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Cruise torpedoed by Delta Air Lines change fees

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On March - 12 - 2009

On a seemingly perfect cruise, retirees Sol and Arline Bernstein set sail on a November Mediterranean cruise on Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess. The couple was celebrating Sol’s 80th birthday in grand fashion by touring Europe’s most famous sites from Rome to Istanbul.

But it all came to an unceremonious end after two weeks at sea when bad weather forced Grand Princess to delay docking seven hours at Civitavecchia, Italy – Rome’s homeport. The West Palm Beach, Fla., couple boarded a bus to get them to Rome’s airport. But they arrived too late for their flight home and the Delta Air Lines representative told the couple it would cost them $250 per ticket in transfer fees, plus the fare difference to get on flights the following day. What was the fare difference? A whopping $1,414 per ticket. Tack on several hundred dollars to stay in Rome an extra day and the Bernsteins were looking at over $3,000 in added expenses to their trip.

“Good thing we have insurance,” thought Arline Bernstein, who purchased a policy when she booked the cruise with Princess. “We’ll get reimbursed.” Unfortunately, the Bernsteins found out that policies don’t always cover everything, particularly exorbitant airline fees.

Trip coverage

Last July when the Bernsteins purchased their Princess cruise they also booked their non-refundable economy class tickets independently through Delta at a cost of $924 per person, including taxes. Additionally, the couple bought Princess’s “Princess Travel Care” plan, a travel insurance policy handled through BerkelyCare for $199 per person. The policy would cover a montage of items, including trip delays.

Princess stated the reason behind the late arrival in Civitavecchia was due to weather. This is considered an “Act of God” according to its passenger contract, which means that they owe passengers no compensation. The cruise line did reimburse the couple $150, the cost of the transfers to the airport and the Bernstein’s insurance kicked in for the trip delay, but that coverage only went up to $500 per person. While the $1,150 was something, they were still out over $2,000 due to the fare difference. “We are senior citizens and cannot afford this extra expense,” says Arline Bernstein.

The Bernsteins wrote to Delta Air Lines and pleaded their case. After hearing nothing they contacted me to help.

Crazy fee

Travelers with non-refundable tickets who miss their flights may be in for an expensive surprise when they arrive at the airport — a change fee, plus any fare increase. However, airlines, at their discretion, can put latecomers on standby for flights departing the same day without additional charges. The so-called “flat tire rule” allows for exceptions due to problems outside passengers’ control, such as a car breakdown, traffic accident, etc. Travelers affected by weather may also get rebooking relief. According to airline employees I spoke with the decision to waive the change fee is then made on a case-by-case basis. For travel outside the United States, Delta’s change fee is typically $250, but can vary based on location and type of fare.

The Bernsteins pleaded their case; unfortunately, they weren’t given much assistance by Delta. The couple was not given an option by the airline’s agents beyond ponying up the change fee and fare increase of $2,829 to get on another flight the following day. It’s unfortunate that agents didn’t take the time to explore more options with the couple. There may have been a less expensive alternative.

It’s a recipe for disaster: a stressed elderly couple in a foreign airport being financially pummeled by an airline they held reservations on. It’s just absurd to charge a 75 percent fare hike, plus a change fee.

I contacted Delta to see what they could do. I spoke with Betsy Talton, a manager in the airline’s media relations department. While she did not comment on the Bernstein case she noted that the airline’s fares are influenced by a number of factors which can include date and time of travel, as well as when a ticket is purchased. “Delta’s fares are competitive,” she said.

How a $924.21 ticket that mushrooms into a $2338.71 ticket can be deemed “competitive” is beyond me.

Protect yourself

For all intents and purposes the Bernsteins did everything right. They purchased adequate travel insurance and documented their grievances with the cruise line and airline. Perhaps the couple should have pushed harder at the time with Delta and should have spoken with a supervisor who was empowered to waive fees and make rebooking decisions. They could have approached other airlines to see if they would work with them to get a lower fare. Maybe they should have padded their trip in the end to budget extra time just in case.

Unfortunately they are the victims of angry seas and a raw deal by Delta. I can only hope after reading this Delta reconsiders their plight.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column.

Filled Under Advice, Ombudsman

10 Responses to “Cruise torpedoed by Delta Air Lines change fees”

  1. Eric Wu says:

    Thank you for sharing your views on Delta. I had a similar experience with Delta Air Lines. I am taken back on their complete lack of customer support and continued focus on how to extract as much profit from passengers as possible. I understand the need to stay competitive in pricing, but at the expense of being fair, honest, and reputable is not the most efficient way. With Delta’s complete lack of support, it is surprising anyone flies with them.

    I had communicated with two managers at Delta support (Charles Noble and Pascal M. Almeida) and they are both equally as empathetic and heartless as you would expect from Delta, citing company policy over and over again.

    Their utter lack of understanding of customers is shown by their lack of response to this blog post. No surprise they do not monitor their reputation online. No surprise they experienced 1.4 billion dollars in losses last quarter.

    I hope Delta discovers that customer support is sustainable business practice.

    -Eric Wu

  2. LinessaSay says:

    Thank you very much for this useful article and the comments. I love this site as it contains good materials.

  3. Mike Fuller says:

    It is unfortunate that all the legacy carriers have learned nothing from Southwest’s success.

    I’m a weekly business traveler (who actually has relatives that work at some of the legacy carriers) and I still won’t fly anything but Southwest when traveling CONUS.

    It is also unfortunate that Southwest has not successfully found an international partner to expand their business.

    The legacy carriers lost me as a customer 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had to fly them 3 times CONUS and all three times turned into very annoying headaches.

    On the bright side, USAirways recently waived a change fee for my wife and I. It took a few phone calls but they bought a little allegiance from me by not charging me the $125 ea fee.

  4. Brad says:

    I am not sure I totally agree with torpedoed by Delta Air Lines change fees | http://www.expertcruiser.com

  5. Gerry says:

    I used to be a fan of Delta AIrlines. I was earning as many frequent flier miles as possible. Lately though I’ve lost confidence in them.

  6. luisao says:

    Delta Airlines is cool 😀

  7. Julie says:

    I’m rather peeved at Delta myself.

    My husband and I paid full fare for first class tickets on our honeymoon, and the last leg of the trip was Atlanta to San Juan. It was a three hour flight leaving at around 6:30am. Well, we were ready for breakfast, but all we were offered were some Sun Chips out of a basket!

    A three hour international flight and “No meal, here have some chips!”

  8. I missed my flight from salt lake city to houston 🙁 .. it was really a bad day….but i didn’t had to bear any extra charges..i was using delta services only..

  9. Kai Lo says:

    I would definitely stay away from Delta from now on. I can’t trust companies with hidden fees. The economy is bad enough as is, and I’m not going to pay 75% extra for something I have no control over.

  10. Babcockk says:

    Thanks for the information, I will stay clear of Delta. I’m always looking for a deal, but this has really given me something to think about. I always give myself one or two days on the front and back side of all my Cruises.

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