Why should I be penalized for my medical condition?

Kristin O’Brien and her family booked nonrefundable tickets from New York to Lisbon on TAP Air Portugal. Now, she can’t make the trip for medical reasons.

TAP refused to issue a refund, and O’Brien feels that she is being penalized because of her medical condition. Is she?

“I recently had emergency surgery for a detached retina and have been told I am unable to board an airplane for the foreseeable future,” she says. “I am heartbroken that I will not be able to join my family on this trip of a lifetime.”

I am also heartbroken to learn that I am not eligible to receive a refund due to this medical emergency. I emailed a letter from my doctor to TAP stating that I am unable to fly. I called TAP customer service and dealt with the rudest agent. Numerous times, I asked to speak with a supervisor and was told it wasn’t possible.

I was told I would be given a travel voucher for use through the end of the year, and that change fees and a fare difference would apply. I can not guarantee that I will be cleared to fly within the year, and a voucher is not an acceptable option.

I understand there are refund policies in place, however it never occurred to me that there would not be an exception for medical emergencies. I am medically unable to fly. I am hoping that TAP Portugal will reconsider and refund the $736, that I believe is fair.

When you buy an airline ticket, there are fare rules that apply to the ticket. A nonrefundable ticket is usually the cheaper ticket, while the refundable one is more costly. It is very important to read and understand the rules that apply to a ticket before it is purchased. The TAP website doesn’t disclose a standard cancellation policy because it varies, depending on the ticket and the route. The TAP website clearly notes that:

Conditions for changes and cancellations change depending on the conditions of the fare you chose.The rules concerning changes and cancellations apply per route and may be different depending on the route you want to change.

Some fares may involve penalties for making changes or cancellations, they may be non-refundable or they may not permit changes. When you make your reservation online, you must read the conditions of the fare or fares you are purchasing on the ticket purchase page before finalizing the purchase of your ticket. If you do not know the conditions of your fare or fares, or you have any questions, please contact us.

Each time you contacted TAP, its representatives reaffirmed that the fare you purchased was nonrefundable. It refused to make an exception in your case because you accepted the restrictive rules when you chose that fare, and bought that ticket.

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The only guaranteed way to avoid this type of problem is to pay more and buy a refundable ticket. Or, buy a travel insurance policy that covers emergency medical conditions. A travel insurance policy would have covered an unexpected medical emergency and reimburse you for the airfare. When you book a ticket through the TAP website, it gives you the option to buy travel insurance. Or, once you make a purchase, you can always look for other travel insurance providers that will insure your trip.

Although you feel differently, on the bright side, the fare you purchased is changeable, with the addition of a change fee and any applicable fare difference. Buying a ticket that is at least changeable, even with a change fee, is better than a ticket that is nonrefundable and nonchangeable. So, if you’re medically able, you do have an option to rebook travel before the end of the year, and pay the change fee and any fare difference. You may pay more to travel, but you won’t lose the money you’ve already spent.

You communicated via email with TAP. But, you could have tried to escalate your request by contacting corporate executives for help. We list executive contact information for TAP under the company contacts section of our website.

You could also have posted your predicament to our help forums. Our help forums are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives. Our forum advocates may have had some helpful suggestions for you.

The bottom line is that you bought a nonrefundable ticket and TAP isn’t going to change the fare rules for you. The lesson is to know the restrictions that apply to the ticket you’re buying, and purchase travel insurance if you don’t want to assume the risk of losing the tickets. We hope that you will get better soon and will be able to join the rest of your family on your trip.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight. Read more of Diane's articles here.

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