Bereavement and Compassionate Fares

By | September 8, 2006

The LA Daily News had an article last week about a mother and her difficulty in getting understanding from Delta Airlines in a death situation. Betty Haack made arrangements in April to visit her son in July, and ended up moving them back a week…not to visit her son, but to bury him after he died suddenly. She had been charged $357.51 to change the outbound flight back a week. She returned on her originally scheduled return flight. When she sent Delta a letter, asking them to reverse or reduce the charge, they replied in a phone call, informing her it would be not. The representitive informed her they were in the business to make money.

We fully agree that companies are in business to make money. We don’t see funeral homes discounting their products because someone is dead. Of course, no industry we know of other than the airline industry sells the same product, ie a seat on an aircraft, for multiple prices based on when you purchase it.

Bereavement/Compassionate situations are divided into several types of situations. First, when you buy a ticket to attend a funeral. Second, when you try and change an existing ticket to attend a funeral. Finally, when you are in the midst of travel and must return early due to death. Most airlines will waive change fees or refund the ticket if death occurs before departure. If you have to change, however, you will often be subject to any difference in fare.

Waiving differences in fare is rare for a carrier. Few reservations departments will do it. If you end up in this situation, and run up against an airline who will not try to reduce your charge before you go, advise them to note you intend to contact their customer relations or customer care department after your return. At that point, you are likely in a better frame of mind to plead your case to the airline. Also, those departments have a broader latitude than the reservations centers, which at many carriers are the least trained people in the company. And if they say no, you have not lost any more than you did before.

We’ll be working on a comprehensive list of bereavement policies, but for now, we’ll mention Continental Airlines has its bereavement policy on its website. They offer 5-10% off. Most carriers are not even that generous.

In the end, airlines respond to pressure as much as anyone else. The squeaky wheel may get the grease. But emergency situations are when you are least in the mood to squeak.

Author: Guru

Guru is the Editor of Flight Wisdom and a long time aviation enthusiast.