Travel Troubleshooter

Delta stopped flying to Barbados – is our vacation ruined?

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Q: My family and I made plans to fly to Barbados on Delta Air Lines to celebrate the new year. Unfortunately, several months after we booked this trip, the airline notified us that it no longer will fly to the Caribbean island.

I’ve been offered a refund, but I would prefer Delta give us tickets to an alternate Caribbean destination, so that we can still take our planned vacation. Delta offered to reroute us to Turks and Caicos, but at an increased cost of $3,600. That’s outside our budget.

I have spoken to Delta twice regarding this matter. I also filed a formal complaint on the airline’s website but have not received a copy of it yet. Also, my travel agent, American Express, spoke to Delta about this issue as well. Delta won’t budge. Thank you in advance for any assistance you may be able to provide. – Laurie Glynne, Wilmington, North Carolina

A: Delta owes you a full and immediate refund of your ticket to Barbados. You can find the details in its contract of carriage (http://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/pdfs/legal/contract–of–carriage–dom.pdf), the legal agreement between you and the company. See Rule 240 B for details.

But does the airline owe you more? Technically, no. But as a practical matter, it made you a promise – to fly you to Barbados – and then broke it. In its own customer commitment (http://www.delta.com/content/www/en–US/legal/customer-commitment.html), Delta suggests that it will try to help passengers whose flights have been canceled (see section 12). And, although that paragraph is a little fuzzy, it certainly could leave the average passenger with the impression that the airline would do more in a situation like yours.

But Delta did not do more. Instead, it told everyone down the line, including your travel agent, that a refund was your only choice. Hardly what you’d expect from a company that claims to be the world’s most trusted airline.

In a situation like this, you could appeal to a customer-service executive by email. I list the names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer-advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/delta-airlines/. I noticed that a lot of your communication with the airline was by phone. I would advise you to stick to writing; it creates a paper trail that can be used during an appeal – or a lawsuit.

Bear in mind that Delta doesn’t have to do anything. By refunding your airfare, it has fulfilled your contract. It might not seem that way to you or to me, but in a legal sense, Delta has done all that is required. So any request for a make-good vacation has to be made carefully and politely.

I contacted Delta on your behalf. On the same day, Delta contacted you and agreed to fly you to Turks and Caicos at no additional cost. But, like the nebulous legalese in the airline’s contract, it’s not entirely clear why Delta reversed course. An airline representative insisted it wasn’t because of my intervention. I would like to believe Delta did the right thing on its own.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more travel tips at elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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