Another refund of nonrefundable airfare, thanks to Hawaiian Airlines

No one likes canceling or rescheduling flights, especially due to illness.

Linda Myler needed to do just that when her dad got too sick to travel a day before Myler and her parents were to leave for New Zealand via Hawaiian Airlines.

She ate the change fees to rebook all the coach flights to a later date -– which came and went. Sadly, her father had died.

Myler now needed refunds for nonrefundable tickets. Negotiating with airlines is a dreaded burden no one wants, especially at times like this. She knew she was asking for a lot.

But guess what? Hawaiian came through in a big way – and then some. No resistance, no argument. You’ll see.

Our forum is filled with ticket refund issues with no relief on the horizon as airlines look for ways to be more “competitive.” The latest U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report reflects our tendency to complain rather than compliment. In April 2015, we filed 1,080 complaints –- but only one compliment. A closer look at the number shows 134 refund-related complaints for that month.

The airlines aren’t worried. Their Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), an airline-owned IT tracking system providing the travel industry with analytical data information services, reports May 2015 total sales of $8,053,100,595, including $116,469,064 in exchange fees.

And fees there are –- plenty of them. Wouldn’t it be nice if airlines paid us a fee when they had to change a flight? Don’t get me started.

Ready for the worst

A fee for rebooking a flight is one thing, but a voluntary refund of a nonrefundable ticket (there’s that phrase again) is typically provided only when there is a death in the family or unexpected medical predicament preventing travel. Without this documentation, airlines may provide refunds for coach tickets as a credit.

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Airlines balance lower, nonrefundable coach fares with the sky-high prices of refundable tickets in response to supply and demand. And, let’s be honest – some fliers accept the risk of cheaper, nonrefundable fares only to complain later when they miss their flight and no medical or family emergencies exist. Trying to get a refund under those circumstances diverts the airlines’ attention from truly deserving refund requests.

Hawaiian’s change and cancellation policy is relatively clear, but is no pushover. And its bereavement policy is intended for unplanned emergency travel for memorial services and family support. So where does that leave Myler at a time when she needs to focus on required documentation the most?

Apparently, in the best of air travel hands.

Getting the best

“I was ready to solicit your help with airline tickets on Hawaiian Air before I even emailed them, expecting a problem,” said Myler.

The Good News Guy already likes how this begins.

“My parents and I were going to New Zealand and booked Hawaiian Air because they fly directly from Sacramento,” she continued. “My Dad got sick the day before we were to leave and changed all the reservations for $300 for the four tickets. Fast forward, my dad did not recover and died prior to the new date.”

Our sincere condolences.

“I contacted Hawaiian via email to ask them to refund my parents’ tickets, as my 82-year old Mom would not travel without Dad,” said Myler. “Two weeks later, I got a condolence email from Hawaiian, and they refunded both of my parents’ tickets — and the past rebooking fees.”

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Hawaiian could have stopped there after graciously and willingly granting Myler’s request, but not this time. Even though she did not think to ask, “They went further and also refunded my, and my husband’s, past rebooking fees as well as waiving any of our future rebooking fees,” she went on.

That kind of empathy shouldn’t be extraordinary, but ought to be routine. While we hope other airlines will note this example, maybe we can also accept just a little responsibility when we wonder why this does not happen more often. Perhaps it will if we, as Myler did, take a moment to recognize a good deed – instead of only complaining.

“Since you always get such negative emails, I wanted to share this with you and give Hawaiian a big thank you for having compassion for their customers,” Myler concluded.

Thank you for sharing.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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