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 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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