But pets are family, too — right? Not if you’re flying

We recently heard the heartwarming story of a pilot who diverted a flight to save a dog in the cargo hold. It’s always nice when we’re reminded that airlines are staffed by real people who have the same feelings we do.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate into policy.

Jenna Valdez wrote to us this week asking for suggestions to contact American Airlines for a refund on a nonrefundable ticket. Her dog is 15 years old and very sick, so she understandably doesn’t want to leave her. She’s had the dog since it was 8 weeks old and notes that if something happened to her fur child while she’s gone, she would never forgive herself. Her husband has also been out of work for some time, so it would be “a huge hit” for them to absorb the cost of the tickets.

I’m sympathetic to Valdez’s situation. Truly. In fact, I just adopted a new 8-week-old puppy last weekend. (For anyone interested, she’s on Instagram @RosieTheTinyRiveter.)

But folks, it bears repeating: Nonrefundable tickets should be considered nonrefundable.

According to American Airlines’ customer service FAQs, nonrefundable tickets generally can’t be refunded, but exceptions may be available for unused portions of the ticket under the following circumstances (with proper supporting documentation, of course):

  • Death of the passenger
  • Death of a family member or traveling companion
  • Schedule changes implemented by American Airlines that are unacceptable to the customer and result in a change of 61 – 120 minutes

Even then, these situations are subject to specific conditions that determine whether a customer can receive a refund or flight voucher. The same rules apply if travel plans change due to personal emergencies.

Related story:   Did Avis bill us by accident after our accident?

Even if Valdez and I both believe her dog’s poor health should be considered a personal emergency involving a family member, I don’t think that will fly with American Airlines. I also don’t know when she booked the tickets and whether her dog was sick at the time of booking, but I urge our readers to consider life circumstances like elderly pets and sick relatives before purchasing nonrefundable fares (especially without travel insurance).

That won’t help Valdez now, though. What might help her — if she booked directly through American Airlines — is the next portion of the customer service FAQs, which states that subject to certain restrictions and charges defined in the rules of the fare, the value of a wholly unused nonrefundable ticket may be used towards the purchase of a new ticket. Travel on such reissued tickets must commence no later than one year from the date of issue of the original ticket.

If it’s been less than a year since the original date of issue, we recommend that Valdez contact American Airlines’ reservation agents and cite this particular customer service FAQ to see what can be done. It’s possible, depending on the specific fare she purchased, that the airline will be willing to offer her flight credit to use within the year (perhaps for a fee).

Valdez, pet lovers everywhere wish you luck.

That said, readers, should we advocate to get Valdez a refund or flight credit, or is she on her own? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to know if anyone has faced a similar situation with success.

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Heather Dratler

Lover of all things travel and hospitality, both from a personal and professional standpoint. A PR pro by day, I've represented a wide variety of clients in the travel industry since 2008. Sharing my passion for and knowledge of travel makes me happy. Cornell University graduate. Follow me on Twitter @HeatherLori7.

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