Is this enough compensation? Here’s a refund for your airline tickets, but there’s this little fee …

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By Christopher Elliott

Karlin Lissa and her family planned to return to Sudan for the first time in more than a decade. But their plans were foiled when the State Department issued a travel warning in October, advising US citizens to defer all travel.

The Lissas wanted to go to Sudan — still want to go — but they can’t put their children in harm’s way. The government warning is anything but ambiguous:

U.S. citizens and citizens of European countries have been victims of kidnappings, carjackings, and armed robberies while travelling in Sudan. Armed militias have instigated sporadic violence and attacked locations in Southern Sudan. Threats have been made against foreigners working in the oil industry in Upper Nile state. Land travel at night should be avoided.

Why go to Sudan in the first place, let alone with four young kids?

Because that’s where they’re originally from. Karlin and her husband emigrated to America in 2000.

Caught in a crossfire

“After 12 years of not seeing our parents and family who are still in Sudan, we decided to return to our home country to visit them,” she told me.

For many months my husband and I worked overtime to save up money for airfare for us and our 4 children. In May, we purchased 6 tickets from International Travel Network (ITN) agency to fly British Midland Airways (BMI) to Sudan during the holiday season.

On Oct. 1, the State Department issued a travel warning.

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My family who lives in Sudan also warned me of the many dangers going on due to referendum in the country including war, kidnapping, carjacking, armed robbery, and sporadic violence. They have told me that it is unsafe travel there out of fear for our lives and our children’s lives. My father lost his life from war in this country.

The State Department isn’t alone. The British government also issued a warning advising against travel to specific parts of Sudan, including Darfur.

Lissa contacted ITN and BMI several times since these warnings have been issued, and they’ve agreed to refund the tickets. But they want to charge a $550 “fee” per ticket. (Related: British Airways lost my airline ticket.)

BMI is still flying to northern Sudan, an area that is more dangerous for me and my family.

Our family in northern Sudan is currently moving from this area and migrating to southern Sudan for safety.

My husband and I are good hardworking citizens. We live in Arlington, Va., we are active in our community and in our church. We live within our means and do not spend frivolously. It is essential that we receive the refund on our airline tickets so that when Sudan is safe we can travel to see our family that we love so much.

So is BMI’s “refund” enough?

BMI’s conditions don’t mention a $550 fee. It’s actually quite a bit lower.

Certain tickets allow full refunds depending on the original cost of the ticket. A refund administration charge of £25.00 per person, per ticket applies to all fares and all cabins, excluding fully flexible fares.

The key word, here, is “certain.” ITN is a consolidator, which means the family’s tickets were discounted and probably came with special terms and conditions. The $550 fee is more than likely a combination of BMI and ITN fees.

Airline insiders and frequent fliers reading this will probably say the fee is justified. If the family wanted peace of mind, they’d argue, they should have purchased fully refundable tickets. And yes, if money were no object, and they were flying to a war-torn destination like Sudan, then that would have been a reasonable decision.

But the Lissas didn’t have a lot of money to spend, and they really wanted to see their family. Even if flights are still operating, isn’t a $550 fee a little much? (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

What do you think?

With more than 800 responses to this morning’s poll, 78 percent said BMI should offer the family a full refund.

BMI is aware of this issue and is looking into it. I’ll have an update soon.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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