To Waive Flight Change Fee, Delta Wants To Talk To My Dying Aunt’s Doctor

Stacy doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around, but she booked a flight to visit her terminally ill aunt on the other side of the country. Then she got the flu. Spreading the disease to her fellow passengers would be bad enough, but a cancer patient certainly doesn’t need the influenza virus. Stacy rescheduled to a time when she would be less of a walking germ factory, and asked Delta whether they could waive her change fee. Sure, they said: as long as she gave them contact information for her aunt’s doctor.

I’ve probably spent $25,000 with Delta in the last few years commuting between Atlanta and New York a few times a month, plus multiple international and cross-country flights to see family per year and have never asked them for anything out of the ordinary. I was supposed to go to Portland tonight to visit my aunt, who has terminal cancer. I’m extremely sick and don’t think it would be a good idea for me to expose her to the flu and potentially ruin one of the last weeks of her life by giving it to her. I also didn’t want to risk hastening her passing by giving her a virus that could cause her complications.  So, I asked Delta to allow me to reschedule my flight for next week and to waive their usual (exorbitant and unjustifiable) $150 change fee. They agreed, but required me to furnish my aunt’s doctor’s name, phone number, and address. (And still made me pay the fare difference, which was substantial given that the new flight is only a week out.)

I spoke to two different customer service agents in the course of this transaction, and they both acted like they were doing me a favor by waiving the fee. When I balked at the suggestion that I give them my aunt’s doctor’s contact info, they insisted that it was policy, and when I asked if they could waive the fare difference since I’m a graduate student living on $24,000 a year in Manhattan, have been a loyal customer, and was only asking due to a literal life and death situation, they acted like I was crazy. I paid the fare difference and gave them the doctor’s contact info, but I’m really grossed out at the callousness with which they dealt with this situation and am irked by the fact that my loyalty is being repaid with crass demands and begrudging half-measures.

 

If thousands of people in the past hadn’t made up imaginary aunts, grandmothers, and other relatives in order to get out of fees, this wouldn’t be necessary. But people lie. When an amount of money they consider significant is at stake, they lie pretty often.

The really interesting question is what Delta intends to do with that information. They can’t call up the doctor and ask how Stacy’s aunt’s immune function is: that’s a pretty blatant HIPAA violation.