A passenger on-board a horror Delta Air Lines flight has detailed her struggle to be compensated for a trip that was so bad it “felt the plane was going to break in half”.
Bad weather was forecast when the aircraft left Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic bound for New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport on Monday afternoon, but flyer Lauren Karasek, 30, described how it quickly disintegrated into rough turbulence, snow and high winds.
The four-hour trip turned into a 30-hour flight from hell, with two unexpected diversions. She alighted from the plane at one of the unscheduled stopovers and took a train to her destination.
But the kicker was that the airline told Ms Karasek she was not eligible for reimbursement for her extra expenses – a common occurrence, one consumer expert told The New Daily.
The plane was diverted to Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday evening after an initial unsuccessful attempt to land at JFK. At Manchester, because of the freezing temperatures, the plane had to be de-iced.
On Tuesday, it returned to JFK, making two further attempts at landing, but 96kmh winds tossed passengers around the cabin.
“I’m a frequent flier and I’ve never seen turbulence like this,” 30-year-old Lauren Karasek told Washington Post.
Another passenger said the pilot described the conditions as “a blender”.
“There were a lot of people getting sick, several people needed oxygen,” Maribel Reyes told NBC.
“It was really bad, I never experienced turbulence like that. I thought the plane was going to break in half.”
‘Don’t assume airlines will pick up the tab’
Despite enduring every traveller’s idea of the flight from hell, passengers touched down to discover very little remedy was available. Delta offered passengers 12,500 frequent flyer ‘skymiles’ and vouchers for an unknown amount to those without these accounts, Washington Post confirmed.
It would be a similar story if the flight had been in Australia, consumer advocate Christopher Zinn said.
“If [the delay is caused by] factors outside of their control, like weather, then they are less likely to make accommodations and while they will certainly try to help people, they are less liable,” he told The New Daily.
“The airline might be very sorry and apologise, but they might not be prepared or able to compensate you for [delays].”
Each airline has different, mostly lengthy refund policies which can make claiming compensation a tough process.
“It’s not always straightforward what they will do. It depends if it is the airline’s fault, a volcano, or an act of God,” Mr Zinn said.
“My rule of thumb would be if you are caught in a delay, do not assume they are going to pick up the tab for your additional expenses unless you get something official in writing from airline staff.”
By the time the plane did land on Tuesday evening – 30-hours after it took off – just 90 passengers of 159 had stuck it out. Others had found alternative transport.
Ms Karasek and her two friends booked train tickets from Boston to NYC, at a total cost of $650.
In a Twitter post, a Delta spokesperson told her: “Unfortunately due to weather conditions and diversions, we cannot [reimburse or] compensate”.
— Lauren Karasek (@ElleKarasek) February 17, 2016
‘Slow down and avoid trouble’
Although it would not always be possible, avoiding the need for compensation was the best approach.
Mr Zinn suggested finding a preferred carrier so you could familiarise yourself with their terms and conditions, or simply slowing down.
“We don’t factor in, what my dad used to call, ‘puncture time’ when you go on trips,” he said, “so if you have a puncture you actually have time to fix it and still get there”.
“Leave plenty of time for connections, get to the airport well on time so you don’t miss some of the lockouts that happen … get travel insurance [when going overseas], which includes provisions for delays.
“Do not keep it too tight … because if there is a delay you can lose the purpose for being there.”