“Finally, if all the above fails …”

If Charles Friedman had gone anywhere else, he would have received a flat-out rejection. After all, he was asking Southwest Airlines for a full refund of his plane tickets from Hartford to Orlando because he wasn’t “up to” traveling during the holidays.

But then I saw the paper trail and what others were saying and I thought: Maybe he needs to get a “no” straight from the horse’s mouth.

Friedman’s case is a good example of why we reject consumers so infrequently. If one of our advocates says, “You don’t have a case,” they come off sounding like industry apologists. But it also illustrates why the industry continues to work with this site in a good-faith effort to resolve customer grievances.

“I am an 87-year-old man, with a wife and a 51-year-old mentally challenged son,” explained Friedman. “I purchased the tickets for a trip to my son in Palm Bay, Fla. I am now not up to the trip and requested a refund of $1,344.”

A Southwest representative told him by phone that he could reschedule his trip, but if he wants the airline to consider a refund, he’ll need a doctor’s note.

“I am not medically sick,” he says, “It’s just that mentally and emotionally I am not up to traveling during the holidays because of the crowds, the long distances I would have to walk in the airports.”

He adds, “At my age and situation I cannot afford to lose $1,344. Can you please help me to get Southwest to refund my money so I can get on with enjoying Christmas?”

I wasn’t his first stop on the refund tour. He’d already contacted Consumer Action, an organization that often helps consumers in need. He sent me the email correspondence between himself and one of their advocates.

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The advocate informed him there was nothing that could be done, since he had three nonrefundable tickets. She made several suggestions, including an appeal to one of Southwest’s executives.

And then:

Finally, if all the above fails, you might try contacting Christopher Elliott, the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine, who has had success resolving travel problems. You can e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, www.elliott.org or contact him using his twitter page at https://twitter.com/elliottdotorg

Um, thanks.

I reviewed the request and the Consumer Action response again. Was I missing something?

The only thing I didn’t see was a definitive, written rejection by Southwest.

So I forwarded the case to my contact at the airline. I knew what she was going to say, but someone had to give it to Friedman straight. Better Southwest than me. Defending airline policy is not in my job description (although apparently, it is in the job description of some of our commenters).

Sure enough, here’s what the airline said:

He purchased a nonrefundable ticket for him and his family. Without a doctor’s note we can’t refund but we have cancelled his trip and will hold his funds to be reused anytime before Oct. 2016 (date will be 12 months from original date of purchase).

We are following up directly with the customer with details. As you know, we have no change fees, so the full value will be available to rebook at a time when it is less hectic for him to travel or he can use the funds to book travel for someone else.

That’s as good a resolution as I could have hoped for. Southwest will give Friedman a final answer. Case closed.

Now, about that “If all the above fails … ” part.

I can’t force a company to do anything — and I don’t want to.

I want it to do the right thing.

This site respects a company’s right to create reasonable policies and to enforce them in an evenhanded, compassionate way. Every member of our advocacy team understands that and agrees with it. That’s why we’re credible and effective.

Should I have advocated for Charles Friedman?

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Update (10 a.m.): I just heard from Friedman with the following update.

Southwest did award me a full refund. In a phone conversation with an exec they were very understanding and felt I deserved a full refund under the circumstances. I love Southwest and will always use them in the future when I am able to fly again.

I don’t know what to say.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Bill___A

    Am I missing something here? Isn’t this the normal thing Southwest does when the flight is cancelled? It is a very good resolution for someone who travels quite a bit, the money would get used. However, on compassionate grounds, it wouldn’t hurt too much to refund it I don’t think..

  • Jim

    Advocating in cases that won’t be won or situations where there is no hope is what you do Chris.

    We may not always agree, but keep up the good work!

  • KanExplore

    But, really, should airlines be expected to establish a department of “Let’s give refunds to all who change their minds about traveling”? The Southwest policy is one of the most generous in the industry. If everyone had such a policy, most of CE’s cases in this space would go away. Southwest’s fares are often among the best, even with their generous policies. There are some things consumers just shouldn’t expect. One of those is a cash refund when there’s really no valid reason for it.

  • Michele Boughton

    If CE starts advocating for those with with no leg on which to stand, he will dilute his power because now he is just asking for help for anyone who just happens to get his attention.
    He needs to continue to advocate for people with complicated issues who do have a legitimate and/or extenuating circumstances. Buyers remorse is not one of them.

  • Pat

    The flight was not canceled. The person did not feel up to the stress of flying at that time. Also Southwest did not say no to refund, just that they needed a doctor’s letter to consider it. That was a fair resolution as they can rebook when they are ready and they did not lose any money to change fees.

  • Sharon

    According to Chris’ update that Mr. Friedman will, indeed, receive a cash refund, all I can say is KUDOS to Southwest. Once again they, just like Chris, have gone above and beyond what could or should be expected!

  • flutiefan

    if i’m reading this correctly, the OP booked the tickets himself, therefore he knew exactly when he was traveling. surely he knew he was flying around the holidays, as he knows when the holidays fall each and every year. he booked the tickets, and purposely spent the $1300+ tickets with full awareness.
    i’m at a loss for why he would suddenly decide that it wasn’t a good time to fly, considering he has no medical condition that has changed his situation.
    this was simply buyer’s remorse. i don’t feel he should’ve got what he was asking for. SW’s policy is already more than fair — and they offered to let him by tickets for someone else, which is not their normal protocol.
    i feel SW gave in just because of this site, and that’s a shame.

  • Patrica

    THAT was really a Mitzvah on the part of SouthWest. The OP had no basis for getting a refund. I agree, he did KNOW what date he was scheduling flights. My mom was 94, with macular degeneration, deaf, and yet was aware of the problems associated with holiday travel. I agree totally with Michelle Boughton that Christoper needs to advocate in cases of wrongdoing or extenuating circumstances.

  • Flywisely

    Deserved a refund? How does he deserve it?

  • judyserienagy

    This was not a case for advocating; customers shouldn’t receive refunds they’re not entitled to. Sounds like he is finally satisfied that he’ll have a credit to use. And rebooking at a non-holiday time should be less than at Christmas, so without the change fee, this guy will be glad he booked SouthWest in the first place.

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