When you travel often, eventually you will experience missed connections, lost or damaged baggage, or worse: flight cancellations. The kind of resolution offered by an airline is what keeps loyal customers either coming back or switching programs.
Last year, a death in my family required that my mother and I make a sudden pilgrimage to my hometown in Kazakhstan, which is literally halfway around the world and requires multiple layovers.
As soon as we received word of my grandfather’s passing, we booked flights on delta.com, set to depart two days later. Our itinerary was supposed to be Salt Lake City—Atlanta—Amsterdam—Almaty—Amsterdam—Atlanta—Salt Lake City.
Most of my family lives in the East Kazakhstan Region. However, neither Delta nor its SkyTeam partners fly to my hometown. Instead, my mom and I purchased tickets to Almaty (ALA), Kazakhstan’s largest city (where I also have family), where SkyTeam partner KLM flies. We then booked tickets on a domestic airline to the final destination, set to depart 17 hours after our expected arrival in ALA, allowing for a generous connection time even in case of a delay. As you can imagine, booking short-notice tickets from SLC to far-flung destinations isn’t cheap, so I chose an inexpensive option for the local flight.
Our bags were packed. Time off work was approved. We were ready to be with my grandmother during her difficult time.
Our first connection was in ATL, and everything seemed to be on time (per my Fly Delta app), when all of a sudden, an hour before our flight to AMS, the final leg (AMS—ALA) was canceled and we were rerouted through Frankfurt, Germany, instead, but not set to depart ATL until the evening of the following day!
As you can understand, time is extremely pressing in this type of a situation. I immediately spoke with a Delta agent at the gate of our flight boarding to AMS, and she said the flight out of AMS had been canceled because of a mechanical issue and we had been rerouted to FRA with Delta and then on to ALA with Lufthansa, which is not even a SkyTeam partner! She advised us to go to a help desk and arrange for a hotel voucher and a meal voucher. Still completely startled, my mom and I went to the help desk where a customer service representative informed us there would be no meal voucher, but she did provide a hotel voucher, which was appreciated.
However, at that time, we were not informed of other options we had. Because we had a confirmed flight in ALA, the point of arriving there 22 hours later was moot. We asked the Delta rep if we still could take the flight to AMS, cancel the remaining leg and maybe purchase another flight from there to get to ALA in time to make that crucial domestic connection. Nope! We were denied boarding the flight to AMS and were sent to an airport hotel without a meal voucher.
As per Delta’s Irregular Operations Policy, full amenities, including meals and hotel, apply to all classes of international confirmed passengers whose travel is involuntarily interrupted in excess of four hours due to cancellation or delay. We spent about $90 for the both of us on meals during the 18-hour layover in ATL. However, because I did not know I was actually qualified for a voucher, I paid in cash and did not keep any receipts.
Furthermore, upon arrival at the hotel, I called Air Astana (a domestic airline in Kazakhstan) to change our upcoming flight, knowing we would not make our original one because of this cancellation, but an agent said the flight was non-refundable and non-exchangeable. Remember that inexpensive option I selected? Yeah, no changes or refunds allowed. And because we wouldn’t fly on the first leg, the return leg would be canceled automatically.
So, $146.75 per ticket down the drain. However, multiple calls, tweets and emails to the airline later, Air Astana reimbursed the taxes, amounting to $34.15 per ticket. As a result, my mom and I both were forced to buy new flights to my hometown: $526.30 for two round-trip tickets, almost double the price of the tickets purchased in advance. I understand Delta tried to get us to ALA as soon as possible, but 22 hours later was definitely too late and caused great inconvenience and expense.
When I arrived in Kazakhstan, I contacted all the mentioned airlines for help via Twitter, only to receive unhelpful responses. Besides, I was there to be with my family, so I set all the annoyances aside.
Upon returning to the United States, I decided to revisit the issue and contacted Delta through its website to file a travel complaint. About 10 days later, a CSR replied with condolences concerning the loss of my grandpa and apologies for the troubles we experienced when the KLM flight was canceled and offered compensation in the amount of €600 ($646 at the time) per ticket, in accordance with the European Commission Regulation 261/2004.
The regulation applies to any passenger traveling to or from the European Union on a confirmed reservation and entitles compensation to those passengers in case of denied boarding, flight cancellations or delays. Our flight qualified us for the highest amount of compensation because it was greater than 3,500 km and not within the EU.
The rep also requested that an additional check be issued in the amount of $90 to cover our meal expenses! I was thrilled to hear the news!
As a loyal Delta customer, I was disappointed by the way the Delta team handled our situation while in ATL. No one confirmed with me FRA was the way I wanted to go. No team member we dealt with in ATL offered any other options. However, as a frequent flyer, I’m pleased with the way the airline respected my loyalty and fairly compensated us for our troubles.