It’s well known that the airlines vehemently deny any obligation toward passengers’ expenses should flights be delayed or canceled because of bad weather. Get stuck for a day or two in East Nowhere because of a fogged-in or snowed-in airport and you can expect to pay for your own lodging, food, and local transportation costs.
What I’ve learned from a recent email exchange with Carlos Bada, a Williamsburg, Va., traveler who found himself unexpectedly in Toledo last month during an air trip from Richmond, Va., to Toronto, is that this can even apply if an airline’s flight is diverted to a city not on your itinerary.
Mr. Bada’s Dec. 6 trip involved flights from Richmond to Detroit and then Detroit to Toronto. Because of fog in Detroit, however, his first leg was diverted to Toledo Express Airport where, he wrote, the three dozen or so passengers were pointed toward the rental-car counters and told to find their own way to Detroit.
Mr. Bada praised the rental-car agencies at Toledo Express. “They were the biggest help of all. They were awesome,” he wrote. “They located large vans that carried 12 people and we all headed over. Some took cabs, some took these vans.”
He was much less impressed with Delta.
“The issue I have is that they landed a plane in Toledo and did not offer any help other than a 1-800 number which was incorrect,” Mr. Bada wrote. “They did not offer to get people back to Detroit via bus or some other option. Delta has other options but chose the worst one for the passengers. One man had a broken back and was epileptic. How does he drive to Detroit? Luckily other passengers offered a ride. He rode in the van I rode in.”
Once they got to Detroit, Mr. Bada and the others made their own hotel arrangements.
Mr. Bada said he called Delta during the ride north to reschedule his connecting flight and, after being initially told he would have to buy a new ticket for the Detroit-Toronto leg, was booked onto the first flight the next morning.
Mr. Bada said he contacted Delta again the next day and, “after about 30 minutes of explaining how awful their decision was,” the airline agreed to reimburse him for food and lodging. Other passengers arranged varying degrees of reimbursement, he said.
I contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation to find out what rules apply to weather-related flight diversions. They said Delta broke no laws, but they were interested in communicating with Mr. Bada.
I also contacted Delta several times, with no response as of Friday.
Meanwhile, Steve Arnold, airport manager at Toledo Express, said Delta diverts flights to Toledo several times per year because of weather issues, and sometimes the airline does send staff down from Detroit to handle the logistics.
These communications were fresh in my mind when I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger on an American Eagle flight from Toledo to Chicago three weeks ago. This lady, a Toledo-area native, now lives in California and usually returns to visit relatives during the holidays, and she had her own story to tell from a few years back.
She was flying into Toledo from Chicago one Christmas Eve when the weather went sour at Express, and so that American Eagle flight was diverted to Fort Wayne, where it arrived shortly after midnight. Unlike Mr. Bada’s experience, its passengers weren’t directed to the rental-car counters, because at that hour those counters were unstaffed. As far as she could recall, there was nobody in the Fort Wayne airport at all except for security personnel.
Those passengers’ choices, she recounted, were to find their own ways to Toledo -- somehow -- or get back onto the airplane and fly back to Chicago, and be rebooked on a later flight. Whenever that might be.
Remember, this was Christmas Eve -- well, actually early Christmas morning at this point.
Fortunately, she said, somebody on the flight knew somebody in Toledo who could arrange for several limo buses to drive to Fort Wayne and pick them all up. It cost hundreds of dollars, but it got done.
My seat-mate said she did not try to get reimbursement from the airline. In situations like these, that’s often the best one can often hope for if you get dropped off in Toledo on your way to Detroit -- or in Fort Wayne on your way to Toledo.
Hope that it happens during hours when there’s alternative transportation available, or you may be stuck there on Christmas.
That, it seems, is the reality of air travel these days.