CHICAGO -- As the airline industry struggles to juggle the ever changing travel patterns and needs of ticket holders, passengers are often left trying to sort out the rules of the day as they try to get home.
That was true for one Chicago woman.
Suzanne Demint is 72 and, on Monday, was trying to fly home from Florida. While she was out of town, the World Health Organization had labeled COVID-19 a pandemic and the U.S. government declared a national emergency.
Demint, a registered nurse, already had a full fare ticket in hand to get back to Chicago’s Midway Airport on Southwest Airlines.
Her booked flight made a stop in Ohio, however.
“Sunday night I said, ‘Let me just see if there is a flight nonstop to reduce my risk,’” she said. “They still had tickets accord to the website, some listed at $58. I thought, ‘This is going to be easy. I’ll go there and see if I can swap out tickets.’ I got to the airport easily and thought all systems were go until I started talking to them.”
Demint said the gate agents were unwilling to make the swap.
“She said, ‘You can get a ticket for $358,’” Demint said. “I said, ‘I’m a nurse. I’m an elderly woman. I would like to reduce my risk.’ She said, ‘Yep. You can do that for $358.’”
Demint said it has everything to do with corporate policy even during a pandemic.
Southwest boasts “no change fees.” And travelers can make those changes up to 10 minutes before departure. But in Diment’s case, Southwest ticket agents wouldn’t budge because according to its website, the airline has “an unconditional, free ticket change policy as well as a free same day ticket change policy” but requires customers “to pay a difference in air fare.”
In other words, the difference between the ticket she already had and the ticket she wanted to book came to $358 for Demint.
She was forced to wait at the crowded airport and take two flights home instead of just one.
“By now, I don’t know how many planes are flying, but I know there are not many people on them,” she said. “And in a few weeks they are going to go to Congress with their hat in their hand looking for money. Yet in a situation where they could have made things better, they made things worse.”