Delta Agent Claims the Kenya Airways Mistake Fare Was 'Illegal'
When it comes to "amazing flight deals," I've learned that you win some and you lose some. And, while I was really excited about adding Kenya Airways as my 28th airline of 2018 when an insanely low $242 fare to Nairobi appeared last week, I was ready to move on after Delta cancelled the tickets I'd purchased to fly on its SkyTeam partner.
Until yesterday morning when I got a surreal call from a Delta representative.
First, some background: I've grown accustomed to airlines not being forthright. In the two DOT complaints I've filed in the past, both American Airlines and Avianca provided false statements to its governing body in response to my complaint — not that the DOT took any action when I refuted the false statements with evidence. While I haven't dealt with Delta during a DOT complaint (yet) I famously caught the airline fudging the numbers on a press release last November about its still-posted false claim that the airline went cancel-free over the 2017 Thanksgiving holidays.
Unfortunately, I've learned to take what any airline agent says with skepticism. And, unluckily for them, I have much more knowledge about travel rules and systems than most travelers.
In fact, this knowledge has almost gotten me in trouble a few times. For instance, in February I was almost thrown off an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to Honolulu when a gate agent skipped my wife on the upgrade list — citing outdated upgrade priority rules as the reason for doing so — and I pulled up an email from American Airlines corporate communications with the new rules. Not appreciating being challenged, the agent claimed I was threatening her and said she would throw me off the flight.
Despite my experiences, I was still blown away by the phone call I received out of the blue from "Ms. Jackson" at Delta yesterday. The sweet-sounding lady started the call by asking if I'd received an email from Delta "about your flight." I had to clarify which flight she was talking about. "Kenya Airways." Well, yes, I informed her I've received many emails about this flight.
Then she launched into what seemed to be a well-rehearsed statement claiming that this was an "illegal advertisement" and that "per the FAA, Delta had to cancel the ticket."
Now, none of that statement is based in fact. There was nothing "illegal" about Kenya Airways' published fare. Perhaps the price of the airfare was a mistake by the airline, but there was certainly nothing illegal about it.
Also, the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't deal with airfares. And, it certainly doesn't make airlines cancel passenger tickets.
Scrambling to keep up my notes from the mind-blowing call so far, I asked the agent to clarify why the ticket was cancelled. She reiterated again the "illegal advertisement" angle. When I asked what part of this ticket broke the law, the agent shifted gears to state that the flight was made through an "unauthorized booking process."
The agent then continued by saying that the ticket was "immediately refunded." I clarified how Delta defined "immediately" and the agent claimed that my flight was ticketed on October 30 and I was refunded on November 1, saying the refund was made two days after ticketing.
In fact, my tickets were ticketed — and my credit card charged — on October 28.
Next, I asked how I could get reimbursement for nonrefundable expenses in Kenya, such as my hotel. The DOT's "temporary" enforcement policy from May 2015 requires airlines to "reimburse all consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase."
The agent told me to forward Delta's flight cancellation email to the hotel, saying the hotel would waive its cancellation policy and refund my money. I asked her what I could do if the hotel didn't refund my money, and she stated that Delta wasn't reimbursing any expenses for travelers.
At this point, I couldn't play dumb any longer and asked if it was Delta's official stance not to honor the DOT mistaken fare rule requirements. She quickly wavered and excused herself to speak with a supervisor. I agreed that was a good decision.
When she came back, things had magically changed. She now told me that Delta would refund any expenses between $100 and $1,000. I would just need to submit my expenses to an email address she provided with my flight record locator number.
I pressed for what else Delta was going to do to make things right after cancelling these flights four days after ticketing. The agent claimed that gift cards were emailed on November 1 to "all travelers" who booked this Kenya Airways fare. I pulled up my email and confirmed that I hadn't received a gift card from Delta in the last week. When I pointed this out to the agent, she insisted that the gift card "should arrive no later than tomorrow." When I asked the amount of the gift card, she said she couldn't say and that it varied depending on the passenger.
Update 11/18/2018: I still haven't received a gift card from Delta.
Delta's Follow-Up Response
I reached out to Delta's corporate communications about this call. An airline spokesperson said she was "sorry to hear about the confusion you experienced on the phone and the inconvenience for this invalid ticketing." The spokesperson continued by reiterating:
"...a small number of invalid fares for flying that included portions operated by codeshare partner Kenya Airways were sold via an unauthorized booking process on delta.com that did not include a required surcharge. When Delta learned of this, the ability to book travel on these invalid fares was immediately stopped. Refunds for customers have been processed consistent with DOT guidelines.
Delta is handling discussion about additional expenses on a case-by-case basis but will decline to comment further specifically on that point."
I asked if Delta would follow the DOT policy to "reimburse all consumers who purchased a mistaken fare ticket for any reasonable, actual and verifiable out-of-pocket expenses that were made in reliance upon the ticket purchase." The Delta spokesperson responded that the airline is "proceeding in accordance with DOT policies including the portions you mention."
Takeaways From This Experience
If you booked the Kenya Airways deal through Delta, your flights have almost certainly already been cancelled. It seems that Delta is making calls to passengers to make sure that they realize their flights have been cancelled. While I appreciate that Delta agents are reaching out to impacted passengers, the agents should be factual about the reason for the cancellation and forthcoming about passenger rights regarding reimbursing nonrefundable expenses on a mistake fare.
If you have nonrefundable expenses for this trip, it appears that the email address to send your receipts and record locator number is MedallionReceipts@delta.com in order to get the refund process started. Remember that the DOT regulations are unambiguous that passengers are entitled to a full refund of all expenses — not just the $100 to $1,000 range that the Delta agent referenced in my call. You also have the right to file a Department of Transportation complaint to get a full refund of all nonrefundable expenses that you incurred due to this booking.
Finally, if the agent I spoke to is correct, everyone whose flight was cancelled should receive an email with a gift card from Delta customer service by Wednesday, November 7. However, the Delta spokesperson wouldn't confirm or refute my direct question on whether or not Delta customer service is providing gift cards to affected passengers.