Can an airline send a debt collector after you to pay for a missed flight?

Strangely, the answer is: yes.

Consider what happened to Eehern Wong, who was scheduled to fly from Sacramento, Calif., to Boston by way of Los Angeles.

When I went to check the status of my flight, I noticed that the itinerary had been shifted up by nearly half a day. In fact, by the time I checked on the flight, the plane had already left Sacramento and was already landing in Los Angeles.

At no point was I contacted and notified of a change in scheduling. I called Delta to see if they could put me on the next flight, and after being redirected a few times, found out that not only would I be unable to get put on the next flight, but would actually have to pay for a new ticket a day later for my trip back to Boston.

I am a student right now, and this seemed outrageous to me. I had class and prior obligations and needed to get back, so I paid for the flight with my credit card. After returning to Boston, I contacted my credit card company, recounted the story, and had them investigate on my behalf.

After a few months of investigations, they sided with me, citing that Delta provided insufficient evidence, and withdrew payment to Delta. Now Delta has contacted a collection agency to force me to repay. What can I do about this?

Obviously, Delta should have notified Wong about the change in schedule. But Wong should have checked in 24 hours prior to departure, at which point he would have learned about the change in plans. So there’s plenty of blame to go around.

My question is: Was Delta correct to hit Wong with the price of new ticket? I don’t think so. The airline should have accommodated him on the next flight at no additional charge.

That’s how he sees it. That’s how I see it. And that’s how his credit card company sees it.

I contacted Delta on Wong’s behalf. It did not respond.

What about the collection agency?

Under federal law, a collection agency can be managed, particularly when the debt is in dispute. Even if this gets on your credit report, you have the ability to correct the error with a notation.

For smaller amounts, travel companies often threaten to call a collection agency but don’t follow through. It’s possible that Delta is just posturing with these threatening letters.

Bottom line: Delta could have done better. Much better.