Delta refusing to waive cancellation fee for tourists fleeing Sochi Olympics

Tracey Madigan and her husband had decided that this was the year they’d finally take their kids to see the Olympics. That was, until the bombs started going off.

First there was the brutal suicide bombing last month of a train station and bus in Volgograd, Russia, killing more than 30 people.  And on January 10, 2014, the US State Department issued a Travel Alert for Russia, which included a large section on “Terrorism.”

Not if, but when

Then, last week, Tracey read an interview with Bill Rathburn, a former police chief of Los Angeles and Dallas who also ran security for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Rathburn said that, in his opinion, “it’s not a matter of whether there will be some [terrorist] incident [at the Sochi Olympics], it’s just a matter of how bad it’s going to be.”

Sochi-2014-Olympics-logoRathburn added that, “to my knowledge, this is the only Olympics that have had an announced, credible threat well prior to the Games.” He warned that the Russians need a major victory against Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who some call “Russia’s bin Laden. “Unless the Russians can take down the leadership and a significant number of that group or his followers before the Olympics,” Rathburn said, “I think they’re in for some major problems.”

Tracey and her husband had had enough. They decided that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was no place for their kids, aged 14, 12 and 10.

Aeroflot had no cancellation fee, Delta wants $1,200

Tracey hit a snag trying to cancel the family’s plans.

While Russian carrier Aeroflot said it was willing to cancel their flight from Moscow to Sochi without a penalty, US carrier Delta told Madigan that she and the kids will have to pay $300 per ticket, a total of $1,200, to cancel their plans. (Her husband, who works for a French-Canadian television network, and has covered the Olympics for his job since 1992 in Barcelona, will still attend.)

Tracey says she contacted Delta by phone, was informed of the penalty, and then tried repeatedly to contact the company via their Web site, and social media, but has heard nothing in response. “The absence of communication is exasperating,” she told me.  “You’d think they’d have more people on this. It’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I can’t believe that no one is answering my calls for help.”

I placed a call to Delta asking for comment, and will update this story when they get back to me.

In fact, Madigan just today cancelled her flight on Aeroflot, and there was no cancellation fee – she got all her money back. This is her receipt, show that Aeroflot returned all their money:

aeroflot-zero-penalty

Tracey and her husband aren’t the only people getting cold feet about the Sochi Olympics. I’d written earlier about a CBS report that bookings are down as compared to previous Olympics.

“A good cultural experience for the kids”

Tracey and her husband thought the Olympics would be a “good cultural experience” for the kids, who were finally “old enough to actually learn something” from the trip, she told me. So, they planned the trip last summer, and booked it in October. Then, as Tracey put it, “the incidents started to pile up.”

Their concern started to grow with the Volgograd bombings, when terrorists blew up a train station and a trolleybus over a two-day period at the end of December.  But “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Tracey says, was the State Department issuing a travel alert for Russian nearly two weeks ago.

“When the State Department advisory came down, that added credibility to our already percolating fear,” she told me.  “We thought, you know, maybe this trip isn’t the right thing to do – we could be victims of terrorism, or caught in a maelstrom of terrorism, and be stuck there.  And now we have to put our trust in the hands of Russian security specialists? Mmm, not so much.”

And now, since Tracey and her husband began their attempt to cancel their plans, there’s talk of a “black widow” suicide bomber already inside the Olympic security ring at Sochi, and the US military announced that it will be positioning ships and planes to evacuate American officials and athletes – but not tourists – from the Olympics, if necessary.

“I find [Delta] to be insensitive to the concerns of a traveler”

“Almost literally every day, the story gets scarierer and scarier and scarier. It’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when’ something bad happens,” she said.

Tracey says that it’s “breaking our hearts that we can’t go,” but the safety of her kids comes first.  She had less kind words for Delta.

“I find them to be insensitive to the concerns of a traveler,” she told me. “I’m not someone deciding on a whim. I wish I could go.  If we didn’t have the kids, we would. But I’m not putting the children in harm’s way. It’s not a vacation anymore.”


(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • UncleBucky

    Correct! Very correct! :)

  • jinkiesshaggy

    Based on price, her SU tickets were “K” or above Class Economy, these tickets have no cancellation penalty, so this story is already skewed. She bought cheap Delta tickets and those have stiff rules, as do ALL airlines for the cheap seats. There have been NO incidents in Sochi and this is her choice to cancel this early. Those are the rules, you knew them going in because it is likely printed on your e-ticket.

    As for you feeling DL is not communicating with you, they did. You called, they gave you an answer and you don’t like it.

    As a travel agency operator, no-one hates DL more than travel agencies, but their rules are no different than any other airline and this early in the whole Sochi Olympic saga you would get the EXACT same answer from any of them. What a refundable/changeable no fee ticket, don’t be a cheapskate. PS. You should also have bought travel insurance because even before these threats it’ still flippin’ Russia.

  • waguy

    Most airlines offer a non-discounted full-fare ticket with no cancellation or change restrictions. Just a guess, but did this family buy discounted fares? If so, they agreed that if they cancelled or changed there would be fees involved. If so, they’re wanting the advantage of lower fares with the security of a higher-priced one. Plus, they knew they were traveling to a less than stable part of the world – Russia has been having ethnic conflicts and terrorism for years.

  • Larry Peck

    she can call delta’s corporate headquarters at (404) 715-2600 and ask for executive level customer service. when the iraq war started, all of the airlines let people change flights at no charge to get home before the war started. delta flew me home early from los angeles.

  • AnthonyLook

    Delta boycott is long overdue, they are easily the worse airline.

  • BlueIdaho

    I always thought Delta and United were racing to see which could become the worst airline ever. Living in the Pacific Northwest Alaska is the only choice in my opinion. Even Southwest had made a turn for the worse.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “I find [Delta] to be insensitive to the concerns of a traveler”

    Why would they give a sh!t about their customers. What can they do about it? Nothing. Delta doesn’t have to because no one would dare make them.

    This is why the GOP hates regulations, so that big businesses can screw average people and get away with it.

  • http://www.newmillgay.com/ The_Fixer

    Re-read the article. Here’s the relevant section:

    Rathburn added that, “to my knowledge, this is the only Olympics that
    have had an announced, credible threat well prior to the Games.”

    To his knowledge this is the first Olympic games where there was an announced, credible threat prior to the games.

    In the examples you gave, no one had announced a credible threat. Atlanta was a blind-sided attack carried out by one man; the other games had no terrorist attacks, but the security people put measures in place in case there was one.

    I do take issue with your proclamation that Sochi will be a thoroughly safe place during the games. I know it will not be safe for LGBT people. I surely hope that no one gets threatened or harmed during the games. However, I can understand no one taking that chance in light of what we know now.

  • Alexander Chopov

    “first Olympics held with credible terrorist threat”? are you kidding me?! Salt Lake City was held in condition “orange” just 6 months after 9/11. The day after London Olympics were announced in 2005 there were terror attacks in London. and the Atlanta Olympics actually had a terrorist attack during which ppl died during the Games!
    in fact, many ppl in London were evicted from their top floor apartments, so that Patriot missiles could be placed on roofs all over London!
    Sochi is going to be the safest place in the world during the Games!

  • Corey

    And about those Delta folks: Why Delta, With Huge Profits, Won’t Pay Taxes for Years http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-21/why-delta-with-huge-profits-wont-pay-taxes-for-years

  • Nathanael

    You’re correct; there isn’t.

    The rule of thumb on international flights is “always take the non-US carrier” — and that’s been the rule since the *1980s*. Airline “deregulation” in the 1970s is what destroyed US airline quality. And on an international route, there always *is* a non-US carrier — usually the state “flag carrier” for your destination country. I think we don’t have direct Aeroflot flights to the US, but I believe British Airways will still get you from the US to Russia.

  • Nathanael

    I always say, never get non-refundable tickets for anything.

    I also tend to put tickets on my credit card, and to do so close enough to travelling that I can refuse the charge if I end up in a dispute…

    But I realize most people go for the “cheap” advance tickets rather than being paranoid…

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yeah — they’re an insurance company operating in a niche market. Paying up costs them profits, so their motivation for any claim is going to be to require proof.

    I’d also bet that even if you pay the extra for the ‘cancel for any reason’ option, claiming it once will guarantee you’ll never be able to buy flight insurance from that company again.

  • nicho

    They would require notarized doctor’s confirmation of illness.

  • nicho

    I would agree with you except that the airlines are free to change the terms of the “contract” any time it suits their purposes. They can change the flights, change the equipment, cancel the flight altogether, change the schedule. And the passenger has no recourse.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That’s why I used the words ‘loathe the least’. I don’t think there’s a decent airline operating out of the U.S. at all anymore.

  • nicho

    Actually, Southwest has gone to the dark side.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    I doubt it. Delta’s consistently been one of the worst-rated carriers for years now.

  • CA_2013

    I agree about the poor state of U.S. carriers but I’ve recently had some better than average flights on Virgin America.

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  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    LOL oh my.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    “They bought their tickets; they knew what they were getting into. I say, let ‘em crash!”

  • Ryan

    I actually don’t see a problem here. It’s not Delta’s fault that the traveler changed her mind. Should they offer free cancellations every time there’s the possibility that something might happen? They have fixed operating costs and need to fill seats in order to stay profitable. On top of that, Delta is providing her with service to MOSCOW, not Sochi, so they could easily say that there’s no significant terror risk in Moscow.

  • Indigo

    It’s fascinating how American businesses find fresh ways to express their contempt for the public. Maybe it’s something in their Tea.

  • perljammer

    Illness should work just fine. After all, the very thought of attending the Olympics should make most people sick at this point.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I hate Southwest and most other carriers. However, I am semi-happy with Sun Country.

  • Jafafa Hots

    An unwatched corporation victimizes more and laughs as it counts its money.

  • Clevelandchick

    And by shareholders they mean the board – not the 401K plebes.

  • UncleBucky

    A watched pot never boils…

  • UncleBucky

    Then DELTA is on the shit list… I’ve had it with these corporations who have nothing better to do than serve their customers — the shareholders, I mean.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    U.S.-based airlines for sure. I can’t remember the last time I had a good flight on a U.S. carrier, not even the one I loathe the least, Southwest.

    I used to love flying Singapore Air though, because the meals were great, the planes almost brand new, and they treated even us tourist-class passengers well. British Airways wasn’t too bad either, although many of their long-haul planes were rather shabby and worn.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yeah, on average, travel insurance is a good idea, especially for expensive trips, but you have to be careful about the terms. Simply deciding not to go isn’t usually included in standard offered terms, or will only be available if you pay a higher premium. Even the terrorist attack rationale would only apply if there’s an actual attack that has happened and within a certain period of time.

    Not saying it’s not possible, but that it can be a good idea to ensure, as Nicho says, “for any reason” or none is an available choice.

  • nicho

    The basic level of travel insurance usually covers illness or death of a family members. Some now offer coverage if you lose your job. Some offer coverage “for any reason.” There’s an extra charge for that, but with airline change fees so extortionate these days, it’s become a good idea.

  • JustaSlob

    Delta will do the right thing…..eventually.

  • bkmn

    This is the reason to get travel insurance – but a lot of research is required before purchasing it. The airlines get to write most of the rules and one of them is a steep cancellation fee on non-refundable tickets.

    I traveled for years and if you have some status with an airline they occasionally will give you a break on this kind of fee. But if you buy the lowest priced ticket it comes with many restrictions.

  • nicho

    Airline executives stay up nights figuring out new ways to screw customers. They are nothing but scum.

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