‘I’m praying for a miracle here’

Sahar Ibrahim wasn’t entitled to a refund.

She’d booked a nonrefundable fare on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Sacramento, Calif., before disaster struck — and she was stuck with two useless tickets.

At any other time of year, her request would have probably gone nowhere.

But this wasn’t any other time of the year. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving, when people are in a charitable mood. And she needed a little charity from American.

“I’m a struggling single mother,” she told me. “With great difficulty and after searching earnestly for the cheapest ticket possible, I purchased a ticket for myself and my seven-year-old daughter to fly to Sacramento to see a friend before she moves out of the country for good.”

But then she was hit with an unexpected tragedy.

“We learned that my aunt, who lives with us, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” says Ibrahim. “She needs surgery immediately and she also needs my help and support. I simply can’t justify traveling at this time. I also can’t imagine leaving her alone this Thanksgiving. I’m praying for a miracle here.”

Her flight, which she’d booked Nov. 20, was scheduled for today. Good thing she changed her mind within 24 hours of making the reservation, she thought. Under American’s 24-hour cancellation window, couldn’t she cancel without a penalty?

Actually, no. A representative told her the ticket was completely nonrefundable.

And it was. Like many other passengers,Ibrahim believed she had a day to cancel without penalty. In fact, American doesn’t refund tickets like the other airlines; it only allows you to “hold” them for 24 hours. She hadn’t picked that option because the choice wasn’t clear to her on the website. That’s a fairly common problem.

Related story:   Is this traveler asking for a $300 refund for a fee American never charged?

Ibrahim was out of luck.

“I desperately need to be here for my aunt this week as she deals with this,” she told me. “We are devastated. On Thanksgiving weekend, I have no doubt that American will easily be able to fill our seats. I can’t afford to lose over $1,000 for nothing.”

She added, “Is there anything you can do to help us?”

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. I should have “educated” her about nonrefundable tickets. I should have told her that if she’d just read the AA.com site carefully, she could have avoided all this trouble.

Mostly, I should have said “no” to her, because it’s not fair to the other passengers with nonrefundable tickets.

But when do I ever listen to those voices? Never.

Instead, I heard Ibrahim, a single mother trying to care for a cancer-stricken aunt during the holidays. I had to try to help.

I contacted American on her behalf. It had every right to reject her request, of course. It could keep her money if it wanted to. But I hoped that it might try to help her, in the holiday spirit.

To my surprise, it did.

“We are going to reach out and refund it,” an airline representative said.

On Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks to the good people at American Airlines for helping a needy customer.

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.

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