How do you get an airline to keep its promises?

plane landingLast summer, Jennifer Patronis’ father suffered a massive aneurysm and stroke. She immediately booked a round-trip ticket from Athens to Cleveland on Delta Air Lines to be with him. Three months later, he died, leaving her with an unexpected problem: How to get back to Greece, where she lived.

Despite a verbal promise that it would waive its ticket change fee, Delta wanted another $700 for her return flight. That’s over and above the $1,000 she spent on the roundtrip ticket.

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Far be it from me to argue with an an airline when it comes to change fees and fare differentials. But a promise is a promise, right?

I have written to Delta’s corporate headquarters several times, but they refuse to do anything except waive the $250 re-issue fee. They asked me to provide a copy of the death certificate, which I did. This made no difference. I was told that I would still have to pay the “fare difference”.

If someone at Delta promised the company would waive its change fee and fare differential, then that’s what it should do. But who do you contact when the airline keeps saying “no”?

I suggested a brief, polite email to someone higher up at Delta.

So Patronis wrote a letter to Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, in which she made her case:

I provided official medical documentation to Delta from the hospital within a few weeks after the fact had occured and I was assured that any
penalty fees and/or other fees would be waived in lieu of the serious circumstances.

At that time, since my father was still alive, only the re-issue fee was waived and a note regarding this was placed in my file.

But I must stress I was assured that in the event my father passed away, that all fees would be waived due to the special circumstances.

Since my father’s death however, I have been trying to rebook my return with no success as I’m being told by the International Re-issue desk that I have overstayed my 90 day limit on a Q Class ticket and that I will now need to pay $700 to book the return portion of a ticket I already paid over $1,000 for in June.

Mr. Anderson, I have written over and over again to several customer care coordinators via email, yet the response I’m getting is truly an insult.

Only Delta knows what’s in Patronis reservation record, and what promises were actually made. Delta might also have a call center transcript at its disposal, to verify what the representative did — or didn’t — say. Sometimes you have to appeal your case to someone higher up in order to break the cycle of “nos.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Here’s the response she got from Delta:

Dear Ms. Patronis:

Thank you for your correspondence to our CEO, Mr. Richard Anderson, describing your recent experience with Delta; he has asked me to respond on his behalf. I sincerely apologize for the unexpected ticketing fees you incurred. Please accept my deepest sympathy for your recent loss.

I am truly sorry for your disappointment with the fee to change your nonrefundable ticket and appreciate the opportunity to respond to you.

In order to be fair to all our customers, it is important to adhere to the terms of the ticket each passenger has purchased. In this case, a fee applies even if the decision to cancel or change planned travel is due to an illness or other circumstance that was unknown at the time the ticket was purchased or is beyond a customer’s control.

I am dismayed to read that you were unable to use your nonrefundable ticket as planned and appreciate the opportunity to review this matter with you. Due to your special circumstances, I have made a one-time exception to waive any fees associated for your return to Athens.

Ms. Patronis, I hope I have been able to resolve the concerns you have about our service. Your business is important to us and given the opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta will not only meet but exceed your expectations.

If Delta promised Patronis she wouldn’t have to pay a change fee or a fare differential, then none of this should have been necessary. But it’s nice to know that a wrong decision can be appealed.

(Photo: Pylon757/Flickr Creative Commons)