I fainted at the airport, and then I lost my vacation


When Beth Langston faints at the airport and is taken to the hospital, her nonrefundable trip to London is the first casualty. Is her refund DOA?

Question: I need your help with getting a refund from Travelocity. Last year, I booked a package online, flying from Washington, D.C., to London and staying at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London.

I passed out in the airport and was taken to the ER by ambulance. The airline kept calling from the gate while I was in the back of the ambulance and asked where I was, since they were waiting on me to board.

I didn’t have travel insurance, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I read Travelocity’s travel insurance policy, and if I understand it correctly, it would’ve covered me only had I requested a change in my flight 24 hours prior to departure. I “decided” not to make my flight from a gurney with paramedics roughly an hour before my flight was to leave, so I’m not sure if that would’ve mattered.

I’ve asked Travelocity for a refund for the hotel and airfare. Virgin Atlantic won’t give me a ticket credit because I was a “no show” for the flight, and the hotel portion of my trip was completely nonrefundable. Is there anything else I can do? — Beth Langston, Alexandria, Va.

Answer: I’m so sorry to hear about your health problems. I’m glad you’ve recovered from your ER visit and are back to worrying about the less important things, like the fate of your canceled vacation.

Travelocity, Virgin Atlantic and the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London should have been sensitive to your situation, and based on the correspondence you showed me, they kind of were. Travelocity tried to advocate your case with the two companies; the companies responded with sympathy for your situation. Unfortunately, your airline and hotel also responded with hard “noes” — apparently without bothering to fully review your case.

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Rules are rules, except when they’re not. While it’s true that your vacation was nonrefundable, travel companies are known to make exceptions when a customer can’t make it for reasons beyond his or her control. A sudden hospitalization definitely falls into that category.

By the way, there’s a reason your package wasn’t refundable: If you don’t show up, your airline or hotel can’t easily resell your seat or room. Refunding you would result in a loss of revenue. When you booked your trip, you agreed to these rules.

But this situation was extraordinary. You literally passed out at the airport and couldn’t board the flight; Virgin Atlantic called you in the ambulance, and you told them you were en route to the hospital.

You could have sent a round of appeals to all of the companies. I list the names, numbers and addresses of the Travelocity executives (the company is owned by Expedia) on my consumer advocacy website.

Virgin Atlantic’s executives can be found on the website as well.

And the contacts for Park Plaza (owned by the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group) are listed there too.

I asked Travelocity to request that both of these companies review their decision one more time. Virgin Atlantic agreed to a full refund for your ticket.

Initially, Park Plaza refused to offer a refund or credit, noting that your rate was “highly restricted.” After a version of this story appeared in syndication, you circled back with the hotel. It turns out there was another reason for the hotel’s refusal: The property hadn’t been paid by Travelocity.

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Travelocity refunded you an additional $2,400.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

  • sirwired

    “No” would have been entirely acceptable answer, so it’s nice that she received her refunds.

    As I am fond of saying, companies like their money just as much as consumers like theirs, and have no inherent lesser claim to it. If there’s any situation where a refund is not an obligation, “no-show” is it. It’s all well and good that she didn’t cancel on a whim, but that doesn’t pay the bills…

  • Michael__K

    “No” would not have been an acceptable answer from Travelocity, which had pocketed for itself money it had no right to pocket for itself.

  • sirwired

    It’s the hotel that would have eventually received the money from Travelocity, cancellation or not, (for 3rd-party prepaid bookings with a large agency, I suspect there’s some kind of invoicing thing going on, and the hotel doesn’t get paid until after the stay, no matter what), so it’s the hotel that needs to at least give permission for the refund to the agent, even if they haven’t received the funds yet. Travelocity can’t hand over the hotel’s money on their own volition, no more than your bank can cut a check to somebody that shows up at the teller window and says you owe them money.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Sure it would have. She paid Travelocity for the option to have a room at X hotel on Y nights. She didn’t exercise the option. If Travelocity’s on the hook here, then they’re off the hook if they paid the hotel, she showed up, and hotel didn’t give her a room.

  • Michael__K

    Travelocity is an agent for the hotel. They have no right to pocket anything beyond their commission. It’s the hotel which was holding and guaranteeing their room for the traveler (or if they weren’t, because Travelocity didn’t pay them, then that was misrepresentation by Travelocity).

  • Michael__K

    I agree it’s the hotels money, but then Travelocity shouldn’t still be holding on to it weeks after this incident, even after they purported to advocate for the customer and after Chris wrote about the case.
    I would not assume the hotel would have eventually received its money from Travelocity.

  • BubbaJoe123

    So, you’re saying that, if Travelocity had paid the hotel for a room, the customer showed up, and was denied the room, that Travelocity would have no responsibility.

  • Michael__K

    No, don’t put words in my mouth. In your alternate universe scenario, Travelocity would be liable to the customer as the hotel’s agent, but the hotel would be liable to Travelocity.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Can’t have it both ways – you’ve got Travelocity as the hotel’s agent in the first scenario, and as the customer’s agent in the second scenario.

  • Michael__K

    Of course you can, it’s called a dual agent. Travel agents themselves represent and promote themselves as dual agents.

  • BubbaJoe123

    If that’s your argument, then Travelocity would be just as justified in considering themselves the customer’s agent in the second case (and keeping the money), and the hotel’s agent in the first case (and having no obligation to the traveler).

  • Michael__K

    A dual agent has dual obligations — they can’t selectively ignore their obligations to one side for their own convenience.
    If it was not a prepaid booking, then *maybe* Travelocity could have justified holding the money while they advocated for their customer. But purporting to advocate for their customer’s refund with the hotel, and responding with a ‘No’, while in fact they are holding on to the money the entire time, is completely inappropriate.

  • greg watson

    Most 3rd party sites tend to side with the hotel / business. It has been well explained on this site…………..check the best prices on expedia, priceline, etc. & make your best deal with the hotel / business directly. These 3rd party sites are not your ‘agents’

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It is good to hear that the OP has recovered from her ER visit.

    Like sirwired wrote…”No” would have been entirely acceptable answer…the airline didn’t caused her to faint nor did the hotel. Why should they refund the OP especially when it was a last minute cancellation especially for the airline which couldn’t resell her seat?

    The OP could have done a few things that could have reduce the risks:

    1) Purchase a travel insurance policy. Of course, her claim could have been declined if the cause of her fainting was caused by a pre-existing condition AND it was outside of the pre-existing condition window.

    2) Work with a brick & mortar travel agent…if you have an issue, it is my preference to call someone that I have met face-to-face instead of calling a ‘call-center’ in the PI or India…it might be easier to send the TA a text or call on the way to the ER versus explaining the situation to a person in the PI or India. Of course, a B&M TA can be bad.

  • Michael__K

    A travel insurance claim could also be declined if whatever sickness or injury (if any) caused her fainting were deemed, in hindsight, to not be so disabling as to warrant canceling her trip….

  • BubbaJoe123

    I agree that Travelocity shouldn’t have pretended to advocate for the traveler. They would have been entirely in the right in simply saying “non refundable means non refundable.”

    FYI, a travel agent who truly acts as an agent (i.e. when booking a non-prepaid hotel) is an agent for the travel service provider. When taking money for a prepaid reservation like this, the travel “agent” IS the travel service provider. If I book a prepaid reservation with Travelocity, then I hold Travelocity responsible if anything goes wrong, since my deal was with them. The terms of my deal with Travelocity are the terms we’ve agreed to. Whatever deal Travelocity has with the hotel is irrelevant to me and none of my business, just as I couldn’t care less what Delta’s deal with their fuel suppliers is.

  • Michael__K

    Your agreement with Travelocity says that you should read the full terms and conditions of the travel supplier, which are found on the supplier’s website….
    If Travelocity never paid the supplier and/or you never had a bonafide reservation, then, no they would not have been entirely in the right at all.

  • Lindabator

    no we do not – we are not a hotel’s agent, but a client’s.

  • Lindabator

    and we are actually an agent for the purchaser – NOT the seller. Yes, we have to follow legalities regards the vendor, but we ar contracted by the client to purchase th best options on their behalf. I cannot owe my loyalty to both if there is an issue, after all.

  • Lindabator

    an ambulatory removal would not be considered anything BUT disabling

  • Annie M

    This was certainly a case that should have had third party travel insurance – not Travelocitys – but I am glad you were able to advocate for her and get her a refund.

    To Beth – third party insurance most likely would have covered you, not the airlines. Buy it next time.

  • Michael__K

    You mean you don’t accept the hotel’s agency terms and commissions?

  • BubbaJoe123

    If I book a prepaid rental car from Hertz, and don’t show up to collect it, then Hertz gets to keep my money, regardless of whether they had any cars on site for rent that day or not. By failing to try to exercise my option, I’ve waived any requirement that the provider be able to exercise it.

    Again, I agree that Travelocity shouldn’t have said they were advocating for the passenger. They could have just said no, however.

  • Michael__K

    Where in the insurance contract terms are you getting that from? Who is to say that the ambulatory removal was warranted, with the benefit of hindsight?

  • Michael__K

    Depends. If the location was closed or if they lost your reservation, then you could have a viable claim.
    Also a bad example because Hertz is the supplier, not an agent which has no claim to the funds.

  • Noah Kimmel

    not necessarily.

    Branded vacation packages where the component costs are not broken out to the customer (vs. separate bookings on same itinerary from same company) are generally done via what is known as a “net tour” product. In these situations, weather it is car, hotel, or airfare, the OTA collects from the customer, but doesn’t pay until after the service. This is where OTAs make a ton of money – its not just the commissions, but the float on the time that has passed and the difference in what the provider bulk sells to the OTA and the OTA sells at market rate to the end customer. I dont know specifically about Travelocity’s association with this hotel, but for many OTAs and car rentals, no shows are still pocketed by the OTA and not paid out to the rental car company.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Disagree on both counts. If I pay you for an option, then choose not to exercise the option, your ability to actual deliver on the exercise is irrelevant.

  • Michael__K

    You pay for a service. This is not equities/investments/derivatives.

  • Rebecca

    These cases makes chumps out of people like me, who purchases travel insurance for trips overseas that cost thousands. While I don’t have animosity towards the OP – there’s no harm in asking – I do feel ripped off. Why am I (and thousands of other travelers, for that matter) purchasing travel insurance when I can write some emails and get a full refund?

  • BubbaJoe123

    And if you never give the service provider the opportunity to deliver that service, you’ve given up any claim on it.

  • Michael__K

    If the service provider sold a service that didn’t exist or wasn’t theirs to sell, then they don’t have a claim to pocket something for nothing. They can pocket something for holding a perishable spot for you, but the premise is that they were really were holding a perishable spot for you and not deceiving you.

  • PsyGuy

    Happy ending, and I am joyful the LW recovered.
    The only issue I have with the article is that while the Travelocity travel insurance would not have covered this scenario, there are other underwriters and providers that would have.

    Lastly, OTA’s are not real travel agents.

  • PsyGuy

    Yes you can an agent can represent two parties to the same transaction.

  • PsyGuy

    They they can, I think you are assuming that in such a scenario there MUST be a conflict of interest, there doesn’t have to be.

  • Chris_In_NC

    but… but… BUT… Isn’t this the scenario for which travel insurance IS for?
    I’m glad that the OP eventually got her refund as a gesture of goodwill and some public shaming, but, this scenario is what travel insurance is for right?

  • LDVinVA

    I so agree!

  • Mel65

    I agree and I definitely think that this was not a circumstance where public shaming is appropriate. Public shaming should be reserved for those situations where the vendor has acted in bad faith or committed an egregious error. In this case nobody actually did anything “wrong” it was just a matter of following policies. The OP was asking for an exception and should have been asking more nicely realizing that she was not actually entitled to anything.

  • NavyRNRet

    True, but do you want to take the risk that the advocates might not to be able to get you a refund? I’d rather buy the insurance, put in my claim and wait, vs. spending hours on the phone, emailing the businesses involved, gathering evidence to submit to Elliot’s advocates and crossing my fingers that the verdict is in my favor.

  • FQTVLR

    How do you choose which people with nonrefundable trips and no insurance to help? Why do some appear to be more deserving of help than others? Not being snarky, just simple curiosity as we see some people requesting help showing as case dismissed because of the nonrefundable nature of their booking.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree…these cases are a reflection of our society…1) let the ‘entity’ with the big pockets to borne the risks…of course, the cost is eventually pass to the other consumers; 2) there are a lot of individuals that don’t want to take responsibilities for their actions or lack of actions. 3) snowflakes…sometimes stuff happens…it is okay to ask for an exception but not to expect it.

    If the OP had purchased a third-party travel insurance policy, it would probably have covered the situation.

  • The Original Joe S

    OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! OTA! LEARN A LESSON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rebecca

    The part that really makes me crazy is that they almost certainly don’t have medical evacuation coverage. For travel to London, at least they have good emergency care. But I cringe when I see people traveling places like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, etc without it. If something were to happen, I wouldn’t want to think about the consequences. I personally know someone that had to be life flighted out of Mexico, and there’s a good chance she’d be dead or seriously disabled if she didn’t have the coverage.

  • jim6555

    “I didn’t have travel insurance, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I read Travelocity’s travel insurance policy, and if I understand it correctly, it would’ve covered me only had I requested a change in my flight 24 hours prior to departure.”

    Purchasing travel insurance from a travel provider or an online travel agent is usually a mistake. These policies provide inferior benefits to what can be purchased through other travel insurance providers. In May of this year, my spouse and I flew Aer Lingus to Dublin for a one night stay and were supposed to fly to Hamburg the following day where we would board a seven day Baltic Cruise. My wife had to be rushed to a hospital in Dublin on the morning we were supposed to fly to Hamburg. To make a long story short, she was cleared for travel that afternoon. Our travel policy (purchased at tripinsurance.com) paid for an additional overnight in Dublin and for a flight to Copenhagen the next day so that we could continue our cruise from there. They also picked up the cost of the hospital ER, our meals and taxi fares. The amount that we paid for our trip policy was about the same as the coverage that Aer Lingus offered us during the booking process. What I bought instead was a better policy which allowed us to enjoy the rest of our vacation.

  • cscasi

    Another reason, if you want travel insurance, purchase it from reputable companies and ensure the plan will cover issues like this.

  • sirwired

    I don’t know why the current holder of the funds is relevant if the hotel had not yet decided to issue a refund; it’s an internal accounting detail, nothing more. Now, if there was an indication that the hotel HAD offered/issued a refund and Travelocity had not forwarded it on, that would be really bad, but there’s no indication that is the case.

    And I also don’t know why you would think that Travelocity would not pay their invoice from the hotel, since they’d have no grounds to withhold payment.

  • Maxwell Smart

    things like this should be treated, as if it was the last flight of the airline, either last seasonal flight or last ever flight(with the massive worldwide recession, many airlines will close down in the next 12 month, or even faster if more terrorism or Korea blows up). ie can I get a later flight ? No there isn’t one.

  • Michael__K

    Why would the supplier hold a prepaid room at a highly restricted and discounted prepaid rate without getting paid, and without expecting to be paid until months after the stay?
    It’s not an internal accounting detail if your room was never held because the hotel was never paid.
    It’s also not an internal accounting detail if the OTA pretends the supplier has your money and pretends to advocate for your money back, when the OTA actually has the money.

  • sirwired

    Net 30/60/90/whatever billing is very common in business where the supplier (the hotel in this case) sends an invoice to the client (in this case, Travelocity) after services (the room) is rendered; this would not be unusual in the least. You, consumer, might not be able to land such an arrangement (the hotel wants to be paid before you walk out the door), but they are routine for transactions between businesses.

    Why would you think the room was never held?

    And, yes, it’s an internal accounting detail because it’s up to the hotel either way; to authorize a refund if they haven’t received the funds, or to cut a check to the agency, who passes it on to the customer, if they had received the funds.

  • Michael__K

    Do you have a source for this claim? Why would a hotel supplier agree to offer a highly restricted and unpublished discount prepaid rate to the OTA, and to hold the room, without getting paid and without certainty that the OTA won’t pocket the money?

  • Michael__K

    This isn’t like Net billing because the hotel is already holding a perishable commodity for weeks/months before the stay. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for a hotel to agree to something like that.
    And the facts of this case don’t match your assumption. The hotel didn’t authorize the refund. The hotel complained to the customer that they are not in a position to offer a refund because the OTA didn’t pay them. And then the OTA issued the refund under scrutiny from Chris.

  • sirwired

    Until the date of the stay comes up, nothing has been consumed at all, so the hotel isn’t actually “out” anything they must be paid for in advance. (And certainly the agency isn’t going to pre-pay, as there’s a chance there might be an issue like the hotel going under, being re-flagged, etc.) Why wouldn’t a hotel agree to NET 30/60/whatever terms? Again, a consumer isn’t going to be able to land this deal (if you book a non-cancellable room, an individual is going to be paying in advance for it) but it would be utterly routine between businesses.

    And the hotel didn’t say that Travelocity refused to pay, or was never going to pay, just they hadn’t paid yet, and therefore the hotel wasn’t going to be –>issuing<– a refund or credit. Once they authorized the refund, it's certainly an important detail as to who has the money, but they initially did NOT authorize the refund, giving the response that it was a super-restricted rate.

  • Michael__K

    Until the date of the stay comes up, nothing has been consumed at all, so the hotel isn’t actually “out” anything they must be paid for in advance.

    Funny, you sing the opposite tune when a customer cancels and can’t get a refund and you tell us all about the hotel’s opportunity costs in that scenario.

  • Michael__K

    Why wouldn’t a hotel agree to NET 30/60/whatever terms?
    On a highly restricted unpublished prepaid rate, but without any of the restrictions or the prepaid part?

  • Michael__K

    the hotel didn’t say that Travelocity refused to pay, or was never going to pay, just they hadn’t paid yet, and therefore the hotel wasn’t going to be –>issuing<– a refund or credit.

    If you are really so positive that the hotel was going to get paid, then that seems like double talk and a meaningless distinction.

  • sirwired

    I’m not being inconsistent at all. If the hotel knows they are going to be paid eventually, their opportunity costs are covered.

    If a cancellable reservation is canceled, the hotel may or may not be able to recover those costs.

  • Michael__K

    The hotel’s reply to the customer proves they had doubts about getting paid.

  • sirwired

    It’s not meaningless. If the hotel hasn’t been paid yet, they aren’t going to cut a check to refund an invoice they haven’t yet collected; that’d be an interest free loan.

    And was it really necessary to write three separate replies to the same post? Can’t you use the edit button if you think of something else?

  • sirwired

    The restrictions bind the ability of the consumer to cancel. How the agency and hotel choose to set up payment arrangements for the room doesn’t have anything to do with that. NET terms don’t free the agency from the obligation to pay even if the consumer doesn’t take the trip.

    (And yes, an arrangement like this means the agency gets to play the float on the cash; if you are a vendor, and dealing with a gigantic company like Expedia, the terms are very frequently this lopsided.)

  • sirwired

    If they didn’t expect to be paid, why didn’t they punt back to the agency with the first reply? Instead, they cited the fact the reservation was restricted. To me, this says that they expected to be paid for the room, and weren’t going to give the agency permission to issue the refund.

  • Michael__K

    Of course it is. If they are certain they are getting paid, and they’ve decided to issue a refund, then worst case they can promise the refund in the 30/60/90 days you are so certain they are getting paid. Or they could have just replied ‘Yes’ to Travelocity’s purported advocacy in the first place and authorized Travelocity to refund under your theory. Instead they complained to the customer that Travelocity didn’t pay them.

    I posted separate replies to keep the different threads of excuses for Travelocity separate.

  • Michael__K

    It’s hardly surprising that a low-level agent would give a knee-jerk ‘rules-are-rules’ reply and not even take a deeper look at the reservation like they would if they were actually contemplating a refund.
    Oh, and it also appears their first reply was filtered through Travelocity BTW.

  • Michael__K

    What’s in it for the hotel exactly to agree to this? When they could use the value of all that float — not to mention the risk — to either make their rates more attractive or increase their profits? Or just raise commissions if they really want more agency bookings? You really believe they want to favor Travelocity/Expedia bookings over other agency bookings?
    Even Priceline — which as very lopsided terms — pays their suppliers up front. And if you follow this blog, we know of cases where Priceline customers didn’t have a room because of a glitch with Priceline paying the hotel.

  • sirwired

    What’s in it for the hotel? The agency can ask for (and the hotel can grant) payment terms for the same reason any two businesses might set up such an arrangement. That money is going to be somewhere, and there’s no inherent reason it can’t be the agency until the stay if the hotel agrees to it in return for better rates and/or reduced commission, and/or a promise of more business.

  • Michael__K

    That doesn’t make much sense — the rates could be lower otherwise, and the general expectation is that customers (who can sort by price) will give more business to the lower priced option when all else is equal (and in this case invisible to the customer).

  • sirwired

    The hotel is in no different of a situation, cash-wise, than if somebody made a perfectly ordinary post-paid reservation, except in this case, it can’t be cancelled (which makes up for at least some of the discount, and the terms of the arrangement (like more business, reduced commissions, whatever) can make make up for the rest.)

    And you forgot that the hotel’s first response was that no refund would be issued because the reservation couldn’t be cancelled or refunded. The mention of not being paid yet came after they changed their minds, which is certainly consistent with net billing.

  • Michael__K

    The hotel is in a different situation cash-wise. Under your theory they are effectively giving Travelocity a higher commission and they are taking on extra risk and they aren’t getting the increased business they could have gotten with lower prices instead.
    The first response, according to the article was that the “rate” was “highly restricted.”

  • sirwired

    What risk? And the commission rates can be part of the contracts between the businesses. Along with commitments by the agency to drive a certain volume of business, toss in some free marketing, whatever… And yes, the rate was restricted (usually meaning non refundable, non changeable, and non cancellable.) What does that have to do with anything other than the hotel being justified in not authorizing a refund?

  • Michael__K

    Investors who buy Expedia bonds get a decent interest rate….
    One would think the agency would drive a higher volume of business with a lower sticker price or other guest incentives instead.
    You’ll also find that this particular property is very popular and books up well in advance.

  • Noah Kimmel

    yes, I work in the industry and have direct experience with OTA contracts.

    There are different products put out – the opaque or net tour products are different than the retail products that happen to be sold through an agent. So to be clear, it does not work this way for everything you see, just a small subset, but one mentioned in the story. In general, the travel providers do it because it lets them move product. Unused rooms / cars / seats “spoil” with each day that passes. So the opaque products, which are not easily “shopped” by customers (as they don’t know the provider or cost of each component) can allow a premium brand to offer a lower price and get more business. The OTAs use their brand power, as they drive significant business, to get lower prices on the negotiated (non-retail) rates. Payment terms vary by OTA, but the bigger ones get very favorable terms.

    Basically, if you know you are at 80% utilization, the OTAs can guarantee money to you to fill it – it’s not on good terms, but it isn’t meant to replace core demand, it is meant to smooth out between peaks.

  • Michael__K

    If driving more business is the goal, they could drive more business at a greater profit with lower sticker prices which they know will be paid.
    BTW, try to find open dates for this hotel. It’s pretty clear that they are way beyond 80% utilization.

  • Noah Kimmel

    lower “sticker” prices as you say devalue the brand and could lower the average. If I have 100 rooms and can sell 90 at $100 and 10 at $60, that may be better than selling all 100 at $90 for instance. A smart revenue manager diversifies revenue streams and differentiates customers and products. They should be over 80% utilizaiton – but at what distribution of prices?

  • Michael__K

    But this a lower prepaid unpublished rate (which devalues the brand as you say) anyway. Why on earth would a routinely sold out hotel “devalue the brand” and hold rooms at this low price without even knowing if they will get paid for holding those rooms?

  • A tough situation, but glad to see she received her money back. Too bad that public shaming seems to be the only way for some businesses to step up and do the right thing. While it’s no fun to lose money on a booking they can hardly recover, the human condition and compassion for circumstance has to enter the equation, too. I’m sure Beth would’ve much rather enjoyed the charms of London rather than the inside of that ER room

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