By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com
updated 11/21/2005 9:51:47 AM ET 2005-11-21T14:51:47

Last week's strike threat by Delta Airlines pilots has readers holding tickets on the airline wondering: when might it happen? And, if it does, will I still be able to get where I'm going?

Airline anxiety
There are two pieces of information I keep looking for in the media about (a possible Delta Airlines) strike and cannot seem to find:
1) If the judge rules against the pilots, when would the strike be expected to start...?
2) If you’re holding a Delta ticket and the pilots do strike, is Delta obligated to put you on other carriers if they can find a seat or are you out of luck?
As I have tickets on Delta for late November, I would appreciate any information you have regarding these questions.
John B. -- Raleigh, NC

You’re not alone. A lot of air travelers holding Delta tickets are asking the same questions.

At this writing, the judge presiding over Delta’s bankruptcy reorganization has yet not ruled on last week's bid by the company to cancel the contract with its 6,000 pilots and cut their pay by $325 million -- on top of a $1 billion in wages they’ve already given up. On Friday, the company told the court it expects to lose $500 million over the next three months.

The pilots, meanwhile, have said the airline only needs $90 million in cuts to get back on a sound financial flight path, and they’ve threatened to strike if their contract is canceled. The bankruptcy court hearing continues this week, and some observers expect the judge to tell both sides to work out a compromise.

Keep in mind that Delta’s pilots have not set a strike date; so far, they've only threatened a walkout. And Delta’s management doesn’t think the strike would be legal. (Even if it isn’t, that doesn’t rule out a “sick-out” or a wildcat strike -- in which the pilots walk anyway.) So at this point, while the threat appears to be a bargaining ploy, both sides are playing a dangerous game of “chicken.” The company has said a pilot strike would be “murder-suicide” – likely grounding the carrier for good.

In the event of a strike, the airline's obligation may be limited to refunding your money. A lot depends on the legal question of whether a flight’s cancellation is “beyond the control” of the airline. (An illegal strike probably meets that definition.) You can check out Delta’s version of its liability on the airline's Web site.

But even if they are legally obligated to find you a seat, that may not be possible. Delta accounts for something like 17 percent of domestic seats. During a busy travel period, it's doubtful that Delta’s competitors could add planes fast enough to make up the difference.

If Delta flights are grounded, your success in finding an alternate seat will also depend on where you’re headed. The biggest bottlenecks would likely show up on routes headed in or out of one of Delta’s hubs in Atlanta (the biggest), Cincinnati, Dallas-Fort Worth and Salt Lake City.

And if Delta stops flying for good, expect to pay more for tickets on routes the airline flies. U.S. airlines have had mixed success raising fares to cover higher fuel costs. The loss of Delta’s seats would make those fare hikes much easier to make.

Going home
Are Hurricane victims that sign a six-month lease liable for the reletting fee if they are able to move to a more appropriate place, or move back home again? If you have gone through an experience such as Hurricane Katrina, a person does not know what the near future holds. I found this while surfing the National Apartment Association. ".. Compassionate consideration for the evacuee allows you to waive the reletting fee if the evacuee is able to return home or find other more appropriate housing during the course of the lease term." What does this mean for the renter?

Shawn -- Texas

It means this group is suggesting that landlords cut a little slack for hurricane victims, which seems to us like a reasonable thing to do.

But, depending on the terms spelled out in the lease, there is no general provision that we know of that overrides the standard remedies a landlord has if you leave before that lease expires. After all, the lease is designed, among other things, to keep an apartment rented continuously. Otherwise, that apartment would likely sit empty between tenants and either 1) the landlord would lose money or 2) more likely, he’d charge higher month-to-month rent to cover the cost of months when there was zero rent coming in. That’s why many landlords ask in advance for a security deposit, or last months rent, or both.

Keep in mind that there’s no “standard” lease – even though many landlord use the same boilerplate language. A lease is a contract between two parties, and you can negotiate just about anything (as long as it’s legal) into that contract. The right to sublet is one example. You may be able to work out an arrangement, for example, where you can leave early as long as you find someone else to take the apartment with the landlord’s approval.

If the lease you’ve already signed includes a penalty for leaving early, try negotiating your way out of it anyway. The more notice you can give, the easier it will be for the landlord to find another tenant to take over the rent.

And if you’re looking for a new place, check the listings at HurricaneHousing.net or KatrinaHousing.org.

Where's my money?
Do you have any suggestions on who to contact regarding a company that took money in return for placing an order and then they now cannot provide the product nor will they give me a time-frame for when they will return my money? This is for a school.
Cecilia -- Carteret, NJ

If you’ve tried calling them and have gotten no response, send a certified letter asking for a written response within seven business days, after which you will turn the matter over to the Consumer Affairs department of your state Attorney General’s office. (And/or the AG’s office in the state in which the company is based.) If you’re dealing with a legitimate outfit, you may be able to wake them up with the letter.

If that doesn’t work, the go ahead and contact your AG’s consumer affairs office and ask them to help. If it turns out you’re on the losing end of a scam, the state AG’s office would love to hear about this outfit – especially if the order involved taxpayers’ money.

Here’s the Web site and contact info for the consumer affairs department in your state.

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