When someone dies in your family, you never have time to plan your travel in advance of their death to take advantage of discount fairs. Yet, when we experience a loss, we still want to be with our family. Given the tough economic times we face, who has an extra $1000 or more to spend on a ticket for a domestic flight? I'm sure some of you do, but that's not the reality my family faced.
My partner's Grandmother passed away this week. We knew she was sick. We visited Iowa and saw her just last month. Our tickets were overpriced then at over $600.00 per person, but we went into debt to see our family because family is more important than money.
I used to be able to fly between Iowa and Seattle for only $361 round trip. That was before Northwest and Delta merged. And now that United and Continental are merging, fairs are even higher. Competition for smaller markets like Iowa is gone.
Airlines increase the cost of tickets as the travel date approaches. They are able to capture the business traveler's deeper pockets for last minute travel. The business traveler is the lifeblood of airlines.
But not every last minute traveler is a business traveler. Some of us just want to be with our family in times of crisis. For that, airlines offer what they ironically call, "a compassion fare." When passengers call to ask for a compassion fair, they have to explain who died, or who is sick. If the person is still living, airlines require the name of the doctor, or the hospital where the person is admitted. If the person is dead, funeral arrangements are shared. The process is designed to prevent people who want to see their healthy living relatives from saving a buck.
The system is flawed. We called the three airlines that still service Iowa: Delta, United, and American. Their version of compassion is different than mine.
Our first call on Wednesday was to United. They gave us false hope. The outsourced customer service agent quoted us $450.00, which we learned was a one way ticket when we called back to pay for it.
For the round trip ticket, my partner intended to purchase, United was the least expensive at $900.00 -- for the compassion fair. We were told this represented a ten percent discount off the full fair. So United has a little bit of compassion. About 10%.
I called American, while my partner called Delta. The woman who answered was friendly and said she was from Iowa, in her thick Texan accent. "When is the funeral," She inquired.
"Friday," I said.
"Well I'm sorry sir. The only compassion fare we have available is on Friday. There are no compassion fairs out of Seattle or the entire Northwest for Thursday."
The compassion fare on Friday was offered for about $550.00, plus taxes and fees. He would have arrived after the funeral. A full fair ticket, was available on Thursday for over $1000.00. "I'm sorry sir, we have no compassion seats left," she explained when she quoted Thursday's flight. Apparently American Airlines was out of compassion.
Delta gave us a similar story, except there were no compassion fares available at all for any day -- including the day of the funeral.
We weren't being greedy. We weren't asking for two compassion fares. I certainly wanted to go and be with my partner and his family. I wanted to support and nourish them in their difficult time. I wanted to pay my respect to his grandmother too. I loved her. She was a beautiful woman who lived 94 years and had over 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But, I knew that was never an option, so at the very least we just wanted one "compassion seat" for my partner. Just one.
But no. Airlines have no room for compassion. And because we don't have the money to pay for a full fare ticket, and because my partner's family can't afford it either, my partner's brother is going to set up Skype at the funeral. This is the new American family in the double recession economy. Virtual togetherness is the only way to connect long distances in times of crisis, because Airlines have no compassion.