Three parties denied me a flight and compensation — where does the buck stop?

By | September 18th, 2016

Andrew Ong didn’t expect anything to go wrong with the flight he booked for his friend’s wedding. But when it did, he expected the companies involved — WestJet, Delta and Chase Ultimate Rewards — to help him fix it.

None of them did.

All three companies passed the buck, insisting that none of them could help him because they were “not responsible” for his issue. It’s bad enough when one travel company does this to a loyal customer, but three?

That’s infuriating, ridiculous — and unconscionable.

Ong was traveling from Gatwick Airport in London to Seattle via Calgary. The day before his flight was scheduled to depart from Gatwick, Ong received a confirmation email from WestJet, containing hyperlinks that were supposed to allow him to check in for his flight online. When none of the links worked, Ong decided to check in for his flight at the airport.

At Gatwick, Ong checked in, but was given only one boarding pass for the London-to-Calgary leg of his trip. He thought this was simply how WestJet operated and that he would have to get a boarding pass in Calgary for the Calgary-to-Seattle portion of his trip. But as that leg of the flight was on a codeshared Delta flight, Ong was told by a WestJet agent when he arrived in Calgary that WestJet could not print his boarding pass for his flight to Seattle and advised him to go to the Delta kiosk for his boarding pass.

At the Delta kiosk, its agent noted that Ong had purchased a ticket through Chase but his flight was overbooked. Ong did not have a seat and would not be permitted to board the flight, which was the last flight to Seattle that day. He would not arrive in Seattle in time for his friend’s wedding and would have to spend the night in the airport. Delta did not offer Ong any travel vouchers, a hotel voucher, or a meal voucher; nor did it agree to put Ong on the first flight to Seattle the following day. Its agent told him that he would have to contact Chase to book a seat.

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Ong spent an hour on the phone waiting to speak to a supervisor at Chase Ultimate Rewards, who told Ong that the problem was not Chase’s fault but WestJet’s. Ong then returned to the WestJet kiosk, where its personnel shifted the blame to Delta, arguing that the problem was not WestJet’s since the airline does not fly to Seattle. And Delta’s personnel shifted the blame to WestJet and Chase but took no responsibility for it themselves.

Ong tried to speak to a supervisor at Chase again, only to be told that it was not Chase’s responsibility to communicate to him that the flight was oversold, but his own responsibility to check the status of his flight online and that the situation was his own fault.

The supervisor then agreed to give him 5,000 Chase points and booked the next Delta flight to Seattle for him the next day – according to Ong, “as if she were doing me a favor.” Ong thanked her, hung up, slept in the airport, and the next morning went to check in for the Delta flight – only to be told that he still didn’t have a ticket for that flight.

Ong tried speaking to the WestJet and Delta personnel again, and this time the WestJet agent to whom he spoke was sympathetic to his situation. The agent spoke to the Delta agents, who finally got Ong a seat on the flight to Seattle.

Just whose responsibility was it that Ong was prevented from boarding the original flight to Seattle?

WestJet’s confirmation email to Ong should have contained working links so that Ong could have printed boarding passes for all his flights, including his Delta flight. When those links didn’t work, WestJet should have taken responsibility for that error by helping Ong to print a boarding pass.

Delta is responsible for overbooking its flight. Despite it being a common airline practice to overbook flights, it’s terrible customer service, because it leaves passengers stuck with paid-for airline seats that they can’t sit in. Airlines realize that – and their contracts of carriage do generally provide for compensation for passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding. The laws of many countries, including the U.S. and Canada, also protect passengers by requiring cash refunds and other forms of compensation.

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As the Delta flight on which Ong was denied boarding originated in Canada, Delta’s Canadian contract of carriage applies to his situation. It provides that:

Transportation For Passengers Denied Boarding Delta will provide transportation to passengers who volunteer to relinquish their seats or who are denied boarding involuntarily due to the oversale of a flight as follows:

1) Next Available Flight — Delta will transport the passenger on its next flight on which space is available to the passenger’s next stopover, or if none, to the passenger’s destination, at no additional cost to the passenger.

2) Transportation on Other Airlines — Delta Canadian General Rules Tariff Page 55 of 62 — At Delta’s sole discretion, Delta may instead arrange for transportation on any other carrier or combination of carriers to the passenger’s next stopover, or if none, to the passenger’s destination, at no additional cost to the passenger.

3) Overnight Stay Required — If the transportation provided to a passenger pursuant to this section requires that the passenger stay overnight before continuing his/her travel, Delta will provide hotel accommodations to the passenger at no additional cost. If hotel accommodations are unavailable, Delta will compensate the passenger with a credit voucher valid for future purchases from Delta in an amount commensurate in value with the local average contracted hotel rate up to $100 CAD, to be determined by Delta.

Compensation For Involuntary Denied Boarding — When a passenger with a confirmed reservation is involuntarily denied boarding on an oversold flight pursuant to this rule, Delta’s sole liability to the passenger shall be to provide alternative transportation … and to pay denied boarding compensation, if applicable, pursuant to the terms and conditions of this rule.

According to this language, Ong was entitled to be placed either on the next Delta flight to Seattle, or alternatively, either booked on another airline’s flight to Seattle or given hotel accommodations or a credit voucher. Delta did none of these for Ong and disclaimed all responsibility for his situation, passing responsibility to Chase — violating these provisions of its own contract of carriage.

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And Chase’s customer service was atrocious. It kept Ong on hold for hours. Then its agent first blamed Ong for the situation by accusing him of not being proactive and checking out the status of his flight. (It’s not clear to us how Ong is responsible for his flight’s being overbooked — or what he could have done about it while airborne between London and Calgary.)

Then she claimed to have booked him on the next Delta flight to Seattle — and failed to do so. And no, she wasn’t doing him any “favors” by blaming him and not following through on her promises. In fact, it could be argued that she wasn’t doing her job either. Chase needs to retrain its supervisors in how to appropriately handle complaints from customers.

All this back-and-forth between WestJet, Delta and Chase jerked Ong around, instead of helping him get from Calgary to Seattle.

Ong contacted our advocates, requesting some reparations from the three parties for what he went through, particularly from Chase. As Ong notes, 5,000 Chase points “wouldn’t even cover half of a hotel stay.”

After our advocates reached out to all three companies on Ong’s behalf, he heard nothing from Delta. WestJet denied responsibility but offered $150 CAD as a gesture of goodwill, which he accepted. Chase refunded an additional 48,820 points, as well as the previously offered 5,000 points, to Ong’s account.

Which party was responsible for Andrew Ong’s situation?

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