Missing infant ticket leads to $1,735 airfare bill

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By Christopher Elliott

Joshua Davis and his family were looking forward to a weeklong vacation in Cancun. They were not planning to pay twice for their airline tickets, or to be on the receiving end of a frustrating form letter from Delta Air Lines, which cast a long shadow over their family getaway.

The Davis family’s story is a case study for the value of using a competent travel agent, particularly when you’re booking special tickets to an international destination. Davis bought his tickets directly by phone through the airline earlier this spring, leading to a not only a ticketing fee, but also an unfortunate series of misunderstandings.

We explained that we needed five tickets, two for my wife and I, one for our five-year-old daughter and two lap tickets for our infant twins.

When we received boarding passes in the mail, one of the infant tickets was missing, so my wife promptly called Delta and informed them of the issue. The representative on the phone told her that they would put the ticket in the system and all we would need to do was pay for the ticket when we checked in. We though everything was golden.

Everything was not golden

When they arrived at the airport in Roanoke, Va., there were no tickets for the babies. A Delta rep phoned the international desk to try to resolve the issue.

There was no rush to get this issue resolved at either end, the check in counter or the representative on the phone. Needless to say, we missed our 6:30 a.m. flight. Then, to add insult to injury, we were told that we would have to pay for new tickets.

Since we had no other recourse to get to our destination, I booked one-way tickets from Roanoke to Cancun for my family. We also had to pay for new infant tickets and a surcharge to change the return leg of our original flight to the new itinerary. Instead of the flight costing us $1,613 as we originally thought, it cost us that plus $1,735, the cost of the new tickets.

Efforts to resolve this with Delta were unsuccessful

A supervisor sympathized and offered the family three $500 vouchers. He explained that if he tried to reverse the charges on the tickets, he would have to cancel them, which would mean the family would have to buy new tickets home. Davis declined the offer, and instead wrote to Delta after he returned to the States. (Related: Delta threatened to call police and remove me from a flight. Am I owed anything?)

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Here’s how it responded:

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding your recent travel experience. On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I sincerely apologize for the problem you and your family encountered due to our agent error and inappropriate customer service by our airport agent.

We are very concerned about the unfortunate situation you described. As our customer, you are in the best position to point out areas that need attention. Our goal is to provide consistent and accurate information to our passengers at all times. I am truly sorry that in this instance you did not receive the service you expected and should have received.

Feedback like yours will help us improve our reservations process and customer experience. Please know I will be sharing your comments with our Reservations leadership team for internal follow up.

While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many requests that we receive from others in similar situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request for a ticket refund.

Furthermore, I realize that having two negative experiences in a row can really impact your decision to choose Delta for future travel. As a gesture of goodwill, I have issued an Electronic Transportation Credit Voucher (eTCV) in the amount of $100 each for the inconvenience you experienced due to our reservation agent and counter agent.

As I reviewed the Davis file, it seemed to me Delta didn’t take the time to fully consider what happened to this family. I mean, they had to pay twice because of an airline error. And they send them a form letter and vouchers? Come on.

My advocacy team and I contacted Delta on Davis behalf. A few days later, he received the following follow-up note.

I am in receipt of your recent message to Christopher Elliott. On behalf of Delta Air Lines and our Delta Connection Carrier, Atlantic Southeast Airlines, I want to extend our heartfelt apology for the unsatisactory customer service you encountered from our team at Roanoke. In addition, I am truly sorry our Customer Care team was unable to satisfactorily resolve your issues.

Your comments are well received and your frustration is understandable. I am at a loss to explain the actions of our employees and am so very sorry you missed your flight to Cancun on April 12. Clearly a refund is due for the new tickets you were required to purchase.

There’s your happy ending. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

But how could Davis have avoided this? Next time, he might want to consider calling a travel agent or booking the ticket directly online, where he can ensure each passenger’s name is on the itinerary before pushing the “buy” button.

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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 X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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