The trouble began on Wednesday when Matt Kroll's grandmother passed away.
In line with Jewish custom, her funeral was scheduled for Friday, within 24 to 48 hours of her death.
The service would be held in Los Angeles, so Kroll, who lives in New York, needed to book a flight fast.
He figured he'd leave for LAX Thursday evening, then depart for JFK the next night. The idea, he told Your Money, was not to stay over Saturday.
But Delta didn't think this was kosher.
Despite being a long-time customer (and Silver Medallion rewards program member) who's racked up 100,000 miles with the carrier, Kroll's anguished call to customer service got him nowhere. He was repeatedly told that Delta's bereavement fares require a Saturday night stay. The airline would be happy to waive the $150 change fee for his return flight, however.
Kroll was livid. What good was waiving the change fee when he already paid $150 per year for a Delta American Express card? And how much would he really save if he was forced to shell out $1,069.60 for a last-minute, one-day trip—for a family funeral?
For practicing Jews or anyone having to deal with a flight that doesn't fall on or around a Saturday, Delta's policy was implausible.
What was happening to Kroll was just another example of the airlines gouging their most profitable customer: business travelers. And in telling Kroll he would need to stay over Saturday in order to receive the fare, the frequent flier was being lumped into business class.
"They're classifying him, a bereavement passenger, as a business traveler," Elliott said. "And they were showing a lack of sensitivity to Jewish custom by charging him more, though this was not anti-Semitic."
After a BI inquiry, Delta got in touch with Kroll to offer a flight that was $160 cheaper than the original fare he'd seen on Delta.com. However, things didn't exactly pan out because birds hit the plane, the cabin filled with smoke, and the plane was forced to land back at JFK 19 minutes later.
When asked about its bereavement policy, a Delta spokesperson offered this comment: "Delta offers bereavement fare options that do not require a Saturday night stay and we work with customers on a case-by-case basis to do our best to meet their needs."
That sounds fair to us, but if you're ever in a bind like Kroll's here's what to do:
Take it to the top. BI's Mandi Woodruff has seen this work firsthand when a friend called Subway's corporate office to complain about a terrible experience at one of their shops. He received a response in no time and the issue was resolved.
Blast them on Twitter. Never underestimate the power of a hashtag. The best way to do it is by tagging your tweet with the company's name (#Delta) so anyone searching the site will see your tweet. Per Woodruff: "I tweeted a gripe about Spirit and saw my message retweeted by customers who had similar experiences, which gave my message more impact."
Throw away the return ticket. Airlines say this is illegal, but there's no law saying you can't actually do it, says Elliott. In this case, Kroll could have gotten the roundtrip bereavement fare and booked his return flight with another carrier.
Switch airlines. This goes without saying, but if you're getting nowhere with your carrier then it's time to take your business elsewhere.
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