When Richard Croce’s daughter dies suddenly while he’s in Venice, Italy, United Airlines asks him to pay $5,880 to get home. In economy class. Is that fair?
Question: Our daughter died suddenly in her sleep last year while we were in Venice, Italy. My wife and I had a first-class ticket with award miles to come home in a few days, but we obviously needed to return as soon as possible.
A United Airlines representative told us there were no award seats available. To leave Venice with one day’s notice, we had to pay $5,880 for economy-class tickets. It was the highest possible rate for an economy-class ticket.
Although United has discontinued its bereavement fares, a booking agent told us that we could contact the customer-care desk and provide proof of our daughter’s death to seek some consideration.
When I contacted United, the response I received was: “Every day United receives thousands of requests for exceptions to corporate policy — we cannot assume the responsibility for deciding which requests might be worthier than others.”
I was shocked and appalled that the sudden death of my daughter would be lumped with all the “thousands of requests” received. The response was truly hurtful and insensitive. I then was referred to a manager, who contacted me after four weeks and said only that United would not do anything. — Richard Croce, El Granada, Calif.
Answer: My condolences on your loss. United should have treated you with the compassion that any person would treat another who is grieving the sudden loss of a child. That clearly didn’t happen.
It’s true that United, like most of the domestic airlines, doesn’t offer bereavement fares. The only tickets available were the most expensive “walk-up” fares, which are last-minute tickets priced super-high because they’re usually purchased by business travelers on expense accounts.
While it’s true that award tickets are limited (technically, airlines allocate only a few seats per flight, and for internal accounting purposes, they’re considered “non-revenue” seats), United should have treated you better. As a frequent flier, you were a best customer. Instead, you had to pay $5,880 for two small airline seats. So much for loyalty.
I might have appealed this to a United executive. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of United’s customer-service managers on my consumer-advocacy site. One of them might have been able to get you past the insensitive automatic responses.
I was a little surprised to get your complaint. United has been trying to improve its customer service, and should have been eager to help a grieving family that is loyal to the airline.
I contacted United on your behalf. It reviewed your case and agreed to refund the $5,880. It withdrew 250,000 miles from your account for the tickets.