Some months ago, I made a mistake in booking a flight. The mistake resulted in my having to make a last-minute change (at the airport) to my “non-refundable” ticket, and for that I had to pay an extra $180 for a much worse flight schedule and was hit with a $75 change fee. Because the change wasn’t for my convenience — indeed, I had to spend an extra three hours in airplanes and airports, and go home by way of Atlanta instead of my original non-stop plan, all for $180 more — the $75 change fee felt like insult being added to injury. So I thought I’d ask the airline if they’d consider waiving the fee.
The airline was Delta.
After explaining what had happened, here’s what I said in my letter to them:
The error was mine, and your agents handled the situation well. I’m asking, now, for a favour: Will you please waive the change fee and refund it to me? I know you don’t have to, but I’m asking you to do it in the name of good will and customer relations — my goof was made bad enough by my having to fly home through ATL and get to JFK three hours later than I’d planned. It would really be helpful if I didn’t have the extra charge on top of that. Trust me: I never would have made that change on purpose.
Will you give me a break, to cover my mental failure? Thanks very much, in advance, for considering my request.
They wrote back promptly, and I’m sure no one reading this will be surprised that they said no. Here’s exactly what they said:
Dear Mr. Leiba,
Thank you for your e-mail. We appreciate your comments.
Discounted airfares have a number of restrictions. They are nonrefundable, nontransferable, and changes are only permitted by paying an administrative service charge plus any difference in fare. The charge is collected to cover some of the costs involved in reissuing reduced rate tickets. However, the total cost of the transportation, including the administrative service charge, often represents a substantial savings over the unrestricted fare cost.
I hope you will understand that the only way we can offer reduced rates is to follow the rules governing each fare. While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many similar requests that we receive from others in equally deserving situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request for waiver of the change fee.
Again, thank you for writing. We recognize this was not the response you expected to receive and trust you will understand our position. We value your business and hope you will continue to choose Delta.
Well, no, I don’t understand their position. I expected it, but that doesn’t mean I understand it. I never understand inflexibility in dealing with customers, and pissing your customers off is rarely a good business decision that often leads to false ecomonies.
As in this case. I’ve made one trip since then, and just booked a second, for which I’ve adjusted my flight schedule to fly on other airlines than Delta, at about the same price — despite that the travel booking system offered me Delta flights that I might otherwise have accepted. By my reckoning, Delta has lost about $1500 worth of business from me so far, as a result of their refusal to refund a $75 change fee.
Now, I don’t necessarily think that any of the other airlines (in this case, Continental and American) would have done any better for me in response to my request. And I’m not saying that Delta did anything nasty. They’re within their rights to insist on the charge; they disclosed it in advance.
On the other hand, they could have been accommodating, and they’d have won my gratitude and my loyalty. Businesses used to go after that, but, too often, they do so no more. And so I’ll cast my vote the only way I can: with my money.
With my money, at least, Delta is reaping what they’ve sown.
Update, 14 Aug: I sent a slightly edited copy of this blog entry to Delta Air Lines (edited mostly to change “they” to “you”, and such), on the theory that when one votes with one’s wallet, one’s vote is more effective if one says so. I selected the box that said I did not want a response. Nevertheless, today I got the following response:
Dear Mr. Leiba,Look familiar? You think they're paying any attention at all?
Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.
I hope you will understand that the only way we can offer reduced rates is to follow the rules governing each fare. While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many similar requests that we receive from others in equally deserving situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request to waive the change fee.
Again, thank you for writing. We appreciate your selection of Delta and will always welcome the opportunity to be of service.
[same name redacted; at least he still has his job]