“I am at the end of my rope”

This is a story about down-on-his-luck air traveler who had a bad trip — a very bad trip — and an online agency that came to his rescue.

Here’s Andrew Pelligreeni’s deal: His apartment in Kansas City recently burned down. He wanted to get away from it all, so he spent what little money he had to book a rountrip ticket on AirTran through Expedia to visit a friend.

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While he was in Washington, Pelligreen became ill and missed his return flight. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Pelligreeni is deaf and can only communicate through call relay. Oh, and his cell phone was broken.

I told you this was a hard luck case.

Question is, would Expedia and AirTran also see this as a hard luck case — or a tough luck case?

First, let’s let Pelligreeni tell his side. “I hope I don’t sound dramatic or anything,” he told me, “But I am at the end of my rope.”

On the morning of my flight, I was unable to get out of bed. I literally felt so sick that I could not walk.

I did not have an alarm, and the friend I was staying with forgot to wake me up. As I did not have access to a computer, and my cell phone was broken, I did not have access to calling relay.

My friend was gone, so I was stuck. Finally, on Tuesday night, I gained access to a computer, so I immediately called AirTran to explain my absence and ask to be re-accommodated on a flight on Thursday, as I wanted to somehow recover first so I wouldn’t infect other passengers.

They directed me to Expedia. This is where the nightmare began.

The first Expedia representative said he was a no-show for his return flight and that his “case was closed.” Pelligreeni explained his circumstances, but Expedia insisted it couldn’t do anything.

He asked to speak with a supervisor, who agreed to contact AirTran on his behalf. AirTran agreed to allow Pelligreeni to stand by for a flight on Wednesday.

I asked for a manager on duty, and was transferred to Don. Don was very rude and patronizing – he said that there was nothing Expedia would do and that he was unable to make any exceptions for me.

He also said it was my responsibility as an adult to make sure I completed my travels. I re-explained my circumstances, and he grudgingly agreed to call AirTran, who then said that my ticket status was open (different story than what Stacey stated at the beginning), but they wanted a $75 change fee plus the difference (which would cost over $350).

Further appeals to Expedia were fruitless.

Let me tell you this – I’m pretty much nearly broke. This trip wiped me out, and it was a much-needed escape, as my apartment in Kansas City caught fire.

I feel like my life is difficult as it is, and now I have to deal with this.

I want to clarify upon a few things:

a) I’m not trying to play the disability card – I do genuinely feel discriminated against, especially by Peggy and her approach to the relay operator;

b) I realize missing a flight can result in consequences, but based on my circumstances, I feel this is really unfair and I feel stuck in the middle with no reason or logic applied.

I agree with Pelligreeni. Of course he shouldn’t have slept in. He shouldn’t have gotten sick, and his apartment shouldn’t have burned down, which prompted the trip. Airlines like to invoke the “circumstances beyond our control” excuse when they can’t operate a flight. Pelligreeni could well use the same excuse.

I contacted Expedia on his behalf. Yesterday, I heard back from the online travel agency.

After researching his case, Expedia concluded that they did not advocate aggressively enough on behalf of the customer and as a result are refunding his trip and offering him a $100 Electronic Travel Coupon for the site.

Nice work, Expedia. Here’s hoping your customer’s luck changes.

(Photo: Sco tt Ab eman/Flickr Creative Commons)