Thursday, January 3, 2008

Death, taxes and airline fees

From David Lazarus' Dec. 19 Consumer Confidential column in the Los Angeles Times:

[As Lazarus notes in a followup column, Hawaiian Airlines later made nicey-nice with the passenger.]

We all know that some airlines nickel-and-dime you with fees -- fees for baggage, fees for food, fees for blankets and pillows. But fees for death?

Monrovia resident Jane Wilkens, 48, was looking forward to a getaway to Hawaii's Big Island this coming April with her 77-year-old mom and one of her mom's friends. In August, she booked three first-class tickets to Kona on Hawaiian Airlines for $4,287.
But in September, Wilkens' mom underwent surgery for a back problem. Three days later, she unexpectedly died from a blood clot.

"It was horrible," Wilkens recalled. "She was my best friend. We were very close, and this was devastating to me."

After dealing with all the things that arise under such circumstances, Wilkens finally got around to canceling various travel arrangements. She contacted the Hilton Waikoloa Village resort, where she'd booked a suite for about $600 per night, and explained what had happened.

"Just like that, they canceled the reservation," Wilkens said.

She contacted Delta Air Lines, on which she'd booked a separate first-class trip for a "girls' weekend" in Maine after she and her mom returned from Hawaii. "They fully refunded the tickets, no questions asked," Wilkens said.

She contacted Hawaiian Airlines, which, like Delta, requested a copy of her mom's death certificate. About a month later, Wilkens received a letter from Paul Whitaker, Hawaiian Air's "resolution coordinator."

He said the airline would refund each of the three first-class tickets but would deduct a $75 "service fee" per ticket the airline would refund each of the three first-class tickets but would deduct a $75 "service fee" per ticket, or $225.

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