If an airline tells you it offers a more humane way to travel, should you hold it to that promise?
That’s the question raised by David Seltzer’s case on JetBlue Airways, a case that comes to us at an appropriate time of year.
JetBlue’s customer loyalty tested
Seltzer’s grandfather died unexpectedly a few months ago, and he immediately paid JetBlue a walk-up fare of $1,258 to fly from Long Beach, Calif., to New York, so he could be with his family. JetBlue then piled on the fees, charging him $20 for a phone booking and then hitting him with a $104 fare differential when he had to change his return flight again.
Seltzer then did what many distraught passengers do after the funeral. He politely asked the airline to adjust the price to a so-called “bereavement” fare. After all, Seltzer wasn’t just a random passenger requesting a fare adjustment, but a loyal, card-carrying JetBlue frequent flier, according to his mother, who contacted me for help. (Here’s our ultimate guide to loyalty programs.)
Her son had two other JetBlue flight itineraries in the future, including one to return to New York again during the holidays. Why not help out a good customer in the spirit of the season?
Fare adjustment request meets resistance
“We recognize this has been a difficult time for all of you and we offer condolences,” a JetBlue representative wrote in response to her request for a fare reduction. “A crewmember can only sell a fare that the customer books when they visit the website. We regret the cost was high but when a family member passes, we all are anxious to get out as soon as possible and the fare will typically be higher when you book the same day of travel.”
JetBlue agreed to refund the $20 booking fee and the $104 fare differential. It also offered him a $100 credit toward a future flight. But it refused to refund any part of the original $1,258 fare.
“We know you would like a refund however; in order to maintain the integrity of the JetBlue guidelines we can hot process a refund for this fare,” a representative wrote.
(Yeah, they probably meant to say “not.”)
That didn’t sit well with Seltzer. Here’s her response to JetBlue:
Your bereavement policy states that there basically is none because ‘JetBlue fares are already discounted.’
In this instance that is an untrue statement.
In the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights it is stated that, “Above all else, JetBlue Airways is dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.”
We beg to differ.
Our son was not treated humanely, we feel that he was treated very unfairly. We find it difficult to believe that this was JetBlue’s ‘best fare’ in any way either.
We believe that you took advantage of a young man who was in shock and grieving his grandfather, who he was extremely close to his entire life.
As proof, the Seltzers attached a screenshot of the advance-purchase fares between Long Beach and New York, showing that significantly cheaper fares were available.
A plea for compassion and fairness
The Seltzers suggest they wouldn’t have been as offended when they were hit with a walk-up fare — the kind meant for business travelers with a generous expense account — if JetBlue hadn’t amped up its rhetoric about being a more humane way to fly. In their view, claiming JetBlue is humane is like saying United Airlines is friendly.
“As Morgan Johnston, Jet Blue’s manager of corporate communications, said in a recent article, ‘You can’t put a price on customer loyalty’,” says Seltzer. “Well, actions speak louder than words.”
Seltzer wants my advocacy team and me to contact JetBlue to persuade it to do the right thing and partially refund their son’s airfare. Not just in the holiday spirit, but also because JetBlue presents itself as an alternative to airlines that hit their customers with fees and “gotcha” fares and which “airs” on the side of humanity.
We’d be happy to contact JetBlue on the family’s behalf, but as I’ve previously noted, JetBlue does not seem to enjoy hearing from us. To use their euphemism, they prefer to have a “direct” relationship with their customers.
“We do not appreciate the shameful way that our son was treated,” says Seltzer. “This is not good customer service.”
Well, here’s JetBlue’s big chance. Maybe it can fix the Seltzer’s flight without me having to contact them.
Then again, maybe not.