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Delta Reserves Right To Lose Luggage


Airline won't pony up for lost items.

There was a time when man yearned to fly. Now, he dreads it.

The quality of air travel has precipitously declined in the wake of skyrocketing fuel prices. Minyanville (along with every other media outlet in the known world) has covered the story in depth, including the sometimes absurd measures which struggling airlines have taken to stay afloat.

A recent anecdote epitomizes the industry's current attitude towards its customers: They appear to be pushing passengers away on purpose.

Last week, a friend -- whom we'll call Isabel -- flew Delta (DAL) home to New Jersey from a family gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The airline, like struggling competitors American (AMR), Continental (CAL) and US Airways (LCC), has added a range of fees to keep up with rising jet-fuel prices. In late June, Delta tacked on a $50 surcharge for frequent flyers redeeming awards - a questionable strategy for dealing with loyal customers.

While taking $50 hits here and there definitely hurts, there's another side to cost-cutting and cash hoarding that most travelers are fortunate enough never to see.

Isabel arrived at the airport two hours early; plenty of time to check her bag and easily make her flight. Inclement weather hit both the New York and Charlotte area later in the day, but she was one of the lucky few who made it home before the cancellations began. Her bag, however, missed the flight.

No big deal, of course - this is scarcely the first time a bag destined for Newark took an inexplicable detour to Cincinnati.

Isabel returned home without the bag, though Delta assured her that it had been located would be delivered to her first thing Monday morning - or possibly afternoon: The delivery window was only 12 hours wide.

The bag didn't show up on Monday. Or Tuesday. By then, the novelty had worn off, and Isabel was well and truly furious. Delta promised her another delivery, even offered to compensate her a whopping $25 - standard company policy for bags not returned within three days.

Tuesday afternoon, the bag materialized at the delivery service. All would be well Wednesday morning.

Come Wednesday morning, Isabel was on the phone again with Delta, inquiring about the delivery of her bag (in an identical 12-hour window) and the $25 in blood money. The Delta representative informed her that the airline wasn't obligated to give her the money, since the airline got the bag to the delivery service within the stipulated three-day timeframe.

Oh, the bag isn't there yet? Not important: Rules are rules. If you really wanted your bags to arrive with you, you would've bought them a ticket.

The bag finally showed up at Isabel's office Wednesday afternoon.

Well, most of it did.

During its mysterious odyssey, two bottles of perfume and a ceramic hair straightener worth three times as much as any household appliance I've ever owned (I'm told its ability to straighten hair is nothing short of miraculous) went missing.

She got on the line with the helpful people at Delta again. Unfortunately, the perfume bottles (taken individually, of course) weren't valuable enough to replace, and she was also out of the luck on the straightener: Delta considers it a piece of electronic equipment, and therefore ineligible for a refund.

Now, I don't know a lot about hair straighteners, but I know this one was a far cry from an iPhone (AAPL) or Blackberry (RIMM).

But Delta wouldn't budge. The company held fast to its rules and lost at least one customer forever, maybe even two, or however many people are horrified by this article.

They didn't even send her one of those much coveted "The airline lost my bag, screwed me out of $25 and stole $300 in beautification products and all I got was this lousy t-shirt," t-shirts.

Saying "You're about to lose a customer forever" no longer means anything to the airline industry; it's just a quaint relic of happier times.

Before rising gas prices chewed through whatever remained of airlines' profits, they had room to waive fees, choose customer satisfaction over pusillanimous interpretations of a refund policy or even dole out a few extra cans of Coke (KO) on a long flight.

Now, for these struggling firms, every penny counts - even if it comes at the expense of their most frequent fliers.
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