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Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:38 PM

Emergency Travel Costs are Outrageous

I just got back from a trip to California from Minnesota. My father, who is 88 years old, had bilateral subdural hematomas from some unknown incident. They caused pressure on his brain, which went unnoticed for a couple of days. We don't know when they occurred.

So, emergency surgery to relieve the pressure and drain the fluid was necessary. He survived the surgery, but I had to fly out to help my brother and sister provide support and transportation for my mother, who is also 88. That meant buying an airline ticket on two-day notice. The airlines apparently offer bereavement fares, but not lower fares for this type of thing.

Prices for a round trip ticket ranged from $850 to $1700. Not an easy amount to come up with on short notice if you are eschewing credit cards, actually. We rounded up the money, and I made the flight.

Fortunately, my father is recovering and it looks like he'll return to normal, according to the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery. He's improving every day, and is in a transitional care facility until he's ready to return home.

It's unfortunate that airlines appear to be unwilling to offer the same prices that are available with longer notice in such situations. I tried, but it was a no-go from all the airlines I contacted. I finally took a Sun Country flight that was at the lowest of that price range. On neither flight was the plane full. For many people, it would be impossible to make such a trip, and that's too bad. My being there was important to both my mother and father and my siblings, who live in the same town as my parents. I live in Minnesota because my wife's mother is in her 80s and also needs considerable support.

Anyhow, the need for this travel made me wonder if there shouldn't be a way to convince airlines that such travel should be offered at the lowest available fares for a particular destination, regardless of the time between making the reservation and flying. It would be a nice goodwill effort on their part, I think especially on flights that are not normally full, like the one I made.

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Arrow 17 replies Author Time Post
Reply Emergency Travel Costs are Outrageous (Original post)
MineralMan Feb 2013 OP
CincyDem Feb 2013 #1
RKP5637 Feb 2013 #2
MineralMan Feb 2013 #3
appleannie1 Feb 2013 #4
MineralMan Feb 2013 #5
Ron Obvious Feb 2013 #6
tammywammy Feb 2013 #7
MineralMan Feb 2013 #8
pa28 Feb 2013 #9
aikoaiko Feb 2013 #10
MineralMan Feb 2013 #11
Jennicut Feb 2013 #12
flamingdem Feb 2013 #13
Ron Obvious Feb 2013 #15
kudzu22 Feb 2013 #14
FarCenter Feb 2013 #16
REP Feb 2013 #17

Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:42 PM

1. Not sure if there's anything for illnesses like this but...

...when my father in law passed, the funeral home gave us the name of some organization along with some code number. They said it was part of some national program that all the airlines participate in.

Anyone traveling for the service from anywhere in the US could use it. Exceptionally rock bottom prices from several airlines and they let a friend of ours who was already in transit on a business trip make changes with no change fees. One person got put in first class at peanuts fare because there were no coach seats on the flight she needed to make it to the services.

Very helpful.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:42 PM

2. Happy to hear your father is getting better! Yep, non-planned quick trips are outrageously priced.

I would like to see flat-rate fares, same cost, any day, anytime.

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Response to RKP5637 (Reply #2)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:44 PM

3. Yes. It looks like he'll be fine in time.

Of course, when your 88, anything can happen. We all have our fingers crossed, but he's doing better every day now.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:45 PM

4. It is even worse if a person dies out of state and the body has to be flown home.

It cost over a thousand dollars to bring my son home to PA from VA.

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Response to appleannie1 (Reply #4)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 01:50 PM

5. I'm sure. My instructions are clear, and known to everyone

in my life. If such a thing happened, or whenever I die, I will be cremated. A guy can ship an box of ashes pretty cheaply. I would never saddle my family with such a cost. No funeral, either, and my wife is supposed to dump my ashes in the Mississippi River here in Saint Paul. Maybe a party sometime later where everyone can tell stories about my life. My death will not any great expense to anyone. I've never seen any use for elaborate arrangements, although I seem to be going to a lot of funerals these days. I guess your late 60s are like that. Yuck!

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 02:59 PM

6. I don't understand airline prices in general

I was in a similar position to you a few years ago and was quoted $3,000 for a flight that would have cost $500 to $800 normally.

Why does the airline care if my stay includes a Saturday or not? Why is a one-way ticket an order of magnitude more expensive than a round trip ticket? Why is it cheaper to fly me from New York to Seattle via Vegas than directly? And why, when you're on the phone with an airline representative, are they typing so much? Why can't my flight be rescheduled with half a dozen keystrokes and a mouseclick or two? It sounds like they're writing a novel.

I was recently prevented from taking my return flight because of a medical emergency (lung embolism leading to heart failure, ironically likely caused by flying too much). After what seemed like hours on the phone, they were willing to give me a credit for the return flight for when I was ready to fly home.

When I was ready to fly home, it turns out that that credit amounted to a $250 off a full-price one-way flight only, which was again, an order of magnitude more expensive than a round-trip ticket where I just ignored the return half.

I don't get their pricing at all.

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Response to Ron Obvious (Reply #6)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 03:11 PM

7. As someone that books all the travel for people I work with, I don't get it either.

How can I book three people business class to Munich and two are $6700 and the third is $7800? I did each reservation back to back, same flights. I've booked multiple people to Orlando all at the same time and see the same thing, one or two people charged $200 more. I've also booked a flight for that afternoon and it was the same price as if I had done it two weeks earlier.

We use Travelocity, and whenever I talk to one of their agents they'll say that the airline is out of that price ticket. Airfare pricing is strange.

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Response to Ron Obvious (Reply #6)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 03:25 PM

8. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason

to airline prices. If you asked everyone in Coach class how much they paid for their flight, you'd get almost as many answers as the number of people you asked.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 03:35 PM

9. The airline industry is very price competitive and chronically unprofitable.

Ideally they would be able to make allowances for a situation like yours however the business has changed. IMO it's a cattle call now and the price we've paid is cheap seats.

I've found the best way to turn this situation around is shop some of the last minute travel sites when family emergencies roll around. The tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable but you can get some great deals that way without trying to make a case to an agent over the phone who really could care less about your situation.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 04:01 PM

10. Your situation make me think what I would do if I just received the call....

I looked up flights on Travelicity from GA to AZ leaving tomorrow and staying for a week. $650 was the cheapest.

Then I mapped it out:
2000 miles; figuring 20 MPG and $3.50.gallon, I'm looking at $350 in gas.
I know 10 hours of driving is my limit so I'll need 2 motels @ $75 is another $150
Cross country trips means eating out so I'm looking at $30 per day and that another $90
Barring any unforeseen things - I'd bee looking at $590

Choices would be spendy either way.

Again, glad your father is recovering well.

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Response to aikoaiko (Reply #10)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 04:07 PM

11. Flying is usually the only option in such cases.

If you can't afford it, you pretty much have to stay where you are and hope for the best. Driving long distances that require two or more days just doesn't make any sense, and most people can't afford to lose that much work time.

I was relieved to see my father recovering satisfactorily. Now, I'll call my mom daily to get progress reports. I'll call my sister, too, since she is a retired nurse and can fill me in on the medical details. If things take a turn for the worse, I'll have to fly out there again, though. I hope that doesn't happen.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #11)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 04:14 PM

12. My husband and I drove from Connecticut to Orlando.

To Disney world. With a 6 and 7 year olds. We had lots of dvds and coloring books. We took two days at a leisurely pace but flying is so much more practical. Especially in an emergency over 1,500 miles away.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 04:17 PM

13. British Airways has a good miles program

for short notice travel, can be the day before, they don't charge a fee and you can fly on American Airlines metal.

They have a current credit card offer that nets 50-100 thousand miles good for many trips.

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Response to flamingdem (Reply #13)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 10:05 PM

15. Actually

Actually, it was British Airways who quoted me the $3000 to London from Seattle, although this was 12 years ago.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 04:30 PM

14. Glad your dad is ok

And yes, the airline pricing structure is just crazy. I saw some news magazine story on it and there can be people who paid 5 times as much for the same seat as someone else on the same flight. It's unfortunate that they have to operate like that, but like someone else said, the market is highly competitive and margins are razor thin. They have to squeeze every dollar out of every flight or they go bust.

P.S. If I had to do emergency travel, I'd try something like Priceline. There may be discounted seats available because the worst sin an airline can do is to fly with empty seats.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 10:56 PM

16. It is called "yield management", and it is the result of deregulation under President Carter

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yield_management

Basically, the airlines regard passengers flying under different circumstances as different market segments. People booking in advance, people staying over Saturday night, people booking a day or two ahead are all different market segments that have different willingness to pay.

Airlines are particularly keen on attempting to differentiate between business travelers, who typically don't book in advance and who don't stay over Saturday night, from leisure travelers. This is because business travelers (and or their employers) have a higher willingness to pay.

Emergency travelers look like sales people making an urgent sales call as far as yield management algorithms are concerned.

It appears that the old strategy of flying standby as a way of getting a cheap ticket has gone away, although prices may go down in the last hours before departure if the computers project empty seats.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Sat Feb 2, 2013, 11:07 PM

17. I paid about that for round trip 1st class with car rental when my mother had an emergency colectomy

I have severe arthritis - for which I had surgery last Wednesday - so flying cattle class isn't an option. I flew from SJO to MCI with a rental car for a week for about $950. Perhaps because I was flying in/out of fairly large airports I got decent prices on next-day ticketing; I checked to see what the 14- and 21-days out prices were, and there was little difference.

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