How did this traveler talk herself out of Delta’s goodwill gesture?

After bad weather forces Delta Air Lines to cancel Anna Vilnits’ flight, it offers her a goodwill gesture, but she rejects it and repeatedly insults the airline. Now she’s changed her mind. Can our advocates help her get Delta to reinstate its offer?

Question: My husband and I were traveling on a KLM code-shared flight on Delta from Florence, Italy, to Boston via Amsterdam. Our flight was delayed and then canceled due to fog, which had been in Florence for three days prior to our scheduled departure.

We waited on line for three hours at KLM’s customer service desk in Florence. KLM’s agent offered us two options to catch an alternative flight to Boston. The first was to take a bus to Pisa; the second was to go to Bologna.

The agent urged us to accept the first option because KLM would provide the bus service at no additional cost to us, but we would have to travel to Bologna entirely on our own and would receive no assistance from KLM with hotel rooms or local transportation. We opted to take the bus to Pisa.

KLM gave us 5 euros ($6) for snacks and sent us to a bus, but after a 45-minute wait, we were told that the bus would not be departing. We had to take our luggage off the bus and return to the airport, where we were told that KLM was sending us to a hotel. But KLM provided no further flight information. We waited another hour at the airport to register for the hotel and arrived at the hotel 30 minutes later, where we were given bags with cold sandwiches, apples and bottles of water. Once we were in our room, we spent another hour trying to contact KLM by telephone and internet without success. The hotel’s desk agent told us that we would have to take a taxi to the airport at our own expense the next day.

It was 11 p.m. at that point, so we went to bed. We received a phone call 45 minutes later telling us to be ready to be picked up by a bus to Bologna at 3:30 a.m., where we finally boarded a flight to Boston.

I complained to Delta’s customer care service, which offered me two $200 Delta Choice gifts as a gesture of goodwill. This seemed to be completely inadequate compensation for KLM and Delta’s incompetence throughout the whole situation, so I rejected the offer.

We should have received 600 euros ($707) apiece as required by EU 261 because our flight was over 3,500 kilometers. But Delta refused to issue it, claiming that our flight from Florence was canceled because of “extraordinary circumstances.” It offered us a check for 60 euros ($71) as compensation for our meal expenses, but that’s all it will offer us.

I now realize that I was too persistent in trying to understand why the airlines handled this situation so badly, because they are no longer willing to communicate with me. Can you help me get Delta to issue the two $200 Delta Choice gifts it originally offered us, or alternatively, the check for meal compensation? — Anna Vilnits, Ashland, Mass.

Answer: You certainly had the trip from hell trying to return home from Florence. Delta’s customer care agent acknowledges that the airlines could have handled your situation better.

Unfortunately, the airlines are validly denying your claim for EU 261 compensation based on extraordinary circumstances, which are defined as follows:

Obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.

When airlines deem extraordinary circumstances to be in effect, they are not required to provide compensation otherwise mandated under EU 261. And that’s why Delta is refusing to do so in your case.

Although there had been a heavy fog in Florence for several days prior to your flight, neither Delta nor KLM had any way of knowing or controlling when the fog would lift and allow normal air traffic to resume.

The aggressive attitude you took with Delta and KLM didn’t help your case. It’s understandable that you were upset by the repeated delays and lack of assistance you received from the airlines while the situation was occurring. However, when trying to resolve a customer service problem, it is never appropriate to accuse companies of “incompetence” or send their personnel insulting messages. You sent multiple messages such as the following to Delta’s customer care agent:

Tony, as you’re at “WeCareAtDeltaDotCom”, I’d like you to know that when weather is an act of God, action is an act of people, where poor judgment is an act of a poorly-trained personal or people who actually do not care….

This nearly guaranteed that Delta would not agree to resolve your case in a manner you would find adequate.

You then turned to our advocates for assistance in managing your claim.

Our advocate advised you that Delta was not required to compensate you, and that the goodwill gesture it had originally offered you was a generous one. He felt that we would not be able to successfully advocate for you, but suggested that you write concise, polite letters to the executives we list in our company contacts section, beginning with the primary contact and allowing each a reasonable amount of time to respond before writing to the next higher-ranking executive.

You took his advice, and Delta has granted you the original goodwill gesture.

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