When Lara Wallace arrived at the airport for her recent flight from Denver to Columbus, she was dismayed to see it was delayed with no anticipated departure time. She and her friend decided to leave the gate area and have dinner. But as they settled in for their meal, they were alerted that their flight was taking off without them.
Now Wallace wants our help to get Frontier Airlines to reimburse her for the cost of the new flight that she was forced to purchase and incidental expenses. But is she entitled to this compensation?
Wallace’s experience should serve as a warning to travelers. When you are at the gate and your flight is delayed with an uncertain departure time, don’t walk away. If you do, you may find yourself left behind, and there is no policy that will protect you in this situation.
In her letter to our advocates, Wallace described her panic when she received the first indication that this impromptu dinner was ill-advised.
“It had not been 40 minutes yet, and we got the email about the revised departure time. When we received it, the departure was two minutes earlier,” she recalled. “We raced back to the gate only to be met by two agents who flippantly told us there was nothing they could do to help us — they had just closed the doors.”
And with that, Wallace watched her flight push back and take off without her.
She complained bitterly to a manager, to whom she referred as “a suit,” that she had not been alerted to the imminent departure of her flight.
The Frontier manager explained to her that the only compensation she could expect was to be rebooked on the next available flight — in two days. This was not a viable plan for Wallace, so she booked herself on a Delta flight home the next day. This cost her an additional $450.
When she arrived home, she began her campaign to get Frontier to pay for her Delta flight, her unexpected hotel stay and her food expenses.
Unfortunately, she took the wrong approach.
Her letters were lengthy, accusatory, and threatening and they contained no awareness that she had made a risky choice in walking away from the gate when her flight status was unknown.
“Please make good on recompensing me,” she wrote. “I would also like for you to understand that I am very vocal on social media. What resolution story I tell in person, through word-of-mouth as well as on social media, about my experience with Frontier is in your hands.”
Lastly, she told them that they had lost her as a customer forever and that she had contacted our advocates for guidance. Unfortunately, she did not contact us before she wrote this request. We would have advised a completely different style.
Our approach would have been a short, polite “mea culpa” type missive.
Not surprisingly, Wallace’s letter did not result in a positive response from Frontier. They reiterated to her that it is a passenger’s responsibility to stay in the gate area during a flight delay.
Yes, not knowing when your flight will leave can be frustrating.
But if you do not wish to miss your flight, you should heed this advice. Flight delays are not an exact science, and they can be suddenly reversed and updated. When a flight is approved for takeoff, the airline is not going to go hunting for passengers who have wandered off. And other passengers — the ones that stayed in the gate area — wouldn’t appreciate that type of further delay either.
When we advocate a case, we must be able to point to a policy that supports the consumer’s complaint. In Wallace’s case, there is no policy that exists to protect passengers against missing their flight if they voluntarily leave the gate area during a delay situation.
Wallace took her case to our forums, where she received similar advice.
In the end, Frontier offered Wallace a “gesture of goodwill” in the form of a small travel voucher. Of course, she can only use it on Frontier — and since she has vowed to never use them again, we can guess this voucher will go unused.