Airline descends to a new low: a death fee

Hawaiian Air must pay its staff pretty well.

Not all carriers take such a heartless view of things. Susan Elliott, a Delta spokeswoman, confirmed that her airline does what it can to accommodate bereaved passengers -- and doesn't ding them with processing fees if a trip has to be canceled.

"In the case of a nonrefundable ticket, we make an exception if there's a death of the passenger or an immediate relative," she said.

Elizabeth Merida, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Assn., an industry group, said there are no regulations governing how an airline must treat passengers with a death in the family.

"There are variations," she said. "Those kinds of decisions are up to individual carriers."

Wilkens, an insurance broker, said she won't lose any sleep about Hawaiian Air withholding $225 in dead-mom fees. But she doesn't think people in her position should be taken advantage of.

"It's morally wrong," Wilkens said.

Her credit card company, American Express, apparently agreed. Wilkens said she contacted AmEx after Hawaiian Air dug in its heels. She'd used her plastic to purchase the tickets.

Last week, a response finally arrived. AmEx said it would cover Wilkens' fees and refund the $225 to her account. She assumes the card company will use its considerable muscle to be compensated by Hawaiian Air.

"We look at everything on a case-by-case basis," said Desiree Fish, an AmEx spokeswoman. "It comes down to customer service. Sometimes we do things as a goodwill gesture."

One alternative in such cases is to take out a travel insurance policy that would guarantee a refund in the event of a death in the family. Such policies can run about $80 for every $1,000 in travel costs, which is kind of pricey but could provide a little peace of mind.

But should that really be necessary? If your mom has just died, you'd think any company would step up and do the right thing, especially if they want to keep you as a loyal customer.

Reaching into your pocket and plucking out $75 -- that's just cold. Especially for an otherwise warm place like Hawaii.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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