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Ill treatment

August 24, 2008|catharine hamm

Question: My wife and I bought two nonrefundable first-class round-trip tickets to Hawaii from Delta for the middle of September. My wife has never flown anywhere, let alone on an 11-hour nonstop flight. She has realized that she physically cannot do the trip. She has tried to recoup some of the $3,800, but Delta told her all we could do is get $3,800 worth of credit to fly someplace else before March 3. This is really not a good choice, because her doctor doesn't think she will ever be physically able to fly. Are we out that money?

George Allen

West Stockbridge, Mass.

Answer: Remember those dumb signs people used to have in their offices that said, "Whatever it is, the answer is no"? Most people with an iota of sense realized how unfunny those were and put them in the trash.

The airlines apparently went dumpster diving and adopted that motto as their core business practice.

Imagine any other business where a consumer asks to return something that's never been used and is still perfectly good but the merchant won't accept the return. Would you continue to do business with him? Of course not.

So why are airlines different?

That's the subject of someone's dissertation, but for now, we'll leave it at this: Most airlines aren't going to go out of their way to help, so the Allens do appear stuck.

But wait; there's more. Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta, says they should try contacting customer care again (and copying him). A note from the doctor might help as well.

So although airlines generally don't refund tickets (and remember, tickets can't be transferred to someone else), "we would handle each case individually on a case-by-case basis," Black said. "We always work with the customer to reach a satisfactory resolution."

Uh huh.

But just for those occasions when a customer hasn't reached a satisfactory resolution, Karen Leland, coauthor of "Customer Service for Dummies" and "Customer Service in an Instant," suggests calling the president of the company (in this case, Ed Bastian, [404] 715-2600.) Of course, you're not going to get to talk to the Big Boss, but the BB's administrative or executive assistant probably will help you. State your case clearly, Leland says, and be sure to use the phrase "on medical advice" and explain that flying will be "damaging to her health."

When the assistant says, "Talk to customer care," the proper response is "I've done that, and it is not producing the results I need, and it is beginning to cause me mental distress."

Leland, who counts Lufthansa, Marriott and other travel providers among her customer service clients, sees results, she says, "in nine of 10 cases."

I can feel my mental distress getting better already.

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com.

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