Delta was “downright surly” after a death in the family

When someone mentions the “D” word to our advocates — as in “death” — their first response is invariably “we’re so sorry for your loss.”

But when Paula Parker told Delta Air Lines that her mother-in-law had unexpectedly passed away, its response was: “So what?”

And that’s why we’re writing about her case today. Not because she’s entitled to anything under the airline’s restrictive contract, but because we owe her something as human beings — and dammit, so does Delta.

Question is: What?

Before we can answer, let’s hear from Parker:

My husband had tickets on Delta, which he booked through Travelocity, to fly from Sacramento to Minneapolis. He planned to stay there a few days visiting with his daughter and grandson, then fly to Sioux Falls to visit extended family in the area, including his mother and multiple brothers and sisters.

A few days before his departure, he received a call that his mother had just unexpectedly passed away. I immediately called Delta. I thought it would be easy to change the tickets from Friday to Tuesday.

He and his daughter and grandson plan to drive to Sioux Falls for the funeral. He still plans to go back later for the visit with other family, so no other changes were needed.

I expected to pay a change fee. But when I called Delta, I was l told in no uncertain terms that Delta gave absolutely no discounts nor made accommodations for funerals. To change the day on the flight there would not only be a change fee of $200, but since the tickets “were a certain type of ticket” — read “discount” — the new flight would cost about $375 more for a total of $575. That’s just to change the travel day from Friday to Tuesday.

The original ticket was $460.

The Delta agent was downright surly explaining the “policies” to me. Shocked, I sort of sputtered “that’s outrageous!” and the agent hung up on me; up until that point I had not been anything but polite. Honestly.

A Delta rep hung up on her? Really?

Behavior like this is completely inconsistent with Delta’s guiding principles, which state that its reputation is its “most important asset” and that “Every day Delta strives to earn its reputation for operational excellence and customer service.”

Needless to say, what Parker experienced wasn’t customer service. More like disservice. (Gosh, I use that line a lot. I wonder why.)

Now, I’m sure there will be a few “rules-are-rules” commenters who will say, “Parker shouldn’t have booked one of those discount tickets.”

But the rest of us — which is to say, those with hearts — will look at her case with more compassion.

Should she be punished for selecting a low fare? No. Should Delta’s terms be so onerous? No. Should it hang up the phone when she needs to change her ticket? Hell, no.

And that, I would submit, is the right reaction. Hey, we’ve all had customers who run into hard times. I’ve had magazines fold before they could pay me for a freelance story. I’ve had advertisers who couldn’t pay their bills even after their campaigns ran. The right thing to do is to forgive.

Why? Because it’s the right thing. Also, because at some point, you may find yourself in a similar position — asking someone for a favor even when you’re not entitled to one — and do you really want them hanging up the phone?

Parker says she thinks it’s “too late” to help her. I’m not so sure. I think Delta can still apologize to her (it’s free). It can offer her a voucher for a future flight (practically free). And it can promise to retrain the agent who disconnected the call.

I am personally upset by the way Delta has handled this case. This is no way to treat a customer, even if you’re an airline.

Should I take Paula Parker's case?

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