And now, a follow-up to yesterday’s post about reservation change fees. Passengers are upset about these surcharges, which often reduce the value of their ticket credit to just a few dollars. Airline apologists call the fees a “proven revenue model” that will continue for as long as people fly.
But there’s a glimmer of hope for air travelers.
Consider what happened to Norma Goldwyn, who abruptly canceled her flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to New York on Delta Air Lines last month because of health problems. Goldwyn asked her travel agent for a refund, and was told Delta would only offer her a ticket credit, minus a $150 change fee, which would have left her with a $59 voucher.
Delta charged an astounding $406 million in reservation change fees last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (Only American Airlines collected more in 2009.) In the first quarter of 2010, Delta collected $165 million in change fees, which means that if the current trend holds, it will have extracted $660 million from its customers this year. That would be a new record.
But where does the business model end and compassion begin? Goldwyn had every intention of making her flight, but couldn’t. It was an event beyond her control — what airlines might call a force majeure event, or an act of God. Airlines aren’t responsible for these events, according to their contracts of carriage. Should her health problem have cost her $150?
I suggested she appeal the decision with a brief, polite email to a manager at Delta. Here’s what she wrote:
I booked a ticket on Delta for a round trip flight to LaGuardia in NYC from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I was leaving on Flight #1698 on July 19, 2010, returning on flight #2879 on July 27, 2010.
Unfortunately and unexpectedly, I was hospitalized at Holy Cross Hospital, Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, July 3, 2010, diagnosed with having suffered a stroke which completely paralyzed my right hand. I was discharged on Tuesday, July 6, and that week I was scheduled into a month long therapy program at the hospital.
Obviously, I had to cancel my flight plans. I called my travel agent at AAA Travel in Pompano Beach and cancelled my travel plans, explaining to her what had happened. I told her I could get copies of hospital and doctor verification if needed. Since I had not insured the flight I was told that I might suffer a penalty.
When booking a tour or a flight that includes a hotel or land I always purchase insurance. But the ones I make to a friend in NYC and to my son in Chicago haven’t been insured since there were no land expenses which increases the cost of the trips on a single ticket.
I emailed AAA on Aug. 19 as I had expected to see a credit on my AMEX statement by then. The following is a copy of the answer I received
“I am glad you are feeling better. You will not receive a credit on your amex card, the ticket is held and it has a credit amount on it of $59.40. The total ticket was $209 but it had a penalty of $150 so that leaves a credit of $59.40 to be applied to a new ticket within a year.”