Her trip is cut short by a cancer diagnosis, but what about these sky-high change fees?

Lisa Stewart’s parents abruptly end their trip to Israel after her mother’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Can they get a refund on the airline ticket change fees?

Question: I’m hoping you can help me. My parents flew from Miami to Tel Aviv this spring. While they were in Israel, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

In a Jerusalem hospital she was told she needed emergency care, and my parents booked very expensive immediate return home tickets with British Airways, despite having already purchased round-trip tickets. They were also charged several change fees. Sadly, my mother died just 8 weeks later.

I’d like to get a refund for the change fees. Can you help me? — Lisa Stewart, New York

Answer: I’m so very sorry about your mother. Life is short, and when the end comes, you shouldn’t have to worry about change fees. British Airways should have shown some compassion and considered a refund of its $4,551 change fees. No one wants to be seen profiting from someone else’s pain.

But British Airways didn’t have to do anything. Your parents agreed to pay the fees when they flew back home. They knew about your mother’s diagnosis then and should have spoken with British Airways at that time about waiving some or all of their fees. Coming back now, several months after the flight, makes a resolution difficult.

May I interrupt this story to talk about travel insurance? I think it would have helped in your parents’ situation — a lot. A stage 4 cancer diagnosis might have been covered by insurance, which would have paid for the return tickets and any medical expenses in Jerusalem. A good travel agent would have even helped you or your father file the paperwork.

Related story:   Can Southwest Airlines extend my ticket credit? I have cancer.

British Airways explains its service fees on its website, and although it can’t quite justify them, they are unavoidable.

I contacted British Airways, and the airline refunded the change fees of $600 as a “gesture of goodwill” but would not refund the fare differential.

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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