SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While there has been a lot of recent discussion about United Airlines dragging a bumped customer off a plane, that same week in April, more than half a million Delta customers were dealing with a travel nightmare of their own.
The so-called “#Deltameltdown” raised a number of question about the rights of travelers when flights get canceled days after a weather event.
With over 4,000 canceled flights, Consumer Watch heard from many frustrated Delta passengers, including some in the travel industry and a relative of KPIX Consumer Watch reporter, Julie Watts.
After checking their bags in Savanna on April 8th, Delta customer Jenna High and her family learned their flight was unexpectedly canceled due to issues related to a severe weather event four days earlier in a different city. They were told their plane had no crew.
“We had no luggage, no car seat, no transportation, no hotel. Nothing,” said High.
While Delta somehow sent their luggage on to San Francisco, it couldn’t get the family on a flight back to the bay area for three days.
The High family was left stranded with three kids, including one sick with pneumonia. The airline also denied their request for assistance with a hotel or basic necessities despite the fact that its contract of carriage specifics that it will offer a hotel voucher to stranded passengers.
“We had food from the downstairs lobby. Cup O’ Noodles, Cheetos,” explained High.
“Delta has dropped the ball,” said Travel analyst Henry Hartevelt when he heard about the High’s experience.
Hartevelt was also caught up in the Delta meltdown, which he says was due to poor planning for a forecasted storms.
“Unlike a snow storm when Delta and others will proactively cancel flights, Delta didn’t think they’d need to in this case. And they got caught,” said Hartevelt.
He explained that mid-week storms in Atlanta and New York led to canceled flights nationwide up to 5 days later. And while their contract of carriage does limit liability due to weather, there was a larger problem in this incident.
In this case, when you’re canceling flights days later, that’s just bad management, said Hartevelt.
In a statement, the airline said it’s offering a $200 travel voucher or 20,000 miles to all impacted customers. The airline admitted that it’s “response in the days following the storm was out of character.”
“They didn’t give us any options,” said High.
After spending eight hours on the phone and sending emails that bounced back, Jenna High turned to Consumer Watch for help.
After KPIX reached out to the company, the airline agreed to reimburse their expenses incurred in addition to giving the family the travel vouchers it is offering to all impacted customers. A representative explained that affected customers should contact Delta customer service for assistance and that the airline will take care of affected customers, but the airline is dealing with a backlog.
It is important to remember, if your flight is canceled, most airlines are obligated under their contract of carriage to put you on their next available flight. If you are not satisfied with that option, you can ask to be flown on another airline. For extended stays resulting from cancellations, you can request a hotel voucher. However, in some cases rooms may not be available.
If you end up deciding to pay for a flight on another airline, passengers should demand a full refund for the canceled flight and not a travel voucher.