Q. My family of three needs to fly from Baton Rouge to Richmond. Fares have been very expensive. In order to fly as cheaply as possible, I bought three one-way fares from Atlanta to Richmond for just $60 each when that route was on sale, but now I need to find a cheap fare from Baton Rouge to Atlanta in order to connect to the Atlanta-Richmond flight. I’m finding that round-trip fares from Baton Rouge to Atlanta are cheaper than one-way fares, so I thought we’d buy a round-trip and not use the return flight. (The flight into Atlanta arrives at 5:58 p.m. and I was going to buy a flight from Atlanta to Richmond leaving at 6:30 p.m. Is that too close for comfort?). However, I called Delta and was told we would be charged $150 per ticket as a change fee for a flight we didn’t take. Can Delta do that? What if we were in an accident or were otherwise unable to make the return flight?
A. Whoa. It’s amazing what people are doing these days to get around high airfares. First of all, yes you’re playing with fire here if you book a 30-minute connection in Atlanta. Atlanta Hartsfield is a huge airport and prone to delays. You probably wouldn’t even be able to run to your connection and still make the boarding cut off for your next flight. And if you miss your flight, even if there are seats on the next flight out, you’ll pay a last minute “walk up” fare which will be sky high. Delta’s rules prohibit “throwaway ticketing” which is what you’re proposing by not using the return flight of a round-trip ticket. Will they somehow charge you $150 as a change fee? I’m not sure how they’d do that successfully. Place a charge on your credit card? Send you a bill? I do know that airlines prohibiting this practice can mess with your frequent flyer miles if you break their ticketing rules too often, and travel agents are sometimes billed for the fare difference if a customer uses a throwaway ticket. I somehow doubt they have a legal recourse to go after an individual consumer, but the trip that you’re proposing doesn’t make any sense and I would seriously rethink your travel plans.