It seems airlines always have their hands out for more fees. And you can forgive David Shuffelton for thinking so.
He and his wife tried, but failed, to reach their flight to Indianapolis after a snowstorm closed Interstate 70 near Denver. Frontier Airlines charged the couple a $99 per ticket rebooking fee to get wait-listed for the next available flight.
But Shuffelton didn’t change his plans — Mother Nature did. Shouldn’t Frontier be a little more understanding?
That’s the case in front of me today. Should Frontier bend its crystal-clear ticket change rules?
Frontier actually lists several exceptions under the “emergency events” section on its site, but weather delays aren’t one of them. That runs contrary to the industry standard “flat tire” rule, which says that if passengers can’t make it to a flight for reasons beyond their control, they’ll be rebooked on the next flight at no charge.
But before we decide the right and the wrong of this case, let’s hear from Shuffelton.
His outbound flight was scheduled to leave at 8:30 p.m.
“At 4 p.m., we were approaching the city of Silverthorne, Colo., by automobile,” he says. “Silverthorne is about 90 miles due west of Denver on I-70. We had plenty of time to return our rental car and make the flight.”
But then they were engulfed by a blizzard, which closed I-70 eastbound from Silverthorne to the Eisenhower Tunnel.
“The only other highway to Denver, Route 6 over Loveland Pass, was also closed,” he says. “My wife immediately called Frontier to rebook our flight. The first flight out the next day was already full, and we were placed on the 8:30 p.m. flight. Frontier told my wife that there would be a $99 rebooking fee for each ticket.”
Shuffelton paid up, but he wasn’t happy about it.
“When I returned home, I called Frontier about the rebooking fees,” he says. “I said that it was impossible for us — and many others, I suspect — to get to the airport because the highways were shut down. It wasn’t as though my wife and I voluntarily changed our plans and extended our trip by a day. I asked for either a reversal of the fees on my credit card or a credit for future Frontier flights. My pleas fell on deaf ears.”
Frontier is under no obligation to refund its change fees, of course. But let’s be fair. Even the airline industry recognizes that the flat-tire rule makes sense. Frontier, like many other airlines, has written itself an adhesion contract that lets it off the hook for almost everything, including the weather.
Why not make it go both ways?
Shuffelton is already on the hook for $200 in extra car rental and hotel expenses, and since he’s on a fixed income, that hurts. “To charge my wife and me an additional $198 in rebooking fees is a rip-off in my opinion,” he says.
Should our advocates ask Frontier to make an exception for Shuffelton, to have a little compassion, or should we tell him that rules are rules?
Update: I asked Shuffelton for the paperwork on his case, and he contacted Frontier one last time. “Good news!” he said in a follow-up note. “I emailed Frontier, who has given my wife and me travel vouchers totaling $198. Thanks for your advice!”