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Happy holidays? JetBlue slams grieving grandson with booking fee, walk-up fare

Happy holidays? JetBlue slams grieving grandson with booking fee, walk-up fare

Micha Klootwijk / Shutterstock.com
Micha Klootwijk / Shutterstock.com
If an airline tells you it offers a more humane way to travel, should you hold it to that promise?

That’s the question raised by David Seltzer’s case on JetBlue Airways, a case that comes to us at an appropriate time of year.

Seltzer’s grandfather died unexpectedly a few months ago, and he immediately paid JetBlue a walk-up fare of $1,258 to fly from Long Beach, Calif., to New York, so he could be with his family. JetBlue then piled on the fees, charging him $20 for a phone booking and then hitting him with a $104 fare differential when he had to change his return flight again.

Seltzer then did what many distraught passengers do after the funeral. He politely asked the airline to adjust the price to a so-called “bereavement” fare. After all, Seltzer wasn’t just a random passenger requesting a fare adjustment, but a loyal, card-carrying JetBlue frequent flier, according to his mother, who contacted me for help.

Her son had two other JetBlue flight itineraries in the future, including one to return to New York again during the holidays. Why not help out a good customer in the spirit of the season?

“We recognize this has been a difficult time for all of you and we offer condolences,” a JetBlue representative wrote in response to her request for a fare reduction. “A crewmember can only sell a fare that is listed on the website when a customer books a flight. We regret the cost was high but when a family member passes, we all are anxious to get out as soon as possible and the fare will typically be higher when you book the same day of travel.”

JetBlue agreed to refund the $20 booking fee and the $104 fare differential. It also offered him a $100 credit toward a future flight. But it refused to refund any part of the original $1,258 fare.

“We know you would like a refund however; in order to maintain the integrity of the JetBlue guidelines we can hot process a refund for this fare,” a representative wrote.

(Yeah, they probably meant to say “not.”)

That didn’t sit well with Seltzer. Here’s her response to JetBlue:

Your bereavement policy states that there basically is none because ‘JetBlue fares are already discounted.’

In this instance that is an untrue statement.

In the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights it is stated that, “Above all else, JetBlue Airways is dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.”

We beg to differ.

Our son was not treated humanely, we feel that he was treated very unfairly. We find it difficult to believe that this was JetBlue’s ‘best fare’ in any way either.

We believe that you took advantage of a young man who was in shock and grieving his grandfather, who he was extremely close to his entire life.

As proof, the Seltzers attached a screenshot of the advance-purchase fares between Long Beach and New York, showing that significantly cheaper fares were available.

The Seltzers suggest they wouldn’t have been as offended when they were hit with a walk-up fare — the kind meant for business travelers with a generous expense account — if JetBlue hadn’t amped up its rhetoric about being a more humane way to fly. In their view, claiming JetBlue is humane is like saying United Airlines is friendly.

“As Morgan Johnston, Jet Blue’s manager of corporate communications, said in a recent article, ‘You can’t put a price on customer loyalty’,” says Seltzer. “Well, actions speak louder than words.”

Seltzer wants me to contact JetBlue to persuade it to do the right thing and partially refund their son’s airfare. Not just in the holiday spirit, but also because JetBlue presents itself as an alternative to airlines that hit their customers with fees and “gotcha” fares and which “airs” on the side of humanity.

I’d be happy to contact JetBlue on the family’s behalf, but as I’ve previously noted, JetBlue does not seem to enjoy hearing from me. To use their euphemism, they prefer to have a “direct” relationship with their customers.

“We do not appreciate the shameful way that our son was treated,” says Seltzer. “This is not good customer service.”

Well, here’s JetBlue’s big chance. Maybe it can fix the Seltzer’s flight without me having to contact them.

Then again, maybe hot.

Should I mediate David Seltzer's case?

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • backprop

    If the argument is that the OP wasn’t treated “humanely,” then no. Having to pay a pretty high (but not astronomically so) fare to fly across the continent at a moment’s notice is not in any way “inhumane.” The hyperbole that a fare like that is “inhumane” just floors me.

    Getting sold into sex slavery is inhumane. Having to live in a North Korean prison camp is inhumane. This is so far away from inhumane that it’s laughable.

  • polexia_rogue

    My grandma died this weekend and I told my dad (he will be the only one going to the funeral since me, my mom and my sister cannot get out of work) “tell me the date you want to fly out and I will get your ticket ONLINE.”

    so many people who need to get to a dying love one either go to the airport or call- this is a HUGE mistake, one that the OP found out too late. there is NEVER any reason to buy a ticket at the airport or over the phone. (unless you have no access to internet at all.)

    Buy online, print it out, THEN go to the airport!

  • bodega3

    Where is the screen shot of the lower fares that the mother sent to you, Chris?
    The mother says there were advance purchase fares yet her son bought a last minute ticket. I see the fare issue right away with this statement. Jet Blue does not offer bereavement fares and the son probably should have called a professional to assist as in the time of emotion and rush, not knowing what to do will cost you, as he found out.

  • Justin

    Hope I don’t sound heartless, but why didn’t the OP comparison price airline bereavement fairs? Grief presents difficulties, but don’t expect favors from the business world.

    Maybe I’m reading the story blindly, but I gather the OP purchased JetBlue on Loyalty over Price.

    To Quote Myself Earlier: Maintain personal shopping habits where loyalty and incentives are secondary. Price, Value, and Return on Investment are Primary.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I suspect it was more along the lines of familiarity that loyalty. Grief stricken, the son goes for the familiar as its easier.

  • $16635417

    The OP uses a screen shot to show there were cheaper advance purchase fares available, yet was traveling as a walkup? A better argument would be to show what other carriers were pricing for the same itinerary on the dates of travel.

  • sirwired

    Like it or not, there simply are no more bereavement fares. Overall price-decreases in fares over time (vs. when bereavement fares were commonly available) and proto-FlyerTalkers abusing those discounts led to them being discontinued.

    An airline isn’t being “inhumane” just because they refuse to discount their product at your request. Sure, a discount would be nice, but I don’t see refusing to provide a discount as even particularly mean, much less “inhumane”.

    And I’m not sure what a screenshot showing the fact that advance-purchase fares are cheaper than walk-up fares is supposed to prove. Of course advance-purchase is cheaper than walk-up…

  • sdir

    JetBlue already credited $124 plus $100 voucher towards future fare. What is the value of the discount this family is seeking? Untied offers a 5% bereavement discount, so JetBlue has already offered a discount that is more compassionate than other carriers. Demanding an advance-notice fare is not reasonable.

    Two years ago my father passed quite suddenly and I flew 1100 miles with less than a day’s notice (I flew out the next morning). As a plus size gal, I purchased two seats for the comfort of myself and other passengers, and I paid a higher fare for both tickets because of the short notice. Yes it was expensive, but I agreed to it since my other alternative was to drive 1100 miles while grieving and distracted. So while my heart goes out to the OP for their loss, I consider their demand unreasonable.

  • Blackadar

    I entirely agree. The price was what it was, the son bought the ticket and then wanted to renegotiate the price after the trip? I don’t think so. Don’t get involved.

  • John Baker

    Maybe I’m just grumpy on Christmas Eve but this OP lost me. First, if its that important why isn’t the son contacting Chris? Second, I’m with @backprop:disqus. There was nothing inhumane about the OP’s son’s treatment. Paying a high fare isn’t inhumane.

    Sorry I voted “no.”

  • BillCCC

    I don’t think that there is anything to mediate. They weren’t refused the fare prior to the travel.

  • EdB

    It sounds more like the mother wanted to renegotiate the price since she is the one who contacted JetBlue and Chris. It’s a bit difficult to tell with the way things are written….

    Seltzer then did what many distraught passengers do after the funeral. He politely asked the airline to adjust the price to a so-called “bereavement” fare.

    a JetBlue representative wrote in response to her request for a fare reduction.

    It starts out sounding like he asked but then all references about it changes to the mother after that.

  • John Baker

    I also did a little searching too… for travel on the 26th (still a holiday period), JB is the only carrier who flies direct to NY and therefore you pay a premium at basically the same price the OP paid. If you drive the 30 min to LAX where there’s competition, fares are $850 pp rt.
    I feel for the OP. During an emotional time, he made a poor economic decision. JB has already offered to cover some of that cost. I’m not sure why they should have to bare more of it.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    My condolences on your grandma’s passing. I hope you have good memories of her to keep with you.

  • Korrine Johnson

    Thank you backprop! Those types of words scream entitlement to me and I lose any empathy I might have had.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’m with you. Plus, the OP says her son was treated in a “shameful way”? Really? So agreeing to pay a price and then asking to renegotiate it and then being told “no” is being treated shamefully?

    If it were me, I would’ve asked for some consideration, but if none is forthcoming, drop it. It’s not worth it.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yep. Same itinerary, same dates, same timeframe to buy… But if the OP had those screenshots showing better fares, chances are s/he wouldn’t have bought JetBlue.

  • omgstfualready

    I’m starting to think that Chris would envision travel transactions to operate as if they were car lots and each person negotiates their price on their own.

    The OP had a loss and I sympathize, many of us have been in those shoes. But Jet Blue did nothing wrong and his mom is living in a long ago world of discounted hard knock fares. His walk up price cannot be compared to early booking price. That is an unreasonable way to look at it.

  • MarkKelling

    So they got him where he needed to go with no advance planning on his part. There is no complaint that anyone from the airline actually did anything to him that was rude or inconsiderate. He was able to change his flight at a very minimal cost and no change fees. And then when he asked, the minor fees he did get charged were refunded and he got a voucher that can possibly be used on future flights. I think he was treated incredibly well.

    If I was in his place, I would be incredibly happy that I was able to get where I needed to be. Paying that much for a flight at the last minute is just how air travel works.

    Is mom complaining because she was the one who actually paid for the ticket? Get over it and move on.

  • Fishplate

    “…a loyal, card-carrying JetBlue frequent flier…”

    Could have just typed “chump”. Fewer keystrokes.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Is the OP joking?

    Airlines are BUSINESSES. They are not charities. Of COURSE a last minute ticket is going to cost more. They can ask for whatever they want, but taking the case to Chris is nothing more than public shaming, in an attempt to get what they want.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Why is the mom doing all the legwork?
    The son is an adult…where is he in all of this?

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Being any airlines “frequent flier” doesn’t mean anything anymore.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    +1. Since I was in boarding school at age 14 I’ve been handling my own travel arrangements. It’s not hard.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I voted no for a variety of reasons:
    1. Mommy wiping Sonny’s butt. If it was so concerning to Sonny, why isn’t he dealing with it? It sounds like he’s NOT a minor.

    2. What did they expect? A free flight? JB waived the booking fee and the change fee.

    3. Walk up fares, even “bereavement” ones are expensive. Deal with it.

  • Raven_Altosk

    OP is a whiner.

  • omgstfualready

    Loyal has no definition. Flying twice a year but always only on JetBlue makes you consider yourself loyal. Flying two dozen times a year, half on JetBlue makes you consider youself not loyal. Gee, which customer will JetBlue want?

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Ohh, we got a few flags on that one. She’s a concerned mom, as I see it. But yes, my hyperbole alert went off as I read the complaint, too. Those words don’t help when you’re asking an airline for an exception to a rule.

  • VoR61

    A true story from my personal archives …

    Hard to believe that it’s been 25 years (from today) that the marker was installed on my daughter’s grave. Earlier that year while on a Make-A-Wish trip, she and I had to rush home because she was doing very poorly.

    The flight back connected through O’Hare with gate assignments at opposite ends of the airport. While running through the concourses (no shuttles then) and juggling her (4 years old) and our luggage (no wheeled baggage at the time), a United rep cam up behind us and volunteered to carry the luggage. When we approached the gate, she escorted me to a Customer Service area and had them assign me to first class. I offered her my profound thanks, and had a quiet trip home while attended to by the wonderful flight crew. I felt then as I do now, that everyone benefited from our “isolation” in the front of the plane.

    Never did I ask or expect them to go above and beyond. These many years later I remain grateful and deeply touched by their generosity. I’m aware it cost them the fare upgrade, but he first class seats were open, and our airfare was already paid for. But they understood what seems to be forgotten in all the necessary profit-making policies today – compassion is sometimes the right thing to do.

    This OP “politely asked the airline to adjust the price to a so-called ‘bereavement’ fare “. Not asking for a $50 fare, or a complete refund. When travel is required for death or illness, it’s a mystery to me why an airline would not do so in a heartbeat. Perhaps they need to check their pulse …

  • nyctraveler

    My grandmother died two years ago and I had to travel from NYC to the Dominican Republic within 24 hours. First thing I did was go online and compare airfare. Turned out JetBlue had the cheapest airfare for a direct flight. It wasn’t cheap, but they were the least expensive.
    I’m sorry for their loss, but it’s not JB’s fault that they chose to book over the phone which everyone knows comes with a fee these days. It was nice enough that JB refunded that fee and the fare differential when he changed his itinerary.

  • Michael__K

    Even if the OP flew an airline that offered bereavement fares, he wouldn’t necessarily have been any better off and possibly worse off. Bereavement fares might offer a 10% discount but I’m pretty sure fare differential fees would still apply to changes even if the $200 change fee were waived. The $124 in fees that JetBlue refunded add up to nearly 10% of the OP’s original paid fare.

    If the OP absolutely had to fly LGB->JFK nonstop with not a moment to spare, then indeed, JetBlue was probably his only option, and the last minute fare at this very moment is pretty close to what he paid a few months ago. However, if he had a few hours to spare, there appear to be many other options for same-day travel (either nearby airports or connecting flights) which — if the last minute fares available today are a representative indication — would be 25%-30% cheaper.

  • DavidYoung2

    So long as JetBlue offered to sell him the cheapest available ticket for that day of travel, then it treated him fairly. As for ‘humane,’ what part of air travel sans Business or First is humane?

  • Cyn2

    Unlike 25 years ago, bereavement fares no longer exist at most airlines. They were widely abused, as Chris pointed out in the article, and were quietly discontinued. For similar reasons, the agent’s ability to waive advance purchase requirements due to a passenger’s emergency situation also largely disappeared.

  • LFH0

    Amtrak has bereavement fares. After a round-trip between New York and Ottumwa, Iowa to attend the funeral service for my wife’s aunt, I e-mail the reservation numbers and letter from the funeral director to Amtrak, and in a reasonable time period they processed a refund for the difference between the fare paid and the bereavement fare. The bereavement fares are not available online, but I did speak with Amtrak by telephone before making arrangements, and the agent explained the fares and process, and did so clearly, patiently and sympathetically. Although finding space on crowded trains in summer was a bit of a challenge, everything else went as smoothly as could be.

  • $16635417

    The rule of thumb used to be 50% off the lowest unrestricted coach fare from what I recall in my travel agent days.

    I recently came across a ticket receipt for a bereavement trip from over 20 years ago. The cost in 1990 dollars of that bereavement fare was more than a last minute fare on that route today in 2013 dollars.

  • LFH0

    Well, the cost of transporting a booked-in-advance passenger is the same as a last-minute-booked passenger, so it is not that the passenger is paying more because it costs more. Rather, the airlines use yield management systems to be able to identify a pricing scheme that maximizes the amount it can extract from passengers. Leisure travelers typically know far in advance when they will travel, and are price sensitive, while business travelers more often travel at the last minute, and are less price sensitive (since the value of the business to be conducted outweighs the travel cost). Thus, advance booking is typically less expensive and last minute more expensive in order to exploit those price sensitivities. Bereavement travel is a bit different since it is personal, not business, travel. But other than that it is the same as business travel to the airlines. It is last minute, and the value of attending the funeral probably exceeds the cost of the travel. Airlines recognize that they can extract the maximum fare possible out of bereavement travelers because they have the leverage: pay us a lot to travel or your relative will be six feet under and you’ll never see him or her again. The only reason that airlines would offer bereavement fares is because of human compassion, not for business reasons. Most airlines have no human compassion (the JetBlue advertising notwithstanding), only a quest for the dollar.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    I often wonder how much of the real story we are getting when a parent of an “adult” tries to solve a problem.

  • Bill___A

    Condolences. However, people die every day. If every airline allowed free or steeply discounted tickets to every person who had a dying relative, a friend who passed away, an important event to go to, etc. etc. etc. then the whole economics of it would be destroyed.
    A long time friend of mine’s wife died of cancer a couple of years ago. We knew she was going to pass on, but of course, you never know when. At the time it did happen, not only were fares high, but flights were difficult to find. Ended up paying $1300 a ticket (X2) and taking a circuitous route to get there. Drove to the hotel and got to it after 1 am the day of the funeral. I was thankful for the airline getting us there, and thankful the hotel had a room. Of course it isn’t good paying $2600 for a pair of tickets that should cost $500 each, but that’s how it goes. Painting JetBlue as a bad airline, when they already refunded several fees, is not in good taste. I can understand how they wouldn’t want to “open the floodgates” so to speak.
    I voted no.

  • Bill___A

    Condolences

  • Barbara Baden

    Is it just me or am I seeing more and more of these complaints that are not posted by the traveler, but by a parent or other relative? I say if the traveler doesn’t care enough to write in, then there is no reason for mediation.

  • Michael__K

    How did the last minute unrestricted coach fares compare to the lowest last minute coach fares in those days?

    When I price some sample coast-to-coast itineraries on legacy carriers right now (e.g. on United), it seems that the unrestricted fares are almost exactly double minus 10% (i.e. 190%) higher than lowest fare . In other words, the old rule of thumb and the new rule of thumb would both produce pretty much the same result.

    With Jet Blue, the additional cost for their refundable fares appears to generally be much lower than with legacy carriers, so 50% off their refundable fares would be an excellent offer.

  • bodega3

    Yes, he may not have checked out other options. The last bereavement ticket I did, I got for a client for last minute travel by having her fly into SJC on AA instead of OAK or SFO. Fare into SJC was $269. Fare into SFO or OAK was well over $1000. These also included checking WN fares.

  • MarkKelling

    Didn’t mean to indicate that I agree with the way airlines price tickets or that there should not be a bereavement fare. But it is the way things are. Ivy league educated accountants seem to be running the airlines now and apparently they don’t teach compassion in college or they beat it out of the students before they graduate.

    Most other business selling perishable inventory will offer a highly discounted price as the item gets closer to its use by date. Not really sure why airlines can’t do the same except for their belief that everyone would wait until they walked up to the check in counter at the airport to buy their tickets.

  • y_p_w

    Yeah – that I don’t get. Certainly where I live (San Francisco Bay Area) anyone searching last minute (or even not) should check all airports – SFO, OAK, and SJC. We might even check Sacramento, which has less traffic and possibly the cheapest on-site airport parking in California for a large commercial airport. If you look for fares on the big OTAs, they even give you that option.

  • bodega3

    Back in the early 80’s, a friends mother was dying. Last rites were read more that once and each time she pulled through. My friend flew back each time and back then, a bereavement fare was in the $600 range from SFO to DTW. This was well before I got into the business, so compare that to today, last minute fares on discounted carriers are not that much higher.

  • MarkKelling

    He also may have checked other fares but this was the only available, or even least expensive, option for the specific day.

  • bodega3

    Yes that could be, but it doesn’t sound like he did the checking. Allowing for some flexibility in a last minute ticket can often save you hundreds of dollars. Fares are not always common rated for near by airports.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Raven, you know I adore your snarkiness, but I’d ask you to rethink that last comment. You know that I defended your POV when you reprimanded an OP for taking video of a little girl, because I put myself in your shoes. So, David Seltzer’s grandfather passed away, and his mom got involved. It may have been her father that passed. You get one bill for this funeral expense, and another bill for that funeral expense and it goes on and on and on. Everyone gets their little (or big) piece of you and you start feeling really beat down and taken advantage of and guilted into paying for stuff you never would have paid for in a less emotional state of mind.

    So, with that POV, go back and re-read the article. Yes, what the mother is asking for is really unrealistic – to those of us not in that particular situation. I voted not to mediate, because the family did not take certain steps to mitigate their financial outlay and that’s really not JetBlue’s problem. But really, trust me, dealing with a funeral is a real b . . other.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’m going to speak to those people who’ve said that Mom should butt out. I can think of one very good reason that Mom has a vested interest in this process – she may have told her son to book the flight, get home ASAP, and she would reimburse him for the ticket. If I my son in NYC has to fly back here for a funeral, I know good and well that he doesn’t have the money for the ticket, but that his presence is definitely needed. Now me, I would go ahead and book the ticket myself in between dealing with all the other crap that comes with a death, but I’m able emotionally to do that kind of thing. Not everyone is.

    I do think that Mom’s involvement hurts David Seltzer’s case in dealing with JetBlue, and I frankly don’t think he has much of a case in the first place, but let’s show a little compassion today, okay?

  • bodega3

    My condolences, too.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Point taken, Jeanne.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Exactly. There was a way to present this without looking like a helicopter mom on a quest to beat down an airline that is doing business AND giving her a break on the fees.

  • bodega3

    Bereavement fares were discounted last minute refundable fares. This gave them a discount for the emergency plus the flexibility to rebook the return as things often require a change for immediate family members. The discount could be as high as 75% off. We always had to call the carrier, or queue the information to the carrier from the booked PNR for their pricing and their permission to ticket.

  • y_p_w

    4 days from Long Beach to NYP. However, the cheapest fare I could find was $238.

  • backprop

    I generally get asked to remove that word when I use it. I usually replace it with “OP is whining” and it’s OK ;)

  • JH

    I voted “no” because ANY dealing with Jet Blue is ill advised. I would just eat the 1200 bucks and never fly with them again. If I could not get to a destination in any way other than by flying Jet Blue, I would not go.

    This backprop fellow has a very narrow understanding of how we speakers of English use our language. We say “awesome” when we mean “I like it.” We also use great, terrific and such when mostly we simply agree or are pleased. backprop’s narrow definition of inhumane makes him out to be far too pedantic. Similarly, is Jet Blue’s use of “humane” wrong because it is not run by people similar to Mother Theresa?
    Or is it merely a marketing tool? I don’t see backprop arguing against the business’
    word choice.

  • Travelnut

    Chris, doesn’t JetBlue just ignore you anyway? :)
    I dunno, I think the OP has gotten all she will get. Sounds like both mom and son might not be experienced travelers. I got a bereavement fare from Continental for my dad’s funeral in 2001, did not get one from United for my mom’s in 2010. That’s just the way it is. I always said I should put aside some savings knowing that the day would come someday when I had to pay for my mom’s funeral, including airfare and hotel. Of course I didn’t. Between that and dealing with further expenses of the estate, it really drained my bank accounts and I can see why the mom (if it was her father) might be trying to mitigate some of that expense.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thank you. You and your fiancee and your little girl have a great Christmas!

  • Raven_Altosk

    Merry Christmas to you, too!

  • Daddydo

    There are few so-called “bereavement” fares left in the market place today. They still require a special “class” of service to book the so-called “bereavement” fare an I don’t ever expect that class of service to be available at the last moment. Jet Blue as well as most airlines charge a fee for booking on the phone, “bereavement” does not change that situation. Our office waives that fee if the client has used us in the past as do most good ASTA agencies that I know. We would have also looked for airlines with bereavment fares that allow free changes due to unforseen circumstances. Emegencies cause peaople to act and over react, where the ASTA agent tries to just assist the client. We offer David and his family heart felt condolances, but Jet Blue did nothing wrong, you should have a travel agent to depend on and use, because you may get much better service than any airline can provide.

  • sdir

    JetBlue didn’t have to do anything for this customer, yet they refunded $124 in fees and gave them a $100 voucher. Instead of graciously accepting the refund, the OP called JetBlue “inhumane” and contacted Chris to mediate a larger refund. If I were JetBlue, I’d take offense and would want to retract my offer. Sometimes the “right thing to do” (in this case, provide the OP a partial refund) comes back to bite you in the ass.

  • LFH0

    Amtrak itself may not work out for some, but it does provide an example of how things *could* be done by other carriers. Amtrak has many problems, but compassion is not one of them.

  • LFH0

    Yes, indeed, as to the relationship of dollars and compassion.

    The “perishable” aspect has some attraction to it, but if airlines discounted last-minute seats regularly to avoid “wasting” unused capacity, then business travelers would probably be able to find those seats, and not pay the high last-minute price. That is, better to maintain price “integrity” for last-minute sales than to train everyone to wait for the last minute sale. But compare airlines with cruise lines, which do discount last-minute sales. Reason? Two of them. First, little or no business travel. Second, the last-minute discounts are not offered until after the deadline for final payments, so early bookers cannot re-book on the now-discounted fares. The cruise lines are generally in full agreement as to the “perishable” aspect of their fares.

  • bodega3

    A nice story from you regarding a difficult situation you were dealing with!
    Having sold airline tickets for many decades, I have said it on this forum, for more times that I can count, is that the airlines have been taken advantage of by passengers who lied regarding emergency needs, so the carriers had to change the way they did things. Linda, who also participates on this forum, has seen it, too. Phony doctor’s notes, healthy people walking onto the plane. They screwed it for the rest of us and as an owner of a business, not travel related, I have heard lies there, too. I may not like what policies the carriers have put in place, but knowing how passengers wish to take advantage of something they don’t qualify for, I get why businesses have to do what they do and be strict with it.

  • VoR61

    Your post reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite movies – The American President. He sees Carmen’s House of Flowers and says “We gotta stop”. When challenged about “hopping out”, the president replies: “You think there’s a florist planning my assassination on the off-chance I might be stopping by”.
    The article states that he paid a “walk up fare”, which to me means that he went to the airport. I doubt that many would plot to hang out at the airport “on the off chance” that a seat would be available at the last minute. If the plane is not full, why not give the traveler a break. Perhaps match the lowest fare paid for that flight (not including points, rewards, etc.)
    So I agree with Mark. And I will add that not everyone can adjust well and think clearly when a crisis like this emerges. Having needed one bereavement fare in my lifetime, and also packing up at 1:00 in the morning to drive, I can say with certainty that it requires a great deal of energy just to move sometimes. Expecting the OP’s son to follow a normal booking process does not make sense to me.

  • Justin

    Agreed. Rushed decision made with emotions running high over a thought out action plan.

    Been there, done that, never good. We’ve all been there before, too.

  • AirlineEmployee

    At first I was completely siding with the passenger, however I agree with the premise that death happens every day and with people scattered all over the place (most of us live nowhere near where we grew up with our families), it’s just a fact that we have to jump on planes from time-to-time at a moment’s notice (unfortunate though it may be).

    Secondly, it’s true….airlines are NOT social services. Every day under (uncontrollable by the airline) circumstances such as delays, cancellations and other irregular operations, we have passengers who expect what is totally unreasonable. I’ve had people ask me for a room at top, very expensive hotels; car service back to where they came from (ie., $200 taxi fares one way). A mother traveling with an infant demanded that we provide formula and diapers for her child. Passengers who are late for flights due to poor planning on their part expect us to just put them on another airline or give them the only seat open in F-class. One woman was at the boarding gate and was so preoccupied with her phone/computer that she did not board when the flight was called and then demanded we switch her ticket (to Jet Blue, no less). Others ask for F-class because of pregnancy or their birthday (honest effort, but really ?….)
    A woman the other day kept insisting we change her destination and routing. Her original ticket was to Orange County, CA but she really wanted to go to Spokane, WA. When advised of fare change and penalties, she refused to have any of it…..insisting that it was equal distance by air across the country (one city vs. the other) so we should honor her ticket based on that. It can be sad and laughable at the same time but again, I emphasize, Airlines are a business, they are not a charity.

  • VoR61

    The one time I needed one, the airline agent asked for the name of the funeral home, and placed me on hold for a few minutes (literally) while they verified the death. They then gave me the bereavement fare. Seemed to work well to me, and would have been hard(er) to defraud.
    That said, in the case where their is, the airline would still make money vs. an empty seat. And as I’ve already said, it can;t always be about money …

  • bodega3

    Yes, that is still the policy with some carriers, to get the name, address and phone number of the funeral home, the director’s name, the name of the deceased and the relationship of the passenger to the deceased. For medical needs, the name of the doctor, the name and address of the hospital, the relationship to the patient is also what is needed. If you are military, Delta is great for emergency needs.

  • Justin

    I think the prerequisite for bereavement is to be there in a timely fashion. Showing up 3-4 days later doesn’t work. Might be acceptable for shorter distances.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve ridden Amtrak a lot, and compassion seems to be something that’s individual to the workers. And starting sometime in 2014 they will require reservations be canceled 24 hours in advance unless they’re considered full fare. It used to be easy to cancel or just no-show and get a voucher.

    Besides – they receive a lot of federal subsidies and can pass off the costs of more generous policies to the taxpayer.

  • Justin

    Never hurts to try =). Just don’t expect to succeed.

    Here’s what I’d told the lady. Pretend the Airline has family (hub) in Orange County, CA and a place to stay. You now want us to pick up and go visit Spokane, WA (non hub) where we have no ties. We can no longer crash with family.

    The cost increases. Same distance, different circumstances.

  • Justin

    Why is the mother talking here in lieu of the son? Sounds like buyer remorse on the Mother’s part (Paid bill for Son).

  • Justin

    Trust is a two way street. In a perfect world, what you tell me is true and without spin. We all know a perfect world does not and will never exist. Therefore, safeguards are applied to prevent abuse.

    I think if airlines took the time to verify passenger claims, we’d all be better off. To prevent abuses, airlines pass along a regular fair “surcharge” of 10-20% the fare cost when a story becomes unverifiable or false. People hate penalties, and penalties lesson the chances the system is gamed.

  • y_p_w

    There was a time when airline employees had broad discretion to do all sorts of things. Maybe not all that you’ve heard requested, but certainly first-class upgrades and destination changes.

    Me – I’ve bought cheap fares and realized that if I couldn’t make it for one reason or another I’d just have to eat it. Boss wanted me in the office even though I had nonrefundable hotel reservations. I got them cheap, but I knew there was a risk.

  • JenniferFinger

    I don’t think you’ll get anywhere arguing with JetBlue. I fly them all the time, and I think the fact that they waived the add-on fees is the best you’re going to be able to do.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I discount any story told through a third party unless it’s a legitimate reason. If it’s that much of a problem, write to Chris yourself.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Geez… as Sam Kinison used to say, “Get in the box.”

  • Grant Ritchie

    Not any more… (cheap parking at SMF, that is). We’re up to ten bucks a day for economy parking (from four just a few years ago). Gotta pay for the expensive and underused new Terminal “B.” :-p

  • http://www.travoline.com/ Yuvaraj

    Recently I happen to see this video from WestJet, they seem to provide such huge gifts to the entire people onboard. So airlines can better their services even more closely focusing towards customer loyalty. In case of emergency, for genuine reasons, they could offer a better rate.

  • TonyA_says

    So why didn’t the mother help find a cheap fare at that time. Why b*tch and moan now? By the way, what did the mom fly to the funeral herself, jetblue ?

  • TonyA_says

    I sold a ticket to a grieving grand daughter last week. Her grandma passed away suddenly and she was too grief stricken to compare fares and go through the motions of buying an international ticket from New York to Manila and back.

    I can’t recall when was the last time anyone even mentioned the term compassion, humane or bereavement to me. All they usually want is to get there on schedule.

    There is something wrong with this lady and her story and not with the airline.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Any number of reasons. My guess is that the kid was grief stricken and probably didn’t even ask for any help.

  • TonyA_says

    Some religions require burial within a day of death. Some don’t. I have sold a number of international tickets to families that told me the funeral was being scheduled until all important relatives can arrive.
    Many times there is a huge difference between same day versus 1-2 day departure fares and availability.
    If you belong to the religion that requires one day burial, then your options are limited.

  • FQTVLR

    Sorry but comparing a last minute fare to an advanced purchase fare is not comparing apples to apples. Airline bereavement fares went the way of the dodo bird years ago. The young man should have looked on line rather than calling. The phone booking should have been the last resort. And as with the honeymooners and their missed honeymoon, you should leave the 2nd and 3rd party complaints alone. Both these requests come from helicopter parents who do not think their adult children can stand on their own two feet. Make this a learning experience for them all.

  • FQTVLR

    And did you not tell us the other day how loyal JetBlue is to members of its loyalty program?

  • empathetic mom

    This boy just got off of a plane from a business trip, received the phone call from home about his grandfather, turned the car around and returned to the airport to go home. An important piece of information that was missing from this issue was that the deceased was a Jewish man. In this religion the person is buried the very next day. This kid just wanted to get home to grieve with his family and to say a final good-bye to his grandfather. Where is your sympathy people? I hope this never happens to you.

  • bodega3

    I believe you are missing what people are saying. There is sympathy, but just because ‘the boy’ got off a plane and needed to get on another one, doesn’t get him off the hook for not doing more homework before buying that ticket and then having his mother ask Chris for help. Last minute tickets are pricey. There are ways in an emergency to mitigate these. If you are doing it yourself, just like trying to replace your hot water heater yourself, you only have yourself to blame for not knowing how to do it correctly.

  • Dutchess

    How was your son treated “shameful”? He was refunded two legitimate fees as a courtesy. Since when was it up to the airline to take the responsibility for a death in the family? He was treated like any other walkup fare would have been on that day.

    Using the death of a loved one to guilt an airline into giving you a fare discount, NOW THAT’S SHAMEFUL!

  • Dutchess

    I agree, the inhumane thing is using the death of a loved one to shame an airline into giving you a reduced fare!

  • Travelnut

    Hello “empathetic mom”… I assume you are the mother of the man in the post? (since you know information that is not included in the post) First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. I totally get that having to fly to a funeral on very short notice is very expensive; I’ve done it twice. I think what it boils down to is, these days there really is no such thing as a bereavement fare. Unfortunately, many people abused this courtesy and it has largely been discontinued. Was your son able to check other airlines to see if they had a bereavement fare? It sounds like he just booked JetBlue in a hurry and while grieving, under the assumption that they offered it, and later found out they did not. I think it was nice of them to refund some of the fees. Unfortunately, I think this is the best your son can get, even from other airlines. It’s a different world now.

  • Bill___A

    I really think the headline is unfair. The OP bought the fare, and is asking for money back. JetBlue didn’t do anything other than sell a ticket at their normal rate.

  • bodega3

    Unfortunately, writers want to provoke and get our attention by placing a spin on things. I agree with you. The young man didn’t due his homework BEFORE buying a new ticket. He was presented with the news and reacted. Mom thinks the carrier was wrong…not the son, who made the purchase. Chris tries to make the airlines into the bad guys, but readers see through this and are sympathetic to the traveler and can’t side with the mother’s view of a business being unfair to son.

  • y_p_w

    I flew from/to SMF at a time when I was working in the Sacramento area. It was $9/day. To me, that’s cheap for airport on-site economy parking. OAK is $16 (although you can walk to the terminal from the economy lot). SJC is $15 with buses. SFO is $18 and you’ll need to take a people mover.

    $10 still seems pretty cheap to me. That, and the airfare was cheaper.

    I did look up other airports, and Fresno is $8/day. However, it’s sort of bordering on being on a large commercial airport. SMF has over 15 times their passenger traffic though.

  • Bill___A

    I realize that but I think it goes a lot further than it needs to go in order to achieve the result. Recently, a pre authorization transaction of $1, used to verify the existence and CVC code on a credit card was used as a headline to talk about excessive fees. This wasn’t a fee, it was just a verification process. Many online retailers do it. There is supposed to be a “truth in journalism” ethic too, something which seems to be lost with respect to these headlines.

  • Bill___A

    Condolences on the loss. Since the religion requires burial the next day, there is little choice as to how to get there in time. I fail to see how Jet Blue should be criticized over charging their normal price. It was quite good of them to refund the two fees that they did, in fact they didn’t have to do even that. For the most part, there is freedom of religion, but that most certainly doesn’t mean other businesses should be paying for it. I’ve had to pay the higher fees associated for last minute travel for funerals too. It happens. I didn’t ask the airlines or their shareholders to subsidize it. And really I am quite offended by how JetBlue is put down by this headline. I’m sure most people didn’t agree with it. The price paid is consistent with what the rates are. Saying a final good bye costs money. Sorry but it does.

  • Bill___A

    The employee time was donated and I believe the gifts were too. However, I think the employees expect their airline to be profitable and their wages to be paid. Don’t confuse the odd promotion for the fact that prices could be way lower. This gifting thing at WestJet happened on TWO flights. That’s not the same as giving discounts on hundreds of flights each day. I prefer airlines to be profitable and able to pay their employees, contribute to pensions, pay taxes, and maintain their aircraft properly.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I never claimed my headlines or my polls were fair (see my FAQ for a full confession). It’s worth noting that many of the readers who see “through” my admittedly pro-consumer headlines and stories work in the travel industry and sympathize with their employers. I love them all the same and welcome their comments here.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Um, actually I followed the conventions of good journalism on that article. I asked both the passenger and the airline for their side of the story. In the end, the fee disappeared, so we will never know what it was. Was American testing a new $1 online booking fee, a la Allegiant? Was it a credit card verification fee? I don’t know. But you seem to think you know. Maybe I should have interviewed you for the article?

  • Bill___A

    Chris, I did read that, but at the same time, feel that the headlines and polls lessen the experience. You are a skilled journalist but the headlines and polls, in my opinion, rather than enhance the experience, bring it down a few notches. I realize that my reading of the site is optional. I do enjoy reading the articles and most of the comments, but consistently misleading headlines (worse than any tabloid newspaper I’ve seen) and unrealistic polls are causing me to re-evaluate and look elsewhere. I do think I am not the only one who feels the polls and headlines are not quite in sync with the rest of the information.

  • Bill___A

    Maybe you should have, Chris, because I watch card charges very carefully and can tell you that’s exactly what happens. The pre-authorization charge “disappeared”. That’s because they do a pre-authorization and then don’t put it through as a charge. Whichever airline employee you talked to likely has no idea how their back end works with respect to verifying credit cards, and the customer obviously thought it was a fee. Furthermore, they generally put fees in with the main charge, not as a separate one.

    If it was a refund of a fee, you would see a charge and a refund, not a “disappearance”.
    My explanation makes perfect sense, yours does not.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Bill, I appreciate your comments. As you can imagine, I don’t agree with everything you say … and as I can imagine, you don’t agree with everything I say.

    While I hope you’ll stick around, I do think you’re in the minority. My provocative headlines are the most interesting part of this site. And the admittedly unrelated polls are a hoot, and they make the discussions even more interesting.

    If you want a self-aware, humorless approach to headlines, you can always read a certain newspaper of record, which has a so-so website. At least that’s what I’m told.

  • Bill___A

    There are certain fixed costs in planning and maintaining a flight schedule. If there were no incentive to book in advance, then a lot of people would not do so, therefore creating chaos as airlines would be unable to assign equipment efficiently. Encouraging people to plan in advance and ensuring that they do not change their plans on a whim is what allows the airlines to keep and maintain a schedule. Therefore, if everyone travelled at the last minute, there would indeed be a lot of difficulties. The name of the game is to strongly dissuade people from doing this. Hence the cheaper in advance fares, and the fees to change them. One needs to look at the bigger picture. The system isn’t perfect but there is some sort of rhyme and reason to it.

  • jamesbeaz

    I see US Airways flights for $702 heading to NYC tomorrow and returning to Long Beach on 2 January. Perhaps the OP just wanted to travel with the premium Jet Blue product?

  • Lindabator

    I think she just put in any dates, and saw all the different prices and ASSUMED they should give him a 14 day advance fare versus the walkup – at least that’s how I read it.

  • Lindabator

    You are so right! And having been the one working for the airline and hearing those stories, I can understand why they did what they did. And why it does make our jobs as travel consultants so much more difficult – clients really DO think we can do whatever we’d like, when the airline controls it all.

  • Lindabator

    True – these situations are always difficult. But mom must also understand that just because she really wants something doesn’t entitle her to it, and I think that is the point most people are having a problem with. Her hyperbole and over-the-top expectations. I DO understand how she feels, but she needs to remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar — and sometimes, there are no flies to catch! :)

  • Grant Ritchie

    Yeah, I guess compared to other airports, Sacramento IS cheap. What irritates me, though, is that it’s twice what it should be because they’ve pissed away so many millions of dollars. Come see our “art” — our ridiculous “red rabbit” in Terminal B. If I want to see art, I’m quite content to go to the Crocker art museum downtown, thank you. And don’t get me started on Terminal B itself — millions wasted on an overpriced, underused, white elephant. A poorly designed monstrosity where the shuttles can’t even drop you off at the outdoor baggage check, and you have to walk twice as far AND take a people mover to get to the gates. An object lesson in why bureaucrats should never be able to spend without restraint.

  • Annie M

    JetBlue does not offer bereavement fares. The time to check into this was before buying tickets, not after. JetBlue is no longer even considered a “discount” airline – they are often more expensive than American and many other airlines.

    From their website:

    Fare Discounts

    Because our fares are already discounted to all customers, we do not
    offer additional discounts or special fares for the following
    situations: bereavement, age, disability, or clergy.

  • Annie M

    If this is truly what happened, why was he charged for using the phone to book his reservation? He booked a walk up fare and was charged for a phone fare. How can both happen?

    There are very few bereavement fares and while you have my condolences about your loss, there are thousands of people who are in the same predicament who don’t expect to be reimbursed even though their airline doesn’t offer bereavement fares or they can take an hour and check into other airlines for the best price and any that might have a bereavement fare.

    Unfortunately, because of the circumstances it seems that there is really nothing else you can do at this point since JetBlue clearly states no bereavement fares. The fact that they refunded anything is amazing to me.

    “This boy just got off of a plane from a business trip, received the
    phone call from home about his grandfather, turned the car around and
    returned to the airport to go home.”

  • y_p_w

    OAK is getting the Oakland Airport Connector BART shuttle. Basically an almost half billion dollar boondoggle to replace the current AirBART bus system that’s only $3 a ride and operates every 10 minutes. Basically the whole thing is designed to get around the unpleasantness of the people who hang around the Coliseum/Airport BART station and to suck up about $70M of federal funding.

    And yeah – I’ve seen the rabbit. When someone asked “what other airport can you find a giant rabbit?”, I actually found a carved statue of a desert cottontail at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas.