I knew airlines could change or even cancel my flight. I also knew that they had no obligation to compensate me for these changes. But I didn’t realize how agonizing it would be when an airline changed a flight on me.
This isn’t the first time an airline has done this, mind you. Delta once waited until I was already en route to my destination before deciding to cancel the second segment of my flight. Apparently too few people had booked that flight, and rather than take a financial loss by giving us a roomy flight, they stuck us on another near-empty flight that would be departing five hours later. They didn’t even compensate us with meal vouchers or coupons for future flights. I was traveling alone, and I had little entertainment materials with me, but luckily I ran into a friend who was on the same delayed flight, and we made the trip bearable by keeping each other company.
After that sad incident, I swore off Delta. I said I’d never fly with them again. Never ever. And I’ve kept that promise for several years now. But last week I was obliged to renege on that policy. I swear, I didn’t have much choice in the matter, and I realize that Delta isn’t the only airline to do something like this. But I still regret that lapse in judgment. Particularly because the stakes were so high this time.
Here’s what happened. As a grad student in her final year of her MFA program, I’ve been looking for jobs for next year. One particularly promising option, a job as a lecturer (for anyone unfamiliar with academic jargon, it’s sort of like a full-time adjunct, or a step down from a tenure-track professor), called last week and invited me to their campus in January so that I can interview for the position. Where is this campus? Why, it’s in Georgia. Like any good university, this university is paying for me to fly out, but they’re savvy enough to have applicants pay up front and then bring their receipts to Georgia when they visit before getting reimbursed. It’s pretty much a fool-proof guarantee that they won’t pay for the flight of a no-show applicant.
But there’s a catch: I’m flying into Savannah, not Atlanta. Why is that a problem? Well, I have much more limited options. And when you consider the incredibly tight schedule I’ll be on for this two-day interview, that’s difficult to work around. I essentially have to get on a plane in Utah Sunday morning, get off a plane in Savannah in the afternoon, and then get on a plane in Savannah the next evening – but no earlier than 6pm, and preferably later – and get off a plane in Utah by the end of that evening. Remember, all that travel comes in addition to a marathon interview process in which I will meet the entire English department, go on a tour of campus, interview with everyone from the department chair to the dean, and then teach an example class. All while fighting off jet lag and I’m-in-the-middle-of-teaching-and-taking-courses-and-trying-to-finish-and-defend-a-thesis exhaustion.
So, I care a lot about finding decent flights. Because not worrying about catching my flight will help a lot.
So when I saw that Delta offered the only flight between Savannah and Utah that left after 6pm on the appropriate day, I snatched it up as fast as I could.
In fact, I even booked a Delta flight into Savannah so that I’d be flying on the same airline both ways.
I hope that doesn’t turn out to be a mistake too.
Today I received an email from Delta, informing me that my flight has been bumped up so that it’s more than four hours early. And as much as I’d love to get back to Utah four hours early, I simply cannot leave Georgia that early. Not if I want to be refunded for my flight and have a shot at that job.
So I called Delta immediately. I even skipped out on a class I team-teach with a mentor in order to call. He wished me luck and told me that his son works at Delta, where they’re told in training to “speak sharply to customers.” And it’s true – the customer service representative did speak sharply to me. And when I gave her the confirmation number Delta had emailed me not once but twice, it pulled up the wrong name. But my ticket number pulled up the correct name, and when I told her that I was well within my rights to cancel and receive a full refund, she readily agreed.
Granted, in contrast with the 24 hours it took for Delta to charge me for my flights, Delta will now take “seven to ten business days” before they refund me. But all in all, everything turned out alright.
It’s annoying that I’ll now have to switch to a flight that leaves nearly two hours earlier and yet arrives in Utah at the same time. And it’s incredibly annoying that I’ll have to wait a week or more for my refund to come. But at least they had the decency to let me know as soon as they changed the schedule. So, I may not book a flight with Delta for another five years, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt this time. Well, at least the benefit of a little doubt.
I flew with Delta once, and they dumped me in Atlanta for 30 hours without any recompense or reasonable explanation. I’m never touching them again. What a horrible company.
Would you believe, the story actually got worse? I’m writing a follow up post for January, on haggling with airlines for the refunds that are rightfully yours. I got my refund, but it took three weeks, multiple phone calls, and several legal threats. I accused them of unethical business practices and said I’d get my credit card company to go after them. Not sure that threat really holds much water, but I had my refund the next morning.