‘Death fee’ embarrasses Hawaiian Air
Hawaiian Airlines prides itself as being the nation's top-ranked airline for service, with federal tallies of customer complaint levels among the lowest in the industry.
So it sent more than a ripple through the company yesterday when a Los Angeles Times consumer columnist wrote about a "death fee" of $75 per ticket that the airline imposed on a 48-year-old Monrovia, Calif., woman who asked for a refund when her 77-year-old mom unexpectedly died.
Jane Wilkens had been planning to fly from Los Angeles to the Big Island next April with her mom and one of her mom's friends, and booked three first-class tickets last August for $4,287.
But her mom died in September from a blood clot after surgery, and so Wilkens began canceling all of the reservations for the trip, which was still seven months away.
Even though she sent Hawaiian a copy of her mom's death certificate, the airline sent her a letter stating that it would deduct a $75 service fee per ticket, totaling $225, from her refund.
Mark Dunkerley, president and chief executive of Hawaiian, said yesterday that 99.9 percent of the time the airline's rules make sense, "but there are always going to be exceptions" and that Hawaiian "simply dropped the ball."
"We made the wrong call in this case, and we apologize for that," Dunkerley said.
Keoni Wagner, a spokesman for Hawaiian, said the airline already has called the woman to apologize and sent her a refund.
Hawaiian had the fourth-lowest consumer complaints ratio through the first three quarters of this year at 0.56 per passenger enplanements, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report.