Local ABC affiliate KITV sure picked a heartwarming story for its Christmas Eve broadcast. Reporter Jodi Leong brought us “Family Outraged,” which told the tale of the late Lanakila Rosaga, age three, and his body’s botched travel plans.
Only three months ago, fundraisers were being held for Rosaga’s medical care. But the Maui boy died on Dec. 13 in Honolulu. When it came time to bring him home, his mother, Casandra Santos, wanted to make sure she could fly on the same plane as his body. “I did not want him to fly back by himself,” Santos said. So she and her family’s mortuary made careful arrangements, including written instructions on the container, which were double checked earlier in the day.
“They totally disregarded that,” Santos said. She found out only when boarding the plane that her son’s body had left for Honolulu on an earlier flight. When the boy’s grandmother found out, she called Hawaiian Airlines to complain.
“They refused to talk to her, they told her just to document it, to write a letter and send it in, and in fact, the supervisor hung up on her,” Santos said. While the family told KITV that they understand that mistakes happen, they would have appreciated more respect for a grieving family.
“He was not a piece of luggage, he’s my baby,” Santos said.
Hawaiian Airlines’ spokesman Keoni Wagner told KITV that there were “no records of specific instructions” and that there was “some miscommuication.” The company’s vice president of communications also called the family on Maui to apologize.
Indeed, Hawaiian Airlines has had a lot to regret lately. The story of Lanakila Rosaga was unfolding at the same time Hawaiian Airlines was being called out by the Los Angeles Times for charging what the newspaper dubbed a “death fee.”
The story there? Jane Wilkens, a California woman, had booked three first-class tickets to Hawaii for an April getaway for her 77-year-old mother and her friend. But her mother passed away unexpectedly in September. The Hilton Waikoloa canceled their reservation, no questions asked. As did Delta Airlines, on which the group was planning to travel to Maine after their Hawaii vacation.
Hawaiian Airlines, like Delta Airlines, did request a copy of the death certificate. But Hawaiian withheld a $75 per ticket “service fee,” which added up to the aforementioned $225 “death fee.”
Wilkins, who cared more about the principle than the money involved, noted that she eventually got relief from American Express, as she had used their card to pay for the trip.
Incredibly, when contacted by the L.A. Times, Wagner — completely failing to recognize the potential impact of a developing “death fee” story in a major daily newspaper — defended the fee. “There’s administration involved — paperwork, computer entries,” he said. “The processing of the refund takes staff time that costs the company money.”
It was only after the story ran, and after the story was picked up by the local media and several blogs, that Hawaiian Airlines pulled up in an attempt to dodge the mountain of bad press at Christmas time.
“We dropped the ball on this,” Wagner said the next day.