Q: I had a confirmed round-trip flight from San Francisco to New York on Delta Air Lines. The flight was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m. A couple of days ago, I received a notice from Delta that Delta changed the flight departure time to 7 in the morning.
Seven in the morning? That’s ridiculous!
I live in Oakland, and my transportation to San Francisco is via Bay Area Rapid Transit. BART trains do not begin service until 6 a.m. on the weekends, making it impossible for me to get to the airport in time to make this flight.
The next available flight from San Francisco to New York via Delta is not until after 11 a.m. arriving in New York at 8:30 p.m., which is useless to me as I need to arrive in New York earlier than this 8:30 p.m. arrival time.
I needed a nonstop flight because of COVID-19 concerns. The cost of any alternatives — taxi or staying at an airport hotel the night before — is cost-prohibitive for me. I am a senior and the sole caretaker for my partner, who would be staying at home here in Oakland and has Parkinson’s, so I run on a tight schedule. The original departure time was perfect for my needs.
I understand that the ticket I purchased is “nonrefundable.” However, I filed a claim with Delta asking for my money back — in any other business, this would be called “bait and switch.” Not surprisingly, they denied my request and are offering me an e-credit. With my partner’s progressive disease, my traveling days are coming to an end, and I have no use for any credit on Delta. I want my money refunded.
Can you please advise me as to what recourse I may have in this situation?
— Terry Kulka, Oakland, California
A: I’m sorry to hear about your personal circumstances. Airlines should be sensitive to the needs of their customers. After all, we taxpayers were sensitive to their needs during the pandemic, lavishing them with more than $60 billion in federal aid. How about a little reciprocity?
But your situation is different. Delta changed your departure time by 1 ½ hours.
The Department of Transportation, which regulates U.S. air carriers, says you are entitled to a refund if there’s a “significant” schedule change. But there’s a catch. DOT doesn’t define what constitutes a “significant” change.
“Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors — including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances,” it notes. “DOT determines whether you are entitled to a refund following a significant delay on a case-by-case basis.”
In other words, Delta probably owed you a refund for your changed flight, especially in light of BART’s weekend schedule. It should have offered you a choice of an e-credit or a full refund. It didn’t.
I recommended that you send a brief, polite appeal to Delta Air Lines. I publish the names, number and email addresses of Delta’s customer service executives on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site at elliott.org/company-contacts/delta-air-lines-customer-service-contacts/. You also could have sent a complaint to the Department of Transportation, but I would only recommend doing that if Delta continues to refuse your refund request.
It didn’t. After you sent Delta’s executives a note, they offered to refund your airfare. I wish you all the best and hope you’ll be able to make the trip to New York soon.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/ help or email@example.com