My Uncle Alan died a week ago. He was 72, and his health had been deteriorating for a while, but on Monday it became final. My mother’s only sibling was gone.
Alan passed away while my family was on vacation in Malibu at a house we rented for the week. We knew the funeral would be in Detroit, where Alan lived his entire life, but it would take a day for my aunt to make arrangements.
On Monday, in anticipation, my mother called Delta (since Northwest bought Delta, it’s the only airline besides Spirit with direct flights from LAX to Detroit) to inquire about bereavement fares. She spoke to an agent who told her that yes, Delta offers bereavement fares (it’s a 50% reduction from the regular fare), and to call back as soon as she knew her flight dates.
Tuesday morning it was decided that Alan’s funeral would be Thursday at 11AM.
My father called Delta that same morning. He told the first agent he spoke to (Agent #1) that he would need a bereavement fare for two red-eye flights leaving Wednesday and returning Thursday night after the funeral. (My parents insisted that my two brothers and I stay in California — it would be too expensive for us all to fly to Detroit last minute.)
Agent #1 told him the cost would be $821 per person, and the bereavement fare wouldn’t apply since they weren’t staying over a Saturday. My father explained that last Saturday my uncle was still alive, and next Saturday the funeral would be over. Agent #1 asked my father if it would be possible to push the funeral back until next Saturday. (In the Jewish religion, you can’t have a funeral on a Saturday.)
My father asked to speak to Agent #1’s supervisor.
Supervisor #1 got on the phone and told my father that in the time he had been holding, the rate had increased to $1,396 per person roundtrip. My father asked how that was possible, since he’d been on hold the entire time. Supervisor #1 told him that he should have asked to secure the initial fare when talking to Agent #1.
My father pleaded with Supervisor #1, who, was finally able to get the price back down to $821 per person.
Supervisor #1 booked the flight over the phone for my father. He read my father the official confirmation number, which my father wrote down. We didn’t have a printer at the rental house, so my father was relying on that confirmation number (and his credit card) to print his tickets at the airport.
The flights were expensive ($1,642 in total), but they were booked. My mother knew she’d be at her brother’s funeral, and she was relieved. She sat down and put together some words to speak at the service.
On Wednesday night my parents packed a carry-on and drove to LAX for their 11:05 PM flight. They arrived at the Delta terminal two and a half hours before takeoff. The self check-in kiosk wasn’t working, so they stood in line to talk to a real person. My father handed his credit card to the agent behind the desk (Agent #2) to retrieve the tickets.
Agent #2 shook his head and broke the news to my parents: they had been booked on the 4:55 PM flight, which had left four hours ago.
(Agent #1 had screwed up and booked them on the wrong flight.)
My father explained that no, they had booked the 11:05 PM flight over the phone and he had the confirmation number to prove it. Agent #2 said that was the confirmation number for the 4:55 PM flight.
My father explained the situation as calmly as he could. There was a funeral in 14 hours that they’d miss if they didn’t make that flight. Agent #2 reiterated that there was nothing he could do. He suggested my parents call Delta’s Customer Care number. They tried, but the phone line had closed at 4 PM PST, five hours ago.
My father asked to speak with a supervisor, who came to the desk after 30 minutes of waiting and told my parents that there was no way to get them on the 11:05 PM flight.
My father asked to speak with the Head Supervisor and was told that the Head Supervisor was dealing with something else at the moment and would come down as soon as he had a moment. Agent #2 told my parents to step away from the desk, and when they did, the agent took the opportunity to leave her post. The desk was empty.
Time was running out.
While they waited for the Head Supervisor, my parents called other airlines to get on another flight. They ran across the airport and tried to get on a United Airways flight that would connect in Chicago. The flight was completely full. They were out of luck.
My parents returned to the Delta desk knowing that they weren’t going to make it to the funeral. But they still wanted to express their anger to the Head Supervisor.
A half hour later, the Head Supervisor finally came down to the desk. By that time it was after 11PM. The only plane that would get them to Detroit on time had just taken off.
Head Supervisor looked at Agent #2’s screen and said to my father: “It shows here that you rejected the 2 first class tickets we offered you for this flight.”
My father explained that no such offer had been made, and if it had, he would have jumped on it.
The Head Supervisor said the computer showed the offer had been made, and there were actually two empty first class seats on the flight that had just left.
(Clearly, Agent #2 was trying to save his butt by logging that he had offered my father those two open seats. But at that point, it didn’t matter. The flight was gone and it was Delta’s word against my parents’.)
The Head Supervisor gave my parents two $300 vouchers to fly Delta again, and suggested they write a letter to corporate explaining what happened. (My father also called Delta and got a refund on the tickets for the flight they’d missed.)
So, four hours after they left for LAX, my parents returned to the Malibu house to tell us the news.
My mother was going to miss her brother’s funeral. And it was all Delta’s fault.
The next day my family gathered to watch the live-stream of Alan’s funeral on my brother’s laptop. My mum’s best childhood friend, Rhonda, read my mother’s words aloud:
Alan was my big brother. He was my only sibling. He was exactly 12 years and one day older than me…