Caveat Emptor! (If You Buy an Airline Ticket and the Flight is Cancelled)
There’s a moral to this story, so read to the end. It’s short and sweet.It was raining in New York. That meant that LaGuardia Airport was in jeopardy of cancelling innumerable flights. I hoped mine wouldn’t be one of them.
After sitting on the tarmac for three hours in sunny Greensboro, North Carolina, and receiving encouraging words over the intercom regarding the state of our flight, we finally started taxiing down the runway. The stars were aligned; the flight would take off.
And then as the plane was slowly making its way to the front of the line, the speaker phone went into action, and we heard the dreaded announcement. The flight was cancelled because we’d need more fuel if we were to face the long in-air delay on account of flight traffic.
There were no options for getting to New York in time for my event, so I cancelled my plans. Disappointing, annoying, yes exasperating, but not that much out of the ordinary when trying to get to LaGuardia.
But it’s because of what happened afterward that I’m sending this missive.
A few days passed, and I looked online at my credit card statement, anticipating a full refund. None was there. I dreaded calling the Delta customer service number and speaking to a computerized voice, but what choice did I have?
After pressing an endless series of response buttons, a real (and very friendly) human being did come on the line. Getting the refund was complicated by the fact that I had bought a $25 upgrade to a “comfort” seat, with a bit of extra leg room. However, after about ten minutes, I had my credit.
Then I asked the question that was burning inside me.
“Why wasn’t the airfare automatically credited to my account?” I asked.
The verbatim answer was, “They (i.e. Delta) just don’t automatically refund.”
I was floored and, upon further questioning, was told it was because the customer might prefer to get a credit or an exchange. There is some logic to that line of thinking, but it doesn’t absolve the company for putting the onus on its customers to get a refund.
I have no idea whether this is a Delta-only policy or a universal airline policy.
What I find appalling is how any airline, whose only product is one very specified service, namely getting you safely from point A to point B, doesn’t feel an obligation to reach out to its customers when that service is lacking, even if it is not their own fault.
In this era of instant everything, why couldn’t an airline (Delta in this case) have sent an automatic instant message to each and every customer whose flight was cancelled, advising them of the ways in which they might convert their cancelled flight to their advantage.
A simple apology followed by a question: “Would you like to have the entire airfare credited to your charge card?”
With an option for the answer: “Yes,” which would do the trick perfectly.
It would also signal that the company cared about its customers. I’m sure that level of service would build some customer loyalty, as well.
A sinister suggestion as to why such a system doesn’t currently exist might be that the airline is hoping some customers will simply overlook what they assumed would be an automatic refund. It’s no wonder so many of the flying public hate the airlines.
So the moral of this tale is: Don’t count on getting an automatic airfare refund if your flight is cancelled.
Let’s hope that an enlightened public relations department of an enlightened airline with an enlightened CEO will take the lead in getting into the twenty-first century technologically when it comes to communications and customer service.