline said “no” — her tickets had expired. She appealed to Priceline executives, but their answer didn’t change. Because she hadn’t notified Priceline, she was out of luck.

I was not asking for money back. I just wanted a ticket because I still needed to fly out and help my grandmother. Do you have any suggestions, or am I out the $976 I paid for a ticket to Toledo? I would appreciate any advice you can give.

Within minutes of receiving her email, I forwarded it to my contact at Priceline. The response from Priceline was equally swift: Why are you sending us a case that’s exactly one year old?

And then I re-read the email. Sure enough, this happened in April 2010. (I hadn’t paid attention to the dates, either — my bad!)

What happened? Maybe it was a digital hiccup in one of the email servers, or maybe the email had been inadvertently queued up to send exactly one year later. Either way, Priceline couldn’t reopen a one-year-old case. It says it would have been able to help, had she contacted Priceline before her departure, but she didn’t. And so Stepp will lose the $976 she paid for her ticket.

There’s a lesson in here for all of us. Always keep your travel agency in the loop when you change tickets, and make sure you do it before your flight — not one year afterwards.

I feel awful for Stepp, losing her brother and then her airline ticket. I wish I could have helped her.

Update (9:10 a.m.): Shortly after this appeared, Delta contacted me and agreed to fully refund Stepp’s ticket, as a “one-time” exception. I am left with the impression that had Stepp booked the ticket directly through Delta, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

You’ve gotta love a happy ending! Thanks, Delta.

(Photo: slasher fun/Flickr Creative Commons)

19 thoughts on “Case dismissed: A strange delay dooms a ticket rebooking request

  1. I booked the ticket through Priceline.com.

    Reminds me of the line in Casablanca, Mr. I met a man once…

  2. I’m confused. There seems to be some facts missing from the case involving the timeline. When I first read the story, I got the impression that all this occurred in 2011, and when the OP tried to rebook, somehow the dates got “changed” due to a “digital hiccup”

    Question: When were the tickets ACTUALLY booked? April 2010 or April 2011? When was the funeral? April 2010 or April 2011?

    If all this occurred in 2010, then where is the digital hiccup? I’m sorry to hear about the OPs loss, but why did she wait 1 year to try and rebook the tickets? Even airline tickets booked directly with the airline (ie non-Priceline) tickets have to be rebooked within 1 year of issue or else the tickets “expire”

    I don’t think its fair to bash Priceline, unless she attempted to book the tickets soon after contacting Delta, and then Priceline refused to do that action. Not to sound harsh, but the real lesson here may be to not wait until 1 year later to rebook tickets.

      1. The same has happened to me – I’ve received emails a week and even six months after they had been sent. Luckily, I followed up with saying “Where’s the email you were going to send me?” and got my answers, with the emails showing up later.

    1. Gotcha, I understand now. Think its too early in the morning for me.

      Not much you could have done differently. Time to bash Priceline again.

    2. I just found this info.. I had no idea it was on the web. I am Sherlene. I called Delta 4 hours before my flight. Received a confirmation number. I booked the tickets March 2010, was to fly March 20 th. That was the day of my brothers accident. I buried him, then called to book my ticket out to my grandmothers April 2010.. about 3 weeks later. That is when I found out the above. Priceline refused to do anything becasue I should have called them. I emailed Mr. Elliott of Delta after I bought a ticket to go to my grandmothers as she had stomach cancer and was just out of surgery. I saved the emai which said it was sent. So that was April 2010. I counted it at a loss then rece4ived a call out of the blue a year later! I did not delay trying to get a ticket. But no matter… Thank you Delta!!! You have renewed my faith in the airlines!!!
      Sherlene Stepp

  3. the thing that strikes me about this case and others like it is how rule bound we have become. There was a time when someone in a company would be empowered to make decisions such as these in a compassionate manner no matter if it verged outside protocol or procedure. We have totally lost touch with our humanity.

  4. I didn’t vote because the question is somewhat “loaded”… yes, they should— but I do think that at some point there’s a timeliness issue that comes into play… So, yes, they should… but no, not one entire year later..

    I am not oblivious to the personal tragedy that precipitated this, but I also have to be aware that there is– and should be– some time line as to when you need to re-book.. Again, without being unsympathetic to the OP’s loss.. I do think that asking for reconsideration of a one-year old case is a stretch..

  5. Sounds like Delta said okay then changed their mind. If they provided a confirmation number and gave the instruction to call them back to rebook, the OP followed instructions. To then turn back and say she had to rebook through Priceline is a failure to provide complete information on Delta’s part from the start. Delta should honour their word. Presumably Delta has her money anyway since Priceline would have paid them. Why bash Priceline for Delta’s unwillingness to stand by their word? Initially they did the right thing by allowing the rebook, but where’s the follow through?

  6. Never, under any circumstances whatever, use an online third party. I define a travel agent as being someone in your town who you know.

  7. Priceline is mostly at fault here. I’ve been issuing airline tickets for 12 years. Yes, if I issue the ticket then the airline wants me to do the reissue. But the client did the right thing. She had someone call to cancel her ticket before the flight, right? If Delta canceled it, then the electronic ticket retains its “Open” status, which means it’s available for reissue. When the OP called Priceline, the rep gave her completely false information. They didn’t need for her to call them when she canceled. She got a lazy rep who didn’t want to push forward and see what could be done. They probably saw that the PNR wasn’t canceled on time in their GDS and didn’t bother to pull up the e-ticket record, which would have clearly shown that they could have reissued the ticket.

    Year ago or not, Priceline should be pushed for a refund on this Chris…I’m not sure what your knowledge is with airline e-ticket status or GDS but I am 100% certain that the online agency COULD have reissued this ticket back then if they’d wanted to. Your contact said they couldn’t do anything now b/c the details of the ticket will be out of the system by now but it sounds like the client has enough evidence and information to prove her case. I think you should fight it for her.

  8. Wow, kudos to Delta for refunding her, after all this time had passed! Do you know if she ever made it to visit/help her sick grandmother in 2010? And if this had been received and moderated by you in 2010, it’s very sad to think that Priceline would not have been more willing to reissue her ticket at the time, given her unfortunate circumstances.

  9. Strange case. Delta had the money. Priceline as a “travel agent” should have been an advocate on her behalf. Sorry for her tragic loss. I guess the lesson learned is…why buy through a third party? $900 plus to Toledo? Was this fare not available on Delta.com? Kudo’s to Delta for another “one time” exception. 😉

  10. Good for Delta. I have been pleasantly surprised by a LOT of extremely helpful and professional Delta employees over the last several months, with only one exception in Miami. I’ve received surveys after delayed flights (a lot lately since I live in the south where we’ve had some INTENSE weather problems), and I’ve had to say nice things on every one…weird. I’m sure there are still problems, but having been on more than 20 Delta flights in the past three months with only one staff problem has been nice. Not sure what they’re up to, but I hope they continue.

    1. I completely agree. I am Gold Medallion with Delta and they have been improving steadily since the merger completion. Every time I deal with them lately as either a traveler or a home-based travel agent, it has all been positive.

      1. I tend to disagree here a bit. I am only a silver medallion member (lowest of the group) and recently have had a couple of issues with Delta – one of which I addressed to them (the other wasn’t worth arguing about) and was disappointed at their response and reaction. I’ve been loyal to Delta for years, but lately, I don’t feel that so much and am more likely to check other airlines than automatically book with Delta.

  11. This is an ongoing problem with third party agencies. I NEVER and I repeat NEVER use expedia, Kayak, Priceline as gives both parties the opportunity to say “Wasn’t Me, Talk to (Fill in Blank)”

    March theie assets into Small Claims and watch them all get “religion”.

  12. “What happened? Maybe it was a digital hiccup in one of the email
    servers, or maybe the email had been inadvertently queued up to send
    exactly one year later.”

    Maybe someone just wasn’t paying attention….

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