Evelyn’s father booked a ticket for her and her dog to fly from New York to Los Angeles on Delta Airlines. Being a regular Consumerist reader, she was nervous about trusting Delta with her beloved pet, but notes that “[she] thought the horror stories must be rare enough that we should take the trip.” Delta staff told her that her dog, who weighs about 50 pounds, needed to fly as cargo at a cost of $591, instead of the quoted $200. The ostensible reason was severe weather on the ground in Los Angeles. What this extra $391 got Evelyn was a missing pet for an hour, then an upset and dehydrated dog.
I am writing to complain about an incident that occurred when I sought to fly with my dog two days ago. The lack of professionalism I encountered during and immediately following the incident when calling to seek recourse have persuaded me to never fly Delta again, and I am working to actively encourage everyone in my large social and professional networks not to fly Delta, as it is most certainly neither a safe nor convenient carrier for pets.
In short, I have two complaints. The first regards the price I paid when I traveled, and the second, my dog’s treatment after our flight.
Before I came to the airport, as a gift my father had booked a flight for me and reserved a spot for my dog to fly as checked luggage. Based on the Delta website and on my father’s phone conversation with the reservation clerk, we were under the impression that: 1) my dog had a reservation and 2) the cost would be $200 for him to fly. Prior to arriving at the airport, I googled “Delta JFK pet” and called this number: (800) 352-2746. I explained that I was flying my dog as checked luggage and was told I would need to take him to Delta Cargo building 21.
I arrived at the cargo building at 10:00 am, two hours in advance of my flight. Upon entering the building, I was the only customer there. I explained that I had a noon flight and had reserved my dog to fly as checked baggage, and was told I was in the right place to do so. I was then told that I could not complete any paperwork until my dog and his crate were weighed. I immediately brought the crate and dog into the cargo area and proceeded to wait for 45 minutes as Delta employees milled about. I went into the office twice to ask if I could be helped, and the second time I was laughingly told to be more patient and not to worry.
A few minutes before 11 am, my dog was finally weighed and I was told to go back into the cargo office. I stated my flight number and again told the clerk that my dog had a reservation to fly with me as checked luggage. He then told me that my dog did not have a reservation. I immediately called my father, who called the Delta main line, who told him that the dog was indeed reserved to fly on the plane as checked luggage. The Delta rep told my father it was not possible to call out to the cargo office.
The cargo clerk assured me that there was no way that my dog was reserved to fly as checked luggage. He told me that my father, the Delta rep on the phone, the rep with whom we’d reserved the flight and I were all mistaken — the clerk said we must have booked the dog to fly as a carry on. He then told me that I was the third customer that day to come to his office having made the exact same mistake, thinking that their dog was booked to fly as checked luggage on their flight when it was not.
He gave me the number for a service called Pets First, which he said was the only way that my dog could fly unless he were small enough to fly as carry on. He said that my dog would not be put on my flight unless I had a reservation number from Pets First. I called my father, who called the main helpline at Delta, while I called Pets First. Pets First gave me a reservation number, and the clerk printed a wayfare bill for my dog. The clerk told me I was very lucky to get a reservation and that I really sweet-talked the phone rep. This made me rather uncomfortable. The cost was $591, much more than the $200 quoted on the phone and on the Delta website.
I asked about this discrepancy and was given a shrug and the clerk told me that he did not understand why people flying with their dogs thought they could reserve to pay so little, and that he thought someone in reservations was screwing up. At this point, I was hesitant to pay a bill I thought was incorrect, and I had less than 40 minutes until my flight. I called my father who was again on the line with the Delta main line trying to sort through what was going on. He was told that the amount I was being told to pay was incorrect but that if we had the wayfare bill number we could get a refund. I signed the bill and rushed to see if I could make my flight.
At this point, when I reached the gate with 25 minutes until my flight the Delta departure gate agents were very helpful, which I appreciated. However, once I landed in LAX, the problems began again. Having reached baggage, I asked four airport employees where I should expect my dog to arrive and told them that he had flown as checked baggage on my flight. Each told me that the dog would be brought to baggage claim. After 45 minutes of waiting, I went to the Delta baggage office to ask about my dog. The clerk there told me that he would come out as baggage in the baggage claim area. I was extremely concerned at this point and asked her if she could call anywhere to confirm this. She dialed a number, spoke to someone (I assume) and told me this was correct and I should continue waiting. Immediately after I left the office, I received a call from someone who said she was a clerk at Delta cargo, several miles away and that my dog was there, waiting to be picked up.
After finally reaching the cargo office, I found my dog quivering in his crate surrounded by heavy machinery. His empty water bottle was overturned and he was both terrified and dehydrated. Thankfully, as of today, he seems healthy.
This morning my father spent over two hours on the phone with Delta customer service representatives, who told him that it would be impossible to refund the $591, as there is no mechanism for refunds in place. I am dumbfounded as to how this can be true.
At this point, I plan to broadcast my experience to as many people as possible through word-of-mouth and social networks. I am also looking into pursuing legal action. I would love to be able to put this incident behind me and to think that Delta, which I have had fine experiences flying in the past, could put this right. I would appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.
We will say this: this is the happiest ending we’ve heard to a Delta pet experience in the last year.
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