Is this enough compensation? A partial refund for my dogless flight

Barbara Hilliard’s dogs didn’t make their KLM flight from Nuremberg, Germany, to Dallas via Amsterdam. Neither did she.

Turns out the plane was swapped out at the last minute — a so-called “equipment change” — and there was no room for her pets. “They told me they had no place to put the dogs and I would have to secure another way to get the dogs to Amsterdam and then they would fly them to Dallas,” she says.

Hilliard was unhappy. Not only because she’d made several phone calls before her trip to make sure her dogs could fly, but also because her only option was to buy an expensive ticket on Lufthansa to make her connection. She thinks KLM and its codeshare partner Delta Air Lines, through which she booked the tickets, should refund the price of her new ticket and pay the dogs’ freight, too.

“They said there is nothing they can do and will not reimburse me,” she told me.

Delta offered a $500 traveler voucher and KLM refunded $419, the value of the unused return portion of her ticket. But no one, it seems, will cover the €1,098 airfare on Lufthansa, or the extra €450 she had to pay for the dogs.

Hilliard is particularly upset with the tone of Delta’s form response. It knew perfectly well that its reply would disappoint her, yet it had the gall to conclude its email to her with the following zinger:

I hope I have been able to address your concerns regarding your travel from Nuremberg.

Your business is important to us and given the opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta and KLM will not only meet but exceed your expectations.

I truly hope you will use the travel credit voucher to allow us that additional opportunity to serve you.

Seriously?

Here’s the real issue: Hilliard decided to buy the Lufthansa ticket on her own, without any meaningful input from Delta or KLM. There were ways to resolve this that might have involved rerouting her or waiting until the next flight, and I think she could have worked through those options with the airline instead of taking matters into her own hands.

While I agree with Hilliard that Delta’s response — and especially its form letter — was lacking, I’m not entirely sure it was obligated to do more. So the question of “Is this enough compensation?” is a fair one.

On a sidenote, it’s important to remember that the best time to resolve a customer-service problem is the present. The ticket agents in Nuremberg, the KLM reservations line or her online travel agent, would have been in a position to suggest several solutions. Flying on Lufthansa may have been the most expedient fix, but it probably was also the most expensive one.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • David

    Delta did far more than enough, as did KLM. When she decided to “go rouge” and find her own solution, she accepted the consequences of doing so. No reasonable person can expect to make unilateral decisions and then have another party, who had no input to that decision, pay the freight for it. In total, she’s getting reimbursed almost a $1,000 for her dog getting bumped. That’s enough….

  • sirwired

    Assuming she has occasion to use the voucher, she’s about 300 Euros from full reimbursement already. Given that she went off on her own to arrange the freight, that’s not bad.

  • Thomas

    On this one I vote YES!

  • deemery

    I know from experience how hard it is to work around a last minute airline decision about a pet. Delta and KLM need to do better. It’s not like the dog can go sit in the airport and/or book its own flights.

  • Texas Road Warrior

    Yes, she was given adequate compensation. My gawd the original equipment was taken out of service for mechanical reasons and the airlines took appropriate action to service the majority of their customers. She elected to use another carrier without “working through the problem” with the carrier and now she complains after the fact.

    This example and other recent posts remind me of the old cartoon of the complaint department manager (now customer service) in a department store asking an irate customer “what if we refund your money, give you an extra $100, give you the garment at no charge, and fire the salesperson, will that satisfy you?”

    Somehow then as now, I doubt it.

  • Absherlock

    I don’t think we have enough information here. If she had rescheduled the Germany flight, how would that have affected her Amsterdam to Dallas trip? Perhaps it would have put an undue strain on the dogs in terms of the amount of time being in the carriers, etc.

    Also, I don’t buy the “don’t have room” excuse from the airlines. Living creatures should always take priority over regular luggage. What I’m guessing is that the replacement aircraft wasn’t equipt to handle the animals.

    Ultimately, the reason she chose the flights and connections she did were because of transporting the dogs (making several calls to verify, etc.). If someone were to chose a specific flight because it was handicapped accessable or served kosher and then because of an airline problem, they had to take another more expensive flight, I think people would have a different opinion.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I’ve just added a detail: Hilliard paid an extra €450 to get the dogs from Nuremberg to Amsterdam.

  • You Don’t Say

    “My gawd the original equipment was taken out of service for mechanical reasons and the airlines took appropriate action to service the majority of their customers.”

    How do you know that was the reason?

  • Ronnie O

    Since I recently had to sit next to an idiot with a noisy bird that was an “emotional support animal,” I think she should’ve claimed they were serve dogs to get them on the flight. If we are allowing people to fly with BIRDS to protect their “emotional well being” then perhaps we should all take advantage of this idiot law and stop calling them pets and start calling them “Service” or “Emotional Support Animals!”

    I looked around online and the airline CANNOT ask for documentation of your animal. If they give you grief, call for a Station Manager. According to many of the sites, just asking for the Station Manager is enough to shut up the gate agent since they don’t want to be responsible for denying boarding to a service animal.

    C’mon people, it’s about time we worked the system. The airlines certainly work it on us!

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    IF KLM or Delta couldn’t rebook the OP on another airline that same day; couldn’t rebook the OP on the next availabe flight(s) (their own metal); didn’t want to pay for a hotel room(s) if the next flight was the next day; etc. then the OP is entitled to more compensation.

    I agree with Chris Elliott that the problem (in regards to compensation) is that the OP decided to buy the Lufthansa ticket on her own, without any meaningful input from Delta or KLM. Since she took the matters into her own hands, it is hard to ask Delta or KLM to pay for her decisions.

  • andrelot

    I think this is a result of the overall bad costumer service environment present in airports nowadays. I don’t agree with these makeshift DIY approaches of “I buy, you pay later”. We don’t take cars to repair shops without insurer’s approval. We don’t but a replacement LCD TV on the nearest shop when our is broken after 3 weeks of fair use. So why would Mrs. Hillard be entitled to solve the problem paying money and then demanding a refund for it?

    At the same time, I understand why she likely acted that way. Last-minute change on flights push an already overburdened staff to the limits. It is like fellow passengers were experiencing other problems (assuming the aircraft was smaller) like being bumped out and so. I know that, in these situations, you are more likely not to get any attentive employee than the other way around. Yet, I think she should have escalated matters with the local supervisor.

  • Kelly

    If Delta/KLM said to her that there was nothing that they could do, as stated above, then she had no choice but to book the Lufthansa ticket on her own. It’s not like she could wait around for Delta/KLM to finally get off their butts and do something, she has a live animal she needed to take care of and get home. I wouldn’t trust leaving the dog in their care as suggested above. Delta/KLM didn’t deliver like they promised.

  • Minormi

    After going “rouge” she decided to try going “rogue”?

  • ouijesuis

    Flying with dogs is stressful. To most people, their dogs are like their children so I can understand her not wanting to deal with waiting to get a new flight out on KLM and being separated from her dogs for hours and hours extra. KLM complicated her flight plan. I’m sure she factored in the hours they would be crated in flight and the anxieties of travel — KLM screwed up. It’s not just a normal flight and dogs are not luggage. Dogs are very special to their owners. I’ve only flown once transcontinental with my dog in cargo and I was a nervous wreck. KLM owes her the price for the new connection flight.

  • CJK

    The no-documentation rule may be for US domestic flights, but would definitely not apply to an international flight.

  • cjr001

    Well, any time a voucher is offered instead of a refund, I will vote that it’s not enough compensation. A voucher is NOT compensation.

    And no airline should put a passenger in this situation with their pet. She had paid for her ticket, the airline should have done a lot more – they should have guaranteed that her pet made it on the flight with her.

  • Clare

    What on earth is objectionable about the OP buying the Lufthansa ticket “on her own, without any meaningful input from” the very people who had just screwed her over completely? Yes, there “were ways to resolve this.” But the airline clearly dumped the problem THEY had created onto the customer, obliging HER to resolve it. The FACT is, she had bent over backwards in advance to be 100% sure that the airline could accommodate her. Then THEY, not the OP, renege “at the last minute,” through absolutely no fault of hers… and they have the unmitigated gall to tell her that SHE “would have to secure another way to get the dogs to Amsterdam.”

    Oh really? Let’s get this straight: you fail to do what the customer paid you to do, and then you inform the customer that SHE has to work around YOU, and all this “at the last minute”?

    And after she does her level best to find a way to do what YOU suddenly say she has to do, now she should get burned for failing to obtain “meaningful input” from YOU?

    As the old saying goes, tell that to the judge!

  • http://www.budgettrouble.com/ Anna Ikeda

    People who voted “yes” on the “did Delta/KLM offer enough compensation” obviously have never traveled trans-continentally with pets and don’t understand the logistics involved.

  • MikeZ

    You have it wrong. They told her that she would need to secure another way to get the dogs to the next place of departure. Knowing that, how can any reasonable person then get on the very flight they were originally supposed to be on while at the same time making sure their pets were finding their way to your destination? They told her she was on her own and then dropped the ball when it came to refunding her the monies she was out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    WITH REGARD to the OP buying her own ticket… First of all, none of us was there. To say there was no “meaningful” input is making some assumptions WITH REGARD to the situation.

    The OP was in Amsterdam and was being told, in essence, “You and your dogs aren’t on your purchased flight and we don’t know where to put you.” Having done international travel, in short, it’s exhausting.

    We don’t know what she was being told or not told. Buying over $1000 in tickets is a last resort action, not a first resort. The OP was thousands of miles from home and out of her element as well as her comfort zone. It’s easy to imagine her anxiety while she was in the midst of this situation. Additionally, she was trying to make a connection. Knowing one has to do thus means the added stress of whether or not you’re going to make it in time to catch another flight.

    And, “meaningful input” is a relative term. When in a disagreement over a situation, I can say nothing at all and that’s still input. Whether it’s meaningful or not is in the eyes of the beholder. For all we know, she could have been told, “You’re not making this flight, the next one is hours away, we don’t plan to give you any vouchers for a hotel and, oh, have a good day.”

    Airlines take advantage of situations such as this by utilizing indifference and the veiled threat of bringing in security if one becomes too animated in their disdain towards the situation. What the airlines want us to become are numb sheep who will agree to whatever bad situation they put us in. They are also masters at bringing people to the peak of their impatience so they can claim the customer was out of control, thereby giving them the advantage.

    WITH REGARD to the compensation – she was refunded $419 and given a $500 flight voucher. That’s not too far off the $1049 she had to pay for her personal ticket – about $130 short. She’s pretty much gotten back her money on that one, she just doesn’t think so. I believe what’s at issue is her having to pay again to fly her dogs. THAT still needs to be resolved, IMHO.

    It’s easy for the Road Warriors here to waggle their fingers in everyone’s face as being superior travelers but my guess is, were the Road Warriors to be placed in a similar situation, they’d be just as upset, they just wouldn’t tell the rest of us about it. It’s the Road Warriors of the world, the ones who like to play armchair quarterback, who constantly click their tongues at the casual travelers, that are demanding special treatment every step of the way and when they don’t get it, they turn into a prima donna, demanding the sun, the moon and free drink coupons.

  • Carver

    I disagree with the analogy. The reason why we don’t fix first then demand compensation is that that the owner can have a reasonable oppotunity to remediate the problem, usually for much less. However, once the owner fails to remediate the problem, then its up to you to handle the situation.

  • Mdkalman

    ‘without “working through the problem”‘

    The airline reneged on it’s contractual agreement with her. It’s incumbent on the airline to work through the problem with her, not the other way around.

  • Msburrows

    Of course “she went off on her own” — the airline explicitly told her that she “would have to secure another way to get the dogs to Amsterdam . . . .” Never mind the “dogs are like children” business — these were living animals who had to be accommodated and the airline hung her (and them) out to dry.
    Why the hard-nosed, judgmental attitude toward the OP? Can you imagine being in an airport far from home w animals who need to be transported, having been shafted by a carrier after multiple confirmations, frantically trying to make new arrangements? I think KLM/Delta owe her any excess fare.

  • http://twitter.com/drewtipton Drew Tipton

    OK…
    Having flown from Germany back to the states on Delta/KLM/AirFrance, they probably changed out the aircraft based on what was available. The flight was probably a “KLM CityHopper” flight, very similar to our RJ flights.. (in fact, the last time I flew a CityHopper, it was one of the Embraer 1×0 series… which, while comfortable, is _still_ an RJ. I don’t believe that most RJs have the capability of handling pets as cargo… I know that, when friends of mine fly out of here (near Monterey, CA), they’re told to go to San Jose or San Francisco to fly ‘mainline’ aircraft…

    By the way, it doesn’t say _why_ the aircraft was changed out? In my past experience, they’ve changed out aircraft for a lot of reasons–mechanical, weather, even load. I’ve had a flight changed last minute (you ride the bus out to the plane from the gate for some of these airports… and Amsterdam is like that for some of the CityHoppers) where the bus started to let us off at one plane and before we could get off, he closed the doors and said that he was just told to take us to another plane–which was smaller!

    Based on the fact that the article states that she had to “secure another way to get them to Amsterdam”, it sounds to me like she did the best -and most expedient- thing that she could–she rebooked on another carrier. In _MY_ opinion, Delta/KLM/AirFrance _SHOULD_ pay for her other flight, because they are the ones that failed to deliver the service.

    Now–that being said–what do the EU laws say on something like this? Realize that, in a lot of situations, the EU laws _are_ different…

  • Carver

    “and the airlines took appropriate action to service the majority of their customers”

    What does that have to do with the OP. Even if they adequately compensated every other passenger, that is completely irrelevant to the OP.

  • Crissy

    I think the airline should have offered another flight the same day or next day as an option – including space for the dog. If they did that and she decided she didn’t like those options and would rather go with Lufthansa, then she was given enough compensation. Otherwise, I find it unacceptable to say she needed to find passage for the dog on her own at the last minute.

  • Mdkalman

    Did you read the article?

    “They told me they had no place to put the dogs and I would have to secure another way to get the dogs to Amsterdam”

    I.e. according to the OP, Delta/KLM had the opportunity to provide meaningful input or another solution. Instead of doing so, they punted and told her she was on her own. And apparently you don’t think Delta/KLM should accept responsibility for the consequences of their response?

    Should she have tried to appeal to someone higher up from Delta/KLM at the airport? Would she have had a better outcome if she did that? Maybe. But following instructions (“secure your own way”) is hardly “going rogue.”

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Didn’t Sarah Palin write a nook about going rouge? ;-)

  • LarryB

    If that flight was on an RJ that couldn’t carry pets, Delta had no business selling her passage for one.

    Furthermore, without a local mobile phone, it’s often very hard to get customer service in Europe. I can easily imagine KLM and their very indifferent ground staff (personal experience) telling her to take it up with Delta, with no reasonable way to do so available to her. (Yes, more supposition but IMO a very likely scenario.)

  • Eileen

    If this person made substantial efforts ahead of time to account for the dogs travel, then the airline she booked and called through needed to deal with the dogs and provide a solution that did not foist all of the responsibility squarely on the writer. If the airline could not accommodate the dogs and she was required to go elsewhere at the last minute, they should reimburse her the difference between what she paid for the original ticket and what she had to pay to fix the issue. And no, not a voucher, becuase obviously, she’s not going to risk flying that airline again if she has to travel with dogs.

  • Eileen

    Also, I really don’t see what else this writer could have done ahead of time to prevent this. She called the airline numerous times, she apprised them numerous times of the fact that she would be traveling with dogs, she made all the arrangements, what was she supposed to do at the eleventh hour when the airline pulled the rug out? Maybe a more seasoned traveler could have handled it better, but the average traveler is not a “road warrier,” and not always going to know what to do. I think the airline should refund her out of pocket costs related to the last minute ticket, in cash, not vouchers.

  • Steve R

    “She’s pretty much gotten back her money on that one.” Sorry, but I disagree. A $500 flight voucher may not be worth $500; in fact, it could end up being worthless to this traveler. At a minimum, she’s $130 short, and she could possibly be up to $630 short.

  • Jake

    Keep in mind she paid an additional 1550 EUROS, not dollars.

  • Bill

    Just drop the dogs off at the SPCA in Europe and pick up a couple of new ones at the SPCA in Dallas. Problem solved.

    Or…don’t fly airlines like Delta.

  • Dave

    I voted no for one simple reason: as stated by another poster, a voucher is NEVER adequate compensation. It implies the airline (or whoever) expects you would want to deal with them again.

    In this case, the compensation is less an issue than the manner in which the whole situation was handled. It was (or should have been — I’m not intimately familiar with the law, just with common sense) absolutely the airline’s responsibility to make new arrangements. An equipment change is definitely under the airline’s control, and they knew ahead of time that there were dogs scheduled to fly. It also appears, from the article, that the airline provided no assistance in rebooking and flat out said it was her problem, not theirs. Wrong-o!

  • flutiefan

    um, yes they can demand proof.

  • Thomas

    Chris, Are you opening a door here to political comments? Please let me know, I have a ton of them I’ve been saving! lol

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Oh no, look at what I’ve started. Sorry about that. I take it back!

  • http://www.facebook.com/leisurewings Leisure Wings

    keep it up as you can never know how important your knowledge could be for others who in need. Thanks.

  • Dan

    I agree. Telling her to secure her own way WAS their meaningful input. Their choice.

  • Jerry

    Under EU rules, wasn’t she legally entitled to considerably more compensation?

  • http://wnissen.livejournal.com/ Walter N.

    Exactly. The OP relied on KLM in a moral as well as legal sense. She did a very reasonable thing in purchasing alternate arrangements, and KLM is 100% responsible for every last dollar, in cash, not vouchers. No judge in the land would rule against her in this case. Unless KLM specifically invoked a “force majeure” event such as weather, they are breaching the contract and should pay. Arizona Road Warrior, could you please point to any case where you have argued that an airline should have done less?