Update: Delta representatives are in touch with Martin and his family, and we’ll let you know when they work something out.
Martin’s 5-year-old stepdaughter has had a very eventful holiday week. So has her family. Flying as an unaccompanied minor, she had to miss her original flight on AirTran and her family booked another at the last minute. The first reasonably priced flight available was on NWA/Delta, but her parents tell us that communication between different departments seems to have shut down–resulting in fees, hours of delays, and the child ultimately missing her flight because the airline didn’t mark down that the unaccompanied minor fee had already been paid.
Due to an unfortunate series of events [two major accidents on the way to the airport], my five-year-old step-daughter missed her AirTran flight to Michigan last night and ended up sleeping on a good family friend’s couch.
My wife and I scrambled all night to find a halfway reasonable deal and ended up booking at 1:20AM a 6AM flight for our child. We first tried to book through NWA.com, but the website would not let us book a child alone and customer service wanted an extra $20 to book the flight. They told us, however, to book the same flight through delta.com and call back to pay the $100 unaccompanied minor fee and provide guardian information.
So we booked our flight via delta.com and called customer service back. Since I’m e-mailing you right now, you know that there has got to be a twist. Upon calling back I was told that the person dropping off our child would have to pay the fee at the airport. Mind you, my friend had spent the entire day heroically taking care of our child through the worst possible set of airline/airport screw-ups ever, and was gracious enough to feed her and entertain her for an entire unbelievably hectic day, and we did not want him to have to spend the additional money when he dropped off our daughter.
I explained that to the rep, and she said with a straight face, “well, you can pay the fee over the phone, but there is a fee to pay the fee.”
With barely suppressed disgust I asked her to repeat herself slowly. “There will be a fee to pay the fee.” (Ok, I thought to myself, they’re going to screw me out of a few bucks any way they can)
I asked how much it was and she calmly replied that there would be a $100 fee to pay the $100 fee. $200 total. When I asked what the fee was for, she said it was a “transfer fee” to another department that could take the payment. At that point I broke the Cardinal Rule of Dealing with Customer Service Reps and I asked her if we were going to have phone sex for the $100. My wife sensed the hopes of any solution plummet to the floor and she angrily ripped the phone out of my hand and began to apologize for my comment and asking to speak with the supervisor. The agent insisted that there was nothing a supervisor could do, and she was right. However, we did find out after some prolonged discussion that we could go to the Delta ticket counter at our local airport and pay the fee — something the rep should have suggested first before having us pay a $100 “transfer fee.”
My wife and I went to the destination airport to pay the unaccompanied minor fee in person, we got a receipt, and we had a notation added to the reservation. Our weary friend got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and he was told that he had to pay $100 to get a boarding pass. Immediately we told him that the payment was made and noted on the reservation. The ticket agents could not seem to find it. I frantically called our local airport but I was not allowed to speak with any Delta ticket agents. I called the toll-free number and I was quickly told that the notation is indeed in there.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, they seemed to finally find the information they needed, and they had my friend fill out a form. Midway through the form, they stopped him and told him that it was too late to board the plane and they couldn’t do anything. I spoke with a manager who claimed that the reason my child couldn’t board the plane was because my friend had to call me to complete a part of the form; a call, mind you, that took less than a minute. I retorted that the reason he had no time to fill out a form was because the ticket agent refused to check him in for 45 minutes while he attempted to collect $100 and/or locate a receipt. There was nothing we could do except rebook the flight for 6 hours later. In the meantime, my 5-year-old had nowhere to go and nothing to do while her entire family assembled at our house for the holiday.
I called the 800 number and explained (as I had to the manager) that my 5-year old had spent the last two days at airports dealing with issues and incompetence; I asked for a voucher or a discount for what was clearly the Delta’s fault. One agent told me that re-booking the flight was the most compensation they could give us. I said that I was glad my step-daughter could still get here, but having to wait 6 hours through a ticket agent’s fault was a long time and a huge disappointment to a girl who had a rough previous day dealing with another airline, and should come with an apology or restitution.
A supervisor told me that because the ticket agent or manager did not document anything, the supervisor would not be able to make a decision on this. He recommended that I instead get in touch with the ticket counter and have them document everything; I told him that I doubt they would write a self-incriminating report.
The entire time, every Delta employee that my friend, my wife, or I spoke with told us that this wasn’t their problem and we should just deal with it.
I told the supervisor that I did not wish to call the ticket counter people and raise hell because I was aware that they could boot my child off the plane. He told me that I should instead contact corporate customer relations through their website.
I’ve never had a problem with Delta. In fact, I have always praised them. I still think they are fairly good compared to the others, but I am disappointed in the way certain people mishandled their jobs. I guess I will write Corporate Customer Relations and hope someone there will have a heart.
Interestingly, I asked the supervisor at the (800) number to tell me what time the reservation was first accessed by the airport personnel and he replied that it was 3 minutes prior to the scheduled flight time. What gives? Does the system not log everything? Was this some sort of game?
Dear readers, when someone messes up, bad things happen; this 5-year old has spent the last two days at airports dealing with issues and incompetence. She should be in her mother’s arms right now. Or at least have an apology.
We’re waiting to hear what Martin and family hear back from Delta. No one envies airline personnel during major holidays, and many of them deserve some sort of medals. But this complete breakdown of communication at Delta was unnecessary and inexcusable, especially with a small child away from home in the middle of it.
Incidentally, Martin notes that dealing with AirTran after the original missed flight was wonderful. He wrote:
Kudos to AirTran Customer Relations agent Charity for staying on the phone with me for over an hour providing advice, understanding, patience, and kindness, as well as involving everyone from the ticket agent to the supervisor, then the AirTran operations manager, then the airport director in an attempt to fix the problem. It was, by far, the best airline customer service I’ve ever received.
(If you’re curious about the circumstances surrounding why the child was flying unaccompanied and staying with a family friend, please read this comment from Martin.)