I have a brain tumor – can I get a refund on my non-refundable ticket?


When Sam Baker’s case crossed my desk, I instinctively jumped to the same conclusion many of you will. He should have bought travel insurance. He should have booked a refundable ticket.

Right, of course. In hindsight, who wouldn’t?

But then I remembered a recent email I’d received from an airline publicist, scolding me for even suggesting his company might consider refunding a non-refundable ticket. And it occurred to me that his airline — really, every airline — is not solely in the transportation business.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group. Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

It’s in the people business.

People like Baker, who had a ticket from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany, on Condor Airlines to attend a wedding.

“I was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor that will require surgery,” he told me. “I will be having awake craniotomy brain surgery, followed by extended treatment throughout the summer and perhaps longer, making it impossible for me to travel to Frankfurt.”

Baker asked Condor to consider a one-time refund.

Forget it, the airline said.

“Unfortunately we can only offer you a cancellation according our terms and conditions,” a representative responded by email.

Either Baker could cancel and get a full refund of $110 he paid in taxes and fees, or he could pay a $78 change fee and rebook within a year of his initial reservation.

“I will have significant medical bills in the coming months,” says Baker, adding that neither of these options were viable.

I’m no brain surgeon, but here’s what I know about awake craniotomies. They’re difficult, complicated procedures that only the most skilled doctors dare to perform. Usually, they’re used to remove tumors close to functional areas of the brain. My point being, Baker’s condition is serious. He’s not asking for a refund because he has the sniffles or feels like staying home.

Of course I contacted Condor on Baker’s behalf. Like you even have to ask.

But that’s not the question. What I want to know is this: Last year I said I wouldn’t mediate cases where passengers were asking for refunds on non-refundable tickets.

I might have been too hasty.

We’ve had some animated discussions in the last week about nonrefundable airfares. Here’s the story that kicked it off.

I think you can take a hard line when you’re dealing with cargo, but these are people. Airlines routinely pull the “people” card — successfully, I might add — when their flight attendants are late or their pilots get sick. The most we can hope for is a refund when our flights are canceled because of these unforeseen events.

Yet when something truly serious happens, like a brain tumor, airlines are quick to tell us that our tickets are completely non-refundable. Sorry–rules are rules!

Now mind you, I’m coming at this from the perspective of an advocate, not as an airline revenue manager. But even if I were an airline insider, I’d know that in years past, refunds were given more liberally and airlines understood that life sometimes just happens.

The airline industry’s “no waivers, no favors” policy may have boosted profits, but what has it done for passengers?

Condor refunded Baker $1,292, his full fare.

146 thoughts on “I have a brain tumor – can I get a refund on my non-refundable ticket?

  1. Any successful business person knows that there is a time to hold fast and a time to have flexibility. This is a time where flexibility is warranted.

  2. If you are having success negotiating these refunds and have a good feeling about it being fair and reasonable, then I suggest you continue. However, shaming companies into giving refunds to whiners is another story.

    I believe I am in agreement with Mr. Farrow.

    1. I didn’t realize that asking companies – which can vote as people, spend their money as people to demonstrate their 1st amendment rights, and can lobby individuals in the government – would be exempt from being shamed when their policies and actions go completely against things like humanity and understanding.

      Why do they get to have it both ways and we, as consumers and individuals, get neither?

    2. You can only really shame someone who has done something that most people would consider ‘shameful.’ You can’t be bullied into doing “the right thing” if you’ve already done the right thing.

      And I think most people can tell the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ What about the marginal cases, the ones that can go either way? Just side with the customer and be done with it.

  3. “I will have significant medical bills in the coming months,” says Baker, adding that neither of these options were viable.”

    Why were they considered more viable when you purchased a non-refundable ticket with no insurance?

    It’s not so much that I don’t think people deserve a break every once in a while, but these stories are getting really boring. I bought a ticket, I have a medical problem, I get my money back and everyone else pays for it. Yawn.

    1. Why were they considered more viable when you purchased a non-refundable ticket with no insurance?

      Under normal circumstances, had he needed to re-schedule the trip, he would have paid a $78 change fee and taken the trip at another time, perhaps missing the wedding depending on the timing, but the value of the trip would be preserved.

      However, the emergence of the brain tumor and the ensuing surgery and post surgery rehabilitation foreclosed that possibility radically changing the landscape.

    2. backprop: How does everyone else pay for it? It’s no skin off anyone else’s nose if they refund this guy’s money. Exactly how would a refund affect YOU? The change fees are PURE PROFIT for the airlines.

      1. @The Original Joe S:disqus At some point, any added expense for a business is going to cost their customers more. So, if the airlines start refunding everyone with a medical issue or hard luck story, fares will have to go up.

        1. “At some point” does NOT equal “everyone with a medical issue or hard luck story”. Bringing the argument to an illogical conclusion based on invalid premises is invalid.

          Using common sense, decency, and compassion is what’s called for. Unfortunately, most times it’s all or nothing. [Like zero tolerance = zero ability to manage and make decisions based on the facts of the case.]

          1. Actually its a logical conclusion… Where do you think this is going to end up?

            We got here because the airlines used to allow this and doctors faked notes…. So at what point is it valid that you get a refund for your non-refundable ticket that you declined to pay insurance for?

          2. We’re not talking about where it’s going to end up. We’re talking about THIS case. It may be a logical conclusion, but it’s irrelevant to this particular incident.

          3. Yes… but you’re establishing a precedent as seen by Chris’s recent nasty emailer… Every decision that a company makes eventually has a long term effect. So if I break my leg and require surgery, will you refund it then … how about if I just break my leg? What happens the next time he breaks a toe and decides not to travel… You did it the last time why not this time.

          4. What if… What if… What if… What if the Queen of France had a beard? Then she’d be the King of France. As I said above, we aren’t talking “what if”, we’re discussing THIS particular case. Try to focus….

          5. So …when he doesn’t buy trip insurance on his next trip and he can’t travel. What’s your response when he says that he didn’t because the airline always refunded him for medical issues… This case where past practices effect future endeavors.

            Or where someone who knows him makes the same claim…

          6. I’d tell them the same thing that I tell my clients when they tell me that ” my sister’s friend’s brother-in-law sued so and so and got 1 million dollars, so I’ll get them same, right?

            No. Each case is evaluated on its own merits. If the potential client keeps referring to so and so’s case, I politely decline the case. Just happens some months ago.

          7. CCF The issue that he’ll go whining back to Chris about is that he didn’t take action because of their past practices. He shouldn’t be held responsible because they won’t follow those practices.

          8. I’d be curious to get some numbers on that. Its been said, but I have to wonder.

          9. That does NOT explain why some airlines still have the medical exemption. United still has it for international.

          10. Tony … I suspect its in the company’s best interest. For international flights, its probably two fold. First, if someone is rejected due to illness at the arriving airport, it maybe like passport issues and the airline pays a fine and pays to return them to their origin. Second, anytime you bring up international flights, treaties start effecting what’s occurring.

            I honestly don’t know.

          11. I don’t think it is the treaties since I compared many airlines on the same USA to UK route. United and Virgin Atlantic have it (medical emergency). BA, DL and AA does not.

          12. We got here because the airlines used to allow this and doctors faked notes.


            Plenty of airlines still have medical exceptions for international flights. It’s just that Condor Airlines isn’t one of them.

          13. Which part … the fake notes? That’s easy. The change in airline direction is an assumption on my part.

      2. That. The airlines are going to make that profit either way. Just because they’re “so big” doesn’t mean the loss they take on this (ahem) ‘goodwill gesture’ just disappears into the ether.

        1. So, if they allocate the cost of that refund to all the other tickets, that would be what…some tiny percentage of 1 penny? Gonna break the piggy bank on that one….

          1. Derp. Then everybody in the country should send everyone else a penny, and we’ll all be millionaires.

        2. Invalid argument. Just like a fiefdom [such as the District of Chaos] which sends you a ticket in the mail for supposedly running a red light, assuming you are guilty [no matter if they sent it to the wrong person] and then claiming that, unless you pay, they have “lost” the amount of the ticket. [Which they never had in the first place.]
          I reject the position that they are going to make that profit either way. I DO agree with you that you are correct in that they are avaricious for the most part, and will usually let the customer eat it……

        3. Correct – but sometimes folks here seem to forget that – I feel the airlines in this case did the right thing, but people need to start assuming some responsibility for the decisions they make, even if that means they eat the loss.

      3. What if your boss said hey why not work Saturday for no pay, it’s only one day what’s the big deal. It’s no skin off anyone else’s nose, just you. Well those tickets you already paid for just eat the cost it is only a small percentage of your total income.

      4. There is a cost involved in changing tickets. Now is it $250? I say no. IMHO, they have raised the change fees trying to dissuade passengers from making changes. They use to pay us to handle changes, but no longer and let me tell you, handling ticket exchanges is a pain and one mistake and we are fined.

        1. And they beat the government out of taxes on change fees, baggage fees, all the extra fees they charge.

    3. I would like to see an accounting study of to what actual extent “everybody else pays” when one of those tickets gets refunded. I suspect the actual amount per passenger would be too small to notice.

      1. I suspect the labor cost (since they need more intelligent workers) and hassle for management tipped the scales. But then again how can airlines still be called as important for public convenience and necessity and get away with these fare rules void of any compassion for the public.
        Some people here think airlines are just like any other private business – nope they are not.

        1. If airlines were like any other business they couldn’t get away with much of the industry specific rules. Prohibitions on back to back and hidden city tickets would be void. My favorite is cancelling the entire itinerary because you missed the first leg. That would be like not being allowed into a play during intermission because you missed the first act. Or better yet, throwaway tickets being illegal? That’s like getting in trouble for leaving the play after the first act. Preposterous.

          1. Let me share with you my personal observation about how this cruel industry changed from compassionate to lack thereof with regards to this very topic – REFUNDS.

            Here is what Amadeus has to say

            Prior to advances in automated ticket changing technology, airlines would use the services of highly experienced staff to perform the complex tariff calculations required to change and refund airline tickets. Not only did this expertise come at a high price, it ran the inevitable risk of human error and potential leakage of airline revenue.

            OK so what did the industry do? To save money, they simply automated the refund process. But how do you automate compassion? Simple you get rid of it. You “simplify” your fare rules and get rid of anything that requires human interpretation. That’s what automation really means.

            You can read more about the drive to automate refunds here:
            atpco dot net/atpco/download/RefundsReport_2011.pdf

        2. please stop calling airline employees unintelligent people. this is the 2nd time you’ve done that in a day! while i may have some truly moronic coworkers, the majority are very intelligent people. and, get this: many of us have degrees! shocker! we’re not just one step up from a McDonalds employee!

          1. I really think you are misreading my comment.
            I’m saying airlines don’t want complicated tasks that require high level human intervention. Those tasks are expensive. That’s why the want to automate refunds and reissues. The ATPCO report demonstrates how airlines think. Cost reduction is most important to them. I don’t really think they care about your IQ.

  4. In my research of trip insurance, unless you’re insuring $5000 or more the insurance has limited value.

    1. Cancel for any reason: including the premium, best return will be around 65%.
    2. Others: there are so many Ts and Cs that purchasers find themselves arguing with the insurer in hopes of being paid. “Have to be employed for 5 years in order to qualify for layoff provision”, or the proverbial pre-existing medical condition (which the insurer gets to determine), or a medical condition that prohibits travel (like this one) but may be ruled as pre-existing.

    And thus, I foresee cases sent to Chris anyway with the insurers at issue rather than the airlines.

    I seems to me, and I could be wrong, that trip insurance policies are so full of exceptions and limitations that we should question their value in all but the more expensive travel situations.

      1. But some insurance companies will argue, that the ticket is not a total loss since you can change the travel date for $78. Your loss is only $78 and that is what they will pay.

        1. I know of no insurance company that argues that way. I hang out on another message board that deals with trip insurance, and I’ve never seen anybody complain that their insurance company tried to do that.

          Now certainly, if you do not actually cancel, and all you do is re-schedule, you aren’t going to get back more than the change fee.

          1. Didn’t Chris have a slew of travel insurance cases a while back where that was the exact problem. Of course my memory may be fuzzy.

          2. CCF … I think this issue there was that they weren’t insurance but Trip protection contracts….

            I have never had an insurance company make this argument…

        2. Not true. A third party policy usually gives you a choice of getting a credit for future travel and possibly re-imbursing you fir change or cancellation fees or you signing an affidavit that you don’t want the credit, you want a full refund.

      2. True, but then you may have to cover the entire cost of the trip, which can make the premium higher. Plus there are a number of “proof” requirements.

    1. Or try an annual policy. Just checked and the company I use offers one for $267 that would cover most of the incidences that CE has had lately. Covers trip up to 100%. Also covers all preexisting conditions after you have the policy 180 days (and on reenrollment after year 1).

      Actually, I may have to get this one….

        1. The one below is the Annual Executive Plan from Allianz … It is age based so you might get a different premium.

          The $267 is the TravelRite Annual Plan from TravelGuard (sorry for advertising the non-sponsor Chris)

          1. +1. The only travel insurance company I care to deal with (sell) and also buy for myself and family 🙂

      1. For fun… I checked Chris’s sponsor… They offer an annual plan that covers preexisting conditions from day one (as long as you can travel when you purchase) for $460 for up to $5000 a trip (added $5000 for $325)

      2. If you tend to travel on business, I recommend this to my clients. And they can cover SEVERAL claims against the policy, until the maximum is paid out, at which time you buy a new policy. VERY useful.

      3. My credit card offers an annual plan for $80 that would cover up to $2500 assuming the medical condition was not pre-existing (I think the wording in the original article of “recently diagnosed” is intentionally vague) OR if the pre-existing condition had been stable for the six months prior to departure. If this guy had an unstable, pre-existing condition he has all my sympathy with regards to his illness, but no sympathy with regards to his insurance situation.

        It actually seems to me like the people who need insurance the most are the people who are least likely to buy it, because they know their situations are unique and heart-wrenching and they know they can get an advocate or the media involved if they feel so inclined…

    2. Not true. Something like this would have been covered if the story as stated were true. And if someone loses an insurance claim it is mostly due to improper paperwork for the claim to be approved or they canceled for a non covered reason or bought the wrong policy. That is where the value of a travel agent pays off when they can help a client choose the right policy. And a good agent can help with assisting the client in getting what they need to get a claim approved. In 13 years of being an agent, I’ve only had one client lose an insurance claim and I told him he wouldn’t win be ause he was canceling for a non covered reason.

      If you can afford to lose everything you have paid for your air tickets or vacation package in the event an emergency like this comes up, you don’t need travel insurance. If you can’t, you need it.

  5. I would not have refunded; a change fee waiver, maybe. (Although a $78 change fee is pretty reasonable to begin with.) For a trip of this price, trip insurance would have made sense.

  6. For clarity, I’d like to suggest that Chris (or a volunteer) contact Allianz (a site sponsor) with the pertinent details of this customer’s travel arrangements and reply with their quote and whether or not they would have covered the OP. That way we’re not speculating as to the sensibility of trip insurance in this case.

    1. I suspect that since no matter is pending, that would not be appropriate, particularly since Allianz isn’t going to discuss the OPs private insurance matter with a Chris since he would not be acting as an advocate.

      1. True – but I HAVE used TravelGuard (and TravelEx) and have had cases exactly like this – NEVER had a problem with the claims, and yes, they received full refunds.

  7. if an airline wastes time responding to refund requests, fares have to be higher.
    No refunds, should mean no refunds period.
    & how do we know Baker isn’t making up a story ? Plenty try that.

  8. These stories are becoming tedious, as well as ubiquitous. For one reason or another, a person buys a non-refundable ticket and unexpectedly gets ill. No one gets ill expectedly. People who buy non-refundable tickets without purchasing trip insurance are, for all intents and purposes, self-insuring. That’s not to say I haven’t tried to get a refund myself, but if the answer is no, I’m prepared to live with it.

    1. That’s not to say I haven’t tried to get a refund myself, but if the answer is no, I’m prepared to live with it

      I’m trying to understand this. You are fine with asking a low level CSR for a refund once, and if they say no, then so be it. But escalating to a supervisor is bad? Did the merits of the request change between the first and second person. If the request was appropriate for the lower level CSR its certainly appropriate for a supervisor.

      1. My point was that while I might consider advocating for myself, I wouldn’t dream of asking someone like Chris to involve himself when I knew what the risks were at the time I purchased my ticket.

        1. Yes, I understood. The point still remains, if the request for consideration is an appropriate request, then I would opine that it doesn’t matter, ethically, whether you advocate for yourself or have someone better qualified to do it for you.

          Its not about shaming the company, its about the fact that when you advocate for yourself, you generally speak to someone who has little incentive to say “yes”, but every incentive to say “no”.

          By contrast, when Chris asks, he speaks to someone who is empowered to take the time to look at the facts, has the time to make an informed decision one way or the other, and the power to execute that decision.

          That’s asking a lot from a $15/hr CSR.

          1. This particular incident may not be the best way to make my point clear because it involves a reasonably large amount of money, but when you bring up the fact that the CSR I speak to makes $15/hr, it prompts me to ask if it’s worth involving an advocate like Chris, who may not charge for the time he spends on an issue like this, but whose time is certainly worth more than $15/hr, on an incident involving a $99 refund request. At what point does one suck it up and say, “I bought what I bought knowing the risk and now I have to be prepared to eat it.”

          2. I would agree with you to the extent that we are discussing a purely profit motivated business. You would never hire an attorney to recovery $99.

            But Chris is a consumer advocate, not an attorney. When taking on a case, he is motivated my numerous factors, (reader interest, debate potential, reader education, etc.) So, we can’t really talk intelligently on whether something is worth Chris’ time beyond trusting that he knows best which cases are worth his time.

            As to your last question, I would say that is a purely personal matter and highly dependent on the situation. Speaking personally, I ask myself, is my request for accommodation/compassion reasonable and ethical. If so, then I am happy escalating the request up the food chain. That’s what the supervisors are there for.

            And if my request is denied, then I ask myself, how reasonable was the denial. If it was opportunistic, well, that’s capitalism. However, I am under no moral or ethical precept to continue patronizing that business. I can take my hard earned dollars and patronize a business that has policies that are more advantageous to me.

        2. And I absolute,y agree with you about being sick and tired of reading the same stories over and over. Doesn’t Chris get issues other than “I am exception to the rule” problems to resolve?

      2. Carver, I don’t think anyone is saying that escalating to a supervisor is bad. Chris recommends doing exactly that, and the “Contacts” link at the top of this page leads to contact information for hundreds (if not thousands) of company executives. What IS wrong is making an appeal to those executives, then, if rebuffed, turning to a nationally-known consumer who embarrasses them into caving in. Not right, Carver. Not right.

    a must!!!!!! Stuff happens for which we have no warning. And, remember
    airlines have no MERCY.

  10. Wouldn’t it be much nicer and easier if all airline fares still have the medical emergency exemption in the cancellation penalty rules? Some airlines still do. In fact, I would advice that everyone look for it when they buy an airline ticket.

    Sometimes I wonder if the reason some airlines removed the exemption is so you think you will really need trip cancellation insurance. I guess they can sell that, too.

    1. I think its more likely that they got tired of having to mediate all of these cases. I remember when my family owned an Agency the number of Dr.’s notes we got that we knew were fake. At some point, the airline is going to figure it out and decide to stop insuring your trip

      1. When I started in the industry, all fares were refundable. The carriers put the rules in place due to how passengers treated the carrier’s product. Back when I started, I never had people cancel. They made a commitment and they stuck to it. The passengers couldn’t even be bothered to notify the carrier that they weren’t taking the flight, so a new rule got added about forfeiting their reusable fare if a cancellation wasn’t made. Basically we are paying the price due to bad manners. Yes, phony letters crossed my desk many times.

        1. I’m not sure where the problem is if all fares were refundable in the first place. Is the problem noshows?

          1. i would think yes. if there are a certain number of seats to sell, even with an overbooking policy in place there would still be a point where you would have to stop selling tickets. opportunity loss.

          2. I am sure noshows caused the problem. Just like they do if you are putting on a party, paying for food, entertainment and nobody bothers to tell you if they are coming or not.

      2. Sometimes I wonder if there is a side deal between the airlines and insurance companies for all those prepaid, non-refundable ticket coupons surrendered.
        This seems to be something that is too good to be true.

  11. While I am very sorry for this mans situation, I am still tired of reading these stories here. Can’t you just not publish these anymore? It also got you in trouble with the demanding woman from last week who demanded you help her.

    Why don’t you use the opportunity to educate your readers about the value of travel insurance? That is more valuable than yet another story of getting yet another refund on a non refundable ticket. These stories are truly getting tedious. I much prefer your stories with people that really have an unusual problem they need help with. It seems these are the only requests you get.

    1. Hard luck stories get boring, fast, because unlike stories where a company is acting in a shady manner (throwing out fees for a customer to cancel a service that never worked to begin with, for example), these stories don’t appear to solve problems on a general scale. One consumer protected from a shady fee will hopefully educate readers and companies to avoid such behavior in the future. There’s an educational value. Be sure to take pictures of your rental car!

      Elliott is inviting himself to get flooded with hard luck airline cases. People don’t buy insurance, they get sick, and they want to get a refund. Like a pretty girl crying their way out of a ticket, it helps to be sympathetic. I’m reminded of a WWII vet who wanted a refund from Spirit and Spirit declined and later caved in. The WWII vet felt entitled and in a way, he was right. If he fought in Normandy, hell, let him through.

  12. The airline web sites where I buy tickets have the travel insurance option right there on the options page. It is not hidden, but up front with checkbox options, yes or no.

    Given that prominent location to remind ticket purchasers, then they check “no” at their own risk…any risk, brain tumor, knee replacement or a case of shingles. Who cares?

  13. Advocacy is about taking up causes; this is Chris’. He wants the word non-refundable to be redefined as non-refundable unless it is something that he thinks is worthy of being refunded even though the consumer had ample opportunity to be responsible for their own actions.

    I’ll check in after a few weeks and see if anything has changed or if he is still helping people not take responsibility for themselves and wasting his resources on those that could have helped themselves.

  14. Anyone else getting random commercials pop up sometimes when they visit the site now?

    I just sat through a condom commercial…..

  15. Dear Mr. Elliott,
    Perhaps it’s time you publish a list of consumer-friendly airlines.
    Or better, make a check list of features that a consumer-friendly airline should have.

    For Sam Baker’s case, both Lufthansa and Condor Flug fly a direct SEA-FRA route (albeit Condor’s seasonal). One big difference is that Condor’s fares are fully non-refundable. They do not have an emergency exemption. Lufthansa has one:


    Perhaps if your readers know which airline offers such a break they could make more intelligent decisions. Maybe we can even boycott airlines that refuse to provide some “compassion” in their fare rules.

    1. Tony … Did you check the fares? I checked dates in September and the fare difference between the two is $260. If he wouldn’t buy travel insurance, do you really think he’s going to pay more to fly LH and get the exemption?

      1. I was going to include that in my reply to @TonyA_says:disqus’ reply to me, but thought I was long-winded enough.

        I’m getting bids on a construction project at my house. Should I go with the cheapest one from a self-employed guy, or the one with a year long guarantee on workmanship and materials from a small company that’s been around for 30 years? The answer is obvious in this context. But why don’t folks look at the same thing when it comes to expensive trips?

      2. Yes, depends on the dates. LH lowest SEA-FRA R/T is $1275.
        If you are willing to return to YVR and take the bus across the border, the fare goes down to $964.

        Condor (DE) lowest is about $947 R/T. But he paid $1292 so that means cheap seats were not available.

        What premium will a person pay to fly LH instead of DE?
        It depends.
        But I just want to make sure people understand there is more to the PRICE of a ticket. So make sure you are doing an apple vs apple comparison before you buy one.

        1. Tony … My point was more along the lines of … If he won’t spend the extra to insure himself, will he ever spend the extra for the change in the fine print. I’d guess no. Especially if Chris is going to go get him a refund.

          1. I understand you John. You are pragmatic. What you say is true given the situation we are in now. You want to protect yourself from more damage since the airline rules do not want to protect you. Hence you buy travel insurance.

            But let’s try to understand Elliott’s point. He does not like the situation we are in now. He considers it grossly unfair to consumers. He wants to make it such that passengers who get real sick do not have to buy expensive travel insurance to protect themselves for catastrophic losses. He wants to put back compassion in air fare rules.

          2. I think most people want to see compassion in the rules, but I also want people to stop lying and cheating to get something they don’t qualify for. Where do you draw the line? I am not a fan of insurance, but why should someone who didn’t take it out and has a medical reason to cancel get a refund? Where is the fairness there? I really would like the carriers to stick to there rules. Once you bend them, and it is out there for all to read about, then everyone should get the rules bent….that’s fairness, right?

          3. 57% of the airlines polled by ATPCO said they want to automate refund transactions to eliminate unauthorized “waivers and favors”
            Automating essentially means bullet-proofing the penalty rules.
            My question is not about being fair to those who bought travel insurance since that is BEYOND the airline to pax relationship.
            I question whether fundamentally the airline ticket rules should include an emergency waiver? Just because an airline fails to manage it well does not mean they should be free to remove it. Why was it there in the first place (before they removed it)?
            I really believe this has something to do with processing cost.
            Automation lowers cost. And you cannot automate a process well if you have lots of sub processes needing human intervention.
            The constant removal of humans, first travel agents, then customer service/revenue agents, check-in agents (by kiosks) will definitely lower costs to airlines. But a service devoid of humans, do we really want that?

          4. I definitely feel that it is fair that this guy gets a refund, even if he didn’t buy refundable or insurance. Is it fair that he has a brain tumor? Life isn’t always fair. I’d much rather be the healthy traveler who paid a little more than the guy who got a refund because he has a brain tumor. Even if it means that some dishonest people get undeserved refunds.

          5. I have gone to bat for clients on nonref tickets, so I don’t have a problem with what the airline did. I do have a problem with people lying and cheating to get something they don’t deserve, which I have encountered in my years of selling travel.

          6. What really happens to these liars? Do the airlines just give in to these crooks? Why can’t they deny the request?

          7. My thing is that I hate to see good people who are really sick being punished because of the bad ones. I completely understand how you feel because you’re the one going to bat for them, but I’d rather a few dishonest people get undeserved refunds than 1 really deserving person not. Even if it means I pay a little more.

          8. I understand that, but at the same time, why didn’t the LW buy travel insurance or buy a ticket with another carrier that had medical covered? Those who play by the rules get screwed…and yes, the LW is in a bad place, I get that.

          9. How exactly do those people who play by the rules get screwed? They bought insurance and got exactly what they purchased.

          10. Extending a courtesy to one person does not mean that it is unfair to others. The other person didn’t loose out on anything. Fair treatment does not necessarily require equal treatment particularly when that courtesy doesn’t directly affect others.

  16. I am on the fence on this one, as there seem to be so many people with unexpected medical conditions wanting refunds on non-refundable tickets lately. Why did he not purchase insurance as he was going to Europe? Just seems rather logical as most of us do not have medical insurance that covers us overseas–many policies cover both medical and cancellation. All I see here is a complete lack of personal responsibility from the OP.
    I know that sounds very insensitive but at some point people need to assume responsibility for their decisions. We have seen 3 cases of this in about 7 days on this site and the only one I could work up any sympathy for was the elderly woman and only there because the cost of insurance, which is age based, might have equaled or exceeded the cost of her tickers.

  17. 1) I’m happy that the OP got his refund, on a personal level.
    2) emanon256 and I had a long discussion on Friday on another nonrefundable ticket case, and what the cost would be to every passenger if the rules were relaxed. We came up with $26 per segment on a 133 seat jet, with an average ticket cost of $272. This presumed 5 cancellations and 10 changes – WAGs on our part, so don’t lambaste me about percentages – we don’t know what they are. What we showed is that there is a definite cost to every traveler out there when a nonrefundable ticket is made refundable, for whatever reason, no matter how valid. It’s not a matter of lack of compassion or empathy on my or emanon256’s part, it’s simple mathematics. Maybe it’s $26 per segment, maybe it’s less, maybe it’s more, but there is a definite cost.

      1. I suspect the actual refunds (money back) are few. The airlines will most likely keep the revenue and issue a certificate. That makes your equation a lot more palatable to the airline.

          1. Pls. Read atpco dot net/atpco/download/RefundsReport_2011.pdf
            Added: just remember there are many causes and reasons to refund. Not just the ones we are talking about in this forum. 🙂

          2. I just need to make sure you only counted the refunds of non-refundable fares that are not due to schedule changes.
            I doubt these type of refunds are that high in occurrence.

          3. We have no way of knowing the number of refunds, or the cause, that’s why we only estimated 5 per flight. We also assumed 100% of all fares were discounted non-refundable fares, which skews our number even lower. I read your report to see if I could get better estimates, but it didn’t give specifics.

          4. I can see what you 2 are trying to do. How much would fares have to increase to recoup the loss revenue (keep revenue constant) given x% cancel and do not rebook and y% change, both without penalty?
            But I see a fundamental problem with that question.
            The current revenue mix is a result of people buying refundable and changeable tickets versus non-refundable and changeable with a fee after making rational decisions.
            If you remove the penalty cancellation fees and the change fees, that will fundamentally alter the buying decision. Everything becomes refundable and changeable without a fee. Why will anyone buy the more expensive fees? The revenue per flight will drop dramatically.

          5. We were trying to answer the statement that so many people make here when they say, “Just make all fares refundable, changeable, with no penalty and Ill gladly pay a few $ more.” Like you said, it will drive up prices more than a fee $, it will change everything.

            So in our case, we can’t account for how many people buy refundable, or first class fares, so we had to assume 100% discount non-refundable using data from Flight Tracker. Then we had to assume numbers.

            So our figure was that base fare would go up a minimum of $26 per segment, knowing the faults in our data, which mean the number could very well be much higher.

    1. But, why are we discussing the cost to the airline? That is beyond our control and quite unknowable. Maybe we need to talk about cost to the buyer, the pax.
      A 70 year old pax will pay Travelguard $105 for a silver policy on a $1292 ticket.
      Since Condor Flug fare rules do not allow refunds for medical emergencies then buying protection (at some additional cost) might make sense. But what if the pax simply bought a Lufthansa ticket which offers some a medical emergency cancellation exemption? Would he need to buy insurance?

      Finally, if it indeed costs a lot for an airline, then why do airlines still have it in some of the most price competitive routes like NYC-LON? We can carry these costs discussions to its final point – think Spirit airlines.

      1. Haven’t been talking about the cost to the airline – $26/pp/segment is the number I was throwing out. No one thinks the airline is going to retain the cost, but build it into their pricing structure.

        A route from NYC to London is going to carry a lot more people, at a much higher ticket cost per person. The 5 cancellations and 10 changes that @emanon256:disqus and I were WAGing were pretty out there. I’m going to speculate that requests for medical refunds aren’t as common as the articles on this site would make you think. But they must happen, otherwise those airlines wouldn’t have a contingency for it. So, that number has to be included in the total airfare cost.

        Since @bodega3 and @Lindabator:disqus both have said that phony medical excuses cross/crossed their desks with some regularity, I’m going to go out on a limb and make an assumption: that airlines with those exceptions look at any such claims very, very closely. So the actual number of refunds would be very small, and the amount that would have to be added to everyone else’s tickets would be smaller. It’s all mathematics, really.

        Edited for clarity.

        1. I think many people will never get close to a refund. Many will try to waive a change fee. In most cases the airline will keep the original revenue.

  18. People who do not purchase travel insurance and then life happens make those of us who do look like complete fools for doing the right thing. Brain surgery is a valid reason for having to cancel, a cold is not. What about the stuff in between? Where do you draw the line of cases deserving a refund vs. those which do not? We may agree or disagree with the rules, but we all know what non-refundable means, or what is should mean.

  19. Well, OK, Ms Hard*ss here agrees that in this kind of situation the refund is justified. You’d think the airlines would have a compassion specialist to deal with these things, but until they figure out that YES, they are in the PEOPLE business, Chris is doing good work.

      1. truth. i’m on my way to being automated out of a job.

        at one point, we had spots for over 30 agents on our ticket counter. now we have 12, and a boatload of kiosks. it sucks.

          1. They don’t suck for all passengers. I love Kiosks. I usually fly first class and I find the Kiosks to generally be far faster and more efficient than waiting for a ticket agent, especially if I don’t have checked luggage.

          2. Sadly, for those of us who don’t wish to use kiosks, we are finding our options limited. It took a long time to check our bags in HNL at the FC kiosk. We usually use a Skycap, but there was no line inside so we did that. Bad move! Usually in HNL, you had a choice of going to an agent or a kiosk. Now all there is are the kiosks and those dirty, nasty touch screens. Yuck!

          3. But I’m told I must force the passenger to use it. If they get stuck or there’s an error code, THEN I can help. It makes me look like a jerk to the passengers but I’m doing what I’m told so I don’t lose my job over “insubordination”.

          4. Well that certainly sucks! I have only once had a smooth experience with a kiosk. I usually have a problem and then I have to wait while the agent is helping others. Then I have to wait for my bag to get tagged. I hate it! In HNL, I have had the option of going to a counter or using the kiosk, but this year all we could do was use a kiosk and it was awful!

        1. Call me crazy, but some level of automation need to be outlawed. We cannot accept a society with very little jobs. Jeremy Rivkin wrote a book The End Of Work. Maybe he is right. But people will regret this one day. I am one person who still walks in the bank and talk to tellers. I don’t use self checkout at stores. I want to see jobs preserved.

          1. I’ll call you crazy. 🙂

            But seriously, that is an unsustainable position. Its arbitrary. Do you really want to have to ask for the operator to place a phone call? Do you really want to go inside to pay for your gas? Do you want to go inside the bank every time you want to withdraw money?

            We use automation every day, things that would seem like Star Trek a couple generations ago. The hope is that as progress eliminates certain jobs, it creates new jobs.

            I remember when I first started out, attorneys were just getting rid of dictaphones. We still had secretaries, not admins. Word processors have been by all accounts superior to typewriters and the associated labor costs. And the internet (broadband) reduced the need for attorney buildings stocked with a well kept law library. The result was a new breed of attorneys who could, and do, charge far less to deliver legal services owing to the cost reductions of those advances.

            I suspect this is true in many fields

          2. Same here. I have used the self-serves at times (late at night, or I only have 1 or 2 items), I admit. But I also know the employee is much quicker than I am at scanning those UPC codes or depositing a check!

            Sadly, out managers give out the metrics showing how many passengers have checked in at each option (skycap, kiosk, agent, home) and we are chastised if our “Agent” numbers are too high.

  20. The statement, “Unfortunately we can only offer you a cancellation according our terms and conditions,” is not really correct. What the spokesperson meant to have said was, “Unfortunately, we will not off you a refund.” The contract terms and conditions may permit the carrier to keep his money, but the terms and conditions do not require the carrier to keep the money. The use of the word “can” is incorrect since it express an inability to act; “will” is the correct word since it expresses the exercise of discretion to not act.

    My guess is that the spokesperson decided to use the word “can” in an effort to absolve the carrier of the consequences of its volitional act (or lack of action) and to put the onus entirely on the passenger. Compassion does not work that way. If a carrier does not desire to have compassion (for which it may have a legal right as per its terms and conditions), it should at least be man enough to say so. For that reason, Spirit Airlines has done better than Condor Airlines, for Spirit makes no bones about it: it has no compassion for anyone for anything; its only concern is making money.

    1. Well you can see where this is going. Compassion is not an efficient transaction because it cannot be automated. So airlines can adopt the all or nothing approach. They will refuse all requests automatically. They will not even waste their time making an internal customer service refund policy. But in the rare event, a well known advocate gets involved, they will simply refund the whole transaction because it is cheaper to reverse that sale than to have dozens of customer service people waste their time. It is all about efficiency and the cost of a transaction.

  21. This is one of the many times transferable tickets would make so much sense. The airlines can stick with their no-refund policy and the purchaser still has an option to recover some money. Its similar to a concert or sporting event. If you get sick and can’t go to the game, you have an opportunity to resell the ticket or give it to a friend or whatever. The team is certainly not offering a refund for your ticket purchase.

    I realize this is not a new idea and claims of “national security concerns” arise, but i think they are easily solvable. In addition,it seems like a good way for airlines to deflect bad press…”we can’t refund your ticket, but if you visit our partner website, you can re-sell your ticket to thousands of interested travelers!!!”

  22. If ever there was a case to advocate, this is it. Seems that the airlines (and many other companies) have forgotten the value of good PR.

  23. Three cheers for Christopher and for Condor. Both did the right thing. Condor was smart; considering the good public relations that comes from Christopher’s telling this story, they couldn’t couldn’t buy that for $1300. This was a win-win-win situation.

  24. Then I really can’t see the point in airlines offering cancellation insurance since one of its purposes it to provide refunds in cases exactly like this. Maybe that’s what should happen.

  25. I believe this refund was justified but why don’t people get into the habit of buying ‘cancellation for any reason’ insurance. It has cost me $100 for a two week trip to London. It’s very little to pay on a $2550 ticket. No end of things could come up which would necessitate cancellation so for the sake of everyone’s sanity why don’t they do it? Maybe it just hasn’t occurred to them.

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