Can’t fly after emergency appendectomy — how about a refund?

Markus Mainka /
Markus Mainka /
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when a case comes in, let me offer a little glimpse. The email goes to a group of trusted advisors and … we argue.

Is it a valid claim? Are the rules being followed? Do we have a paper trail?

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb. Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

And when we can’t agree on something, then it becomes a Tuesday post: Can this trip be saved?

All of which brings us to Ruth Ann Wulff’s case. The situation, she explains, has been dragging on for six months, and it involves her husband. Just before a recent family vacation from Sacramento, Calif., to Cancun, Mexico, to celebrate her 70th birthday, her husband had to have an emergency appendectomy.

Obviously, he couldn’t take the flight on US Airways. “I sent all of the medical information to verify his operation including a no-fly letter from the doctor,” she says.

An airline representative agreed to US Airways’ standard terms: a ticket credit which could be used up to a year from the date of a booking, minus a $200 change fee and any fare differential. The representative assured her US Airways was sympathetic to the family’s health woes.

But then things took a turn for the worse. Wulff herself began experiencing health problems, and her husband’s condition didn’t improve. Soon, it became clear that they’d never be able to take advantage of the US Airways ticket credit.

Wulff asked US Airways for a full refund, considering her circumstances. The response? Well, I’m sure you can guess.

“I’m sorry you were unable to travel with US as planned to Cancun,” a representative wrote. “I realize that a sudden illness might cause an unforeseen change. I understand your frustration; however, I’m unable to honor your request to refund your husband’s non-refundable ticket.”

Wulff’s husband would have to die before US Airways would part with its money, and even then, there’s no guarantee it would.

Case closed? Well, I was initially inclined to say so. Half of our mediation team says Wulff deserved to lose the credit. After all, if she’d wanted to hedge her bets, she could have purchased a refundable fare (alas, those cost about four times more than a regular non-refundable ticket) or at least taken out a travel insurance policy, which would have covered an emergency appendectomy.

But some team members disagreed with that assessment. US Airways, they argued, should show some compassion for a family that will probably never be able to fly again. Some of them have relatives to whom similar things have happened, and wish an advocate had been able to step in and recover a much-needed refund.

I feel as if I’m being pulled in two directions on this one. I want to help, but I also know what US Airways’ likely response will be: “Wulff knew the rules, or should have known the rules, and we’re very sorry, but so should you. Why ask us to waive our own rules? It wouldn’t be fair to the thousands of other passengers with sob stories who don’t contact you.”

And that would be correct.

At the same time, airlines don’t always follow their own rules. It’s something that’s euphemistically referred to as “employee empowerment,” or the ability to push a button and make a ticket change fee go away or grant a passenger an upgrade.

They don’t even follow the laws of the land, sometimes. Browse through the Transportation Department’s enforcement orders if you don’t believe me. Here’s US Airways failing to comply with the Air Carrier Access Act, for example.

I feel reluctant to encourage US Airways to do something it doesn’t have to do, but probably should do. I know I’ll get into trouble with the “rules are rules” readers, but something tells me they might be wrong on this one.

By the way, if you’re interested in joining our mediation team, please apply to become one of our volunteers. I have to warn you: We get a lot of help requests, so I hope you don’t mind getting emails.

Should I mediate Ruth Ann Wulff's case?

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Update (1/28): My resolutions team sent Wulff a list of US Airways executives. She contacted one of them with her story, and here’s the outcome:

One of the names you provided, I e-mailed him and he had his secretary call me. US Air is going to give me a voucher for my husband’s monies. But they are still charging a fee of $150 (because we couldn’t fly before Jan 11, 2014) instead of the $200.00 they originally wrote me about. So that is a $50 savings.

There is approximately a $500 voucher for us to use with them before January 2015. It is transferable so I guess that is good. I would of rather had the cash and be done with this company. Oh well, I thank you for the names of executives to help. It worked, I did hear from someone other than the usual people booking flights because no one can talk with people in customer service except their own people.

170 thoughts on “Can’t fly after emergency appendectomy — how about a refund?

  1. could you work your magic to get US Airways to agree to a transferable credit?

    at between $550-$700 a ticket, (depending on how you search) i don’t see US Airways agreeing to a full refund.

  2. The way I look at it is simple. It’s not fair to make an exception to the people that did buy insurance. It defeats the purpose of purchasing insurance if the OP (and all of those in a similar situation) doesn’t. I do have compassion for her, but that doesn’t negate fairness. Because then there is nowhere to draw the line.

    1. I respectfully disagree. If we go by that definition, companies can never show compassion. The people who bought insurance got what the paid for. Showing compassion to the OP doesn’t take away anything from them.

      1. Why would anyone buy travel insurance then? If all it takes to get a refund is to publicly shame a company, why buy travel insurance? By refunding this fare US would be sending a message that if anyone whines and complains loudly enough, the rules don’t apply to them.

        1. Why should an airline put the interests of the travel insurance industry ahead of the interests of its own customer? Especially when the one insurance product it re-sells does NOT cover pre-existing conditions?

          1. i would think the best reason is when the airlines own a pieces of the travel insurance company that they suggest you buy insurance through. That would be a great way for them to make additional profits.

          2. What difference does it make? There are lots of insurance policies out there that cover pre-existing conditions. Like Stereoknob said, alliances with certain travel insurance companies lead to certain policies becoming more profitable for the airlines to sell than others. US Airways very clearly displays the rules of the ticket before purchase. She decided to save a few dollars and accept a restricted ticket and not insure it. Now she believes she deserves special treatment.

          3. You imply that it’s somehow an airline’s ethical duty to promote travel insurance and that this duty carries greater priority than any ethical duty to show compassion to its customers.

            US Airways doesn’t own pieces of insurance companies nor offer pre-existing coverage AFAIK, so those rationalizations don’t seem to apply here.

          4. I never implied any such thing. It is the PASSENGER’s responsibility to make sure they are fully covered. I advocate doing your own research to find a travel insurance company that works best. You are the one that keeps harping on the fact that the ONE policy US sells doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions.

          5. Then why should US Airways care whether or not its acts of compassion will result in passengers buying fewer TravelGuard (or other) insurance products in the future? (Not that I think it would have that effect anyhow).

          6. Because when the travel insurance pays out, it’s the travel insurance company that takes the loss, not the airline. So if US Airways starts giving into these people who think they deserve special treatment, eventually people might start saying, “Well, I’m special and the rules don’t apply to me, I won’t buy travel insurance and if something happens I’ll just make a huge stink about it until I get my way.” Which is what the OP is doing.

          7. That’s circular reasoning.

            US Airways wrote those rules. They are free to exercise their judgement and make exceptions to their own rules and they are free to decide (and are in a better position to judge) what’s in their best interests and they are free to decide what’s fair.

          8. I’m not going to argue for the sake of arguing. Here’s the facts:

            1. OP bought a non-refundable plane ticket.
            2. OP decided to save a few bucks and not buy travel insurance.
            3. OP can’t travel.
            4. OP is unhappy with the rules she agreed to.
            5. OP believes the rules don’t apply to her, and wrote to Chris asking for special treatment.
            6. OP is given a very generous offer for a reduced change fee and transferability.
            7. OP is still complaining because she believes she deserves special treatment, ie cash refund.

            Everything else is a red herring. Why do you think customers can agree to one thing, then pressure a company into changing their mind when they don’t like what they agreed to?

          9. What you’re missing is that rules are crafted to achieve the intended outcomes 90+% of the time without requiring any employees to exercise their own judgement.

            Rules always have unintended consequences (for example, a seriously ill customer who can never travel again and therefore can’t use their cancellation credit). And when that happens, it’s entirely appropriate to escalate the matter to an employee who can exercise some judgement.

          10. It’s not an unintended consequence. The rules are clear. If she wanted the money back, she could have gotten a refundable ticket, or insurance.

          11. So say you. Somehow I don’t think they intended the policy to be harsher to people who never recover from their illness. YMMV.

          12. That’s you guessing intentions with no backing whatsoever. Please feel free to do so. The facts are on the side of the airlines, and the OP’s entitlement attitude is pretty disgusting.

          13. So you don’t believe in guessing intentions with no backing whatsoever but you are certain it’s an intended consequence of the rule writers that customers who never recover from their illness should be penalized the most harshly…. in spite of the actions of the airline employee who seemed to think otherwise and who thought this case warranted an exception. Okay…

          14. The customer was wrong. She was asking for special treatment. You continue to dance around that fact by bringing up all kinds of nonsense like what the intention is behind the policy and what insurance policy US sells. The fact of the matter is that the OP entered into an agreement, then thinks she doesn’t have to follow the terms of said agreement because she deserves special treatment. I disagree, and think that both the airline and customer are responsible for adhering to the terms and conditions of the agreement they enter. You are always quick to hold companies accountable when they fail to stand by their agreement, yet appear to believe that extenuating circumstances mean that a customer should be allowed to ignore any agreement they entered into. You need to learn that the customer is NOT always right.

            Editing to add: Even AFTER US made a special exception for the customer, she still isn’t satisfied. She wants a CASH refund. She never thanked US for making a special exception, her response was, “eh, it’s not good enough.”

          15. think that both the airline and customer are responsible for adhering to the terms and conditions of the agreement they enter.

            Of course, if both parties want to change the agreement, that is ethical. It is also perfectly ethical for one party to attempt to convince the other party to agree to a change. That is also ethically acceptable.

            What is not ethically acceptable, would be for one party to withhold payment or services in an attempt to force capitulation. That is not what happened here.

          16. Like I said, it is one thing to ask for a change. It is another thing entirely to use the force of the media to attempt to bully a company into giving you your way.

          17. How is an emergency appendectomy a pre-existing condition? The only pre-existing condition here is “old age” and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as one!

          18. We’ve seen this movie before on this blog, for example here (involving the same insurance company which has since changed it’s name):


            Do you know any 70-year olds who can honestly say they haven’t had any abdominal discomfort — not even indigestion — in the past 4 to 6 months? And there was likely more to it than a simple appendix issue if he is unfit to ever travel again.

          19. Well…my 75 year old dad, who fortunately has a cast iron stomach and the constitution of a Clydesdale *knock wood* but I guess I interpreted “pre-existing”as previous ‘issues with your appendix” and not such a broad category of abdominal discomfort. It would REALLY REALLY suck if insurance worked THAT hard at defining pre-existing just to get out of paying, but I guess I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they do just that 🙁

          20. And no, they don’t. I sell many policies every year, and have not had such fine-picking as was suggested.

          21. You’ve frequently commented defending the “fine-picking” when Chris has reported on it.

            And then you suggest that your clients are immune and get better treatment…

        2. “Why would anyone buy travel insurance then?”
          Because you’d know the exception is not the rule. Not every case would get special treatment.

          Let’s say you take pity on a panhandler this morning and and give him a buck or two…you have not committed yourself to giving everybody money from now until the day you die.

          1. Yes, but then it creates a precedent. If this lady gets a refund, then other people are going to be asking for a refund as well on their non-refundable ticket. The cycle never ends.

          2. Everybody already asks for refunds. And they typically tell them all “no.” There’s absolutely no change to how things were before. And it’s not a true legal “precedent” because they’re not bound to ever do it again.

            Again, you must believe that giving once to a charity obligates you forever to do so. Let me assure you, it does not.

          3. It’s definitely not a true legal precedent. If I give to a charity, no one is going to look at me and say, “Well, you gave to them last time, you have to do so again.” By contrast, many, many people look at US Airways and say, “Well, Jane Doe got a refund for XYZ, why should I not?” It puts the airline in an unfair PR situation.

          4. A worse situation than being hammered on a site like this for NEVER bending the rules under any circumstances? Them showing some flexibility here gave them some good PR. 1) It showed they’re capable of understanding that their internal rules are guidelines and not commandments from on high. 2) It showed they have executives who actually read their mail and will respond to customers. They’d have gotten none of that from the form letter “no” you would have had them send out.

          5. That’s exactly my point. US Airways is suffering bad publicity because of this article. It didn’t give them good PR. It was just an attempt to pressure them into giving the OP special treatment.

          6. Unless you think Chris would never have mentioned this case without there being a resolution (which is incorrect since the resolution is just an update to the end the post) then they would have gotten WORSE publicity with a blanket denial. That is unarguable.

        3. I buy insurance all the time, but don’t get upset when someone who doesn’t have it gets a break. I have heart, and a little compassion, and it just doesn’t really hurt me that someone gets something they may not be fully entitled to. What a cold, heartless world this would be if no compassion could ever be shown just because the “rules are the rules”.

          1. Asking the company for an exception is one thing. It is another thing entirely to ask, not like the answer, go to a consumer advocate for public shaming, then still complain when you don’t get what you want. She wanted more than flexibility. She wanted a CASH refund.

          2. That’s always an interesting part of this site. It’s one thing to disagree on outcomes or point out things the OP may have done wrong, but it’s amazing how many people instantly charge beyond that into being actually offended that somebody else got a break.

            And then they come up with far-fetched theories to explain their behavior, like that the company settling a small dispute with one of its millions of customers is somehow going to end up costing them money, etc. Up above here, we have somebody arguing that the airline somehow got bad publicity for settling this case. Because Christopher reporting on a blanket denial issued to the OP reading “Those are the rules” would somehow have made them look good? It’s actually quite comical how many twists and turns of logic are required for some of these arguments.

          3. I think I need to clarify my position, since it’s obviously me you are referring to in this post. I don’t think US Airways got bad publicity by settling. I personally don’t think Chris should have taken this case at all (and he said a while back he was going to stop taking these cases). I DEFINITELY don’t think he should have blogged about it. This post does not paint US in a positive light. I’m also annoyed that even after US settled, the OP still wasn’t satisfied.

          4. Fair enough. But the thing that still doesn’t make any sense to me is why you care so deeply. Do you own lots of US Airways stock? You’re an employee? Have family working for them?

            If anything, I’d think most people would look at this and go “I doubt I’d have done that in the airlines place, but lucky for this person they did. Maybe someday I’ll get lucky like that, too.” But to be upset the airline chose to do their business differently than you would, or that Chris would dare to choose a letter you wouldn’t is a bit much. The airline is obviously comfortable with how they handled this so that should be the end of that. And this article wasn’t exactly a hatchet job piece tearing down Mother Teresa.

  3. Now if they want to cover medical, as some international destination fares do, it would be stated. As seen below, only death waives a nonrefundable ticket. This is the rule for travel to CUN on US from the USA, as Chris found out. Sadly, the OP didn’t take out cancellation/trip interruption travel insurance. The carrier is standing by the rules for their fare.
    USAIR’s rules for travel to Mexico for a nonrefundable ticket are:





    1. Since you posted that, it’s only fair to point out that — as you discovered yourself — if you try to book directly with US Airways and you want to look at these rules BEFORE you purchase… it turns out you can’t:

      The rules are there, but you have to put in a name, phone number, email address after you book the flight and then you get a link for the rules. What a PITA just to get to it! I also found the rules to be condensed compared to what we have access to. —bodega3


        1. I quoted and linked to your own comment…. From the last time when you claimed that an OP should have read the rules in advance– and then you checked for yourself and acknowledged that the rules are not available in advance via US Airway’s website.

          1. My original post came from my GDS. If USAIR is still not giving you the rules ahead of time, then don’t book on that site. You have a right to know what you are buying and the terms and conditions before providing personal infomation. If indeed this is still happening, file a complaint. BUT the rules are still available and it is the travelers responsibility to know them.

  4. The compelling factor: US Airways has already shown compassion by issuing the credit (which they were not required to do). That barrier has been penetrated.

    Given that, it is reasonable for them to issue a refund (minus the $200 change fee they’ve previously specified). The OP and her husband will be unable to take advantage of the credits due to deteriorating health. A refund is the next logical and appropriate step.

    1. The credit IS standard policy. As long as you don’t miss your flight, you can cancel most any ticket for credit – change fee. (The exception would be Priceline or Consolidator fares.)

  5. Could there be a different compromise? How about offering the family two ticket credits that they could transfer to someone else? That way, the airline still gets the revenue and someone in the family gets airline tickets to use. Just a thought.

  6. I don’t want to sound insensitive but once you hit your late sixties travel insurance should be a no-brainer. You might be able to assist by mediating their case.

    1. Travel Insurance always pays out, never asks questions, never tries to get out of paying the claim. It always works just like it is supposed to.


      Seen a lot of stories about travel insurance problems on here, so to be honest, not sure I do trust the travel insurance companies any more than airlines.

      My guess in this situation, the insurance company would be trying to find a way out of paying…..

          1. If you google travel insurance you’ll get a list of about 20 different companies. Most of them offer this coverage. It may not be offered on the airline’s website, but it most certainly exists.

          2. Its a great option, but you do NOT get 100% back, more like 90%, but of course, that’s a whole lot better than NADA when you break up with a girlfriend just before a trip!

      1. Since not having travel insurance doesn’t seem to work that well, I think that having travel insurance might offer a better chance.

      2. Based on the few people on here who buy WAIVERS and not insurance? I sell insurance to my clients, and have no such problems. But they know what is and what is NOT covered and don’t ask for what is not. Insurance would definately have covered this, as an appendectomy is NOT a pre-existing condition. (I know, had this happen top me!)

  7. Chris, what happened to the moratorium on cases like this? “I bought a non-refundable ticket, declined travel insurance to save a few bucks, something happened and now I can’t fly but feel like I deserve special treatment.” Travel insurance would have almost certainly covered a situation like this. And before anyone starts in on how they don’t cover pre-existing conditions, Travel Guard is one such company that DOES cover pre-existing conditions, provided the policy is purchased within 14 days of initial trip deposit. So I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy here. She knew what the policy was, and thinks she deserves special treatment.

      1. I think this one could be used by you as an example of why travel insurance should be considered. If this had happened to the OP while in Mexico and being in their 70’s, Medicare isn’t going to cover them. Also, for you to point out the importance of reading the rules of the fare BEFORE making the purchase, so they are prepared for any additional cost should they need to cancel.

          1. “slipped through” would be an explanation for a speeder not caught, a mistaken email sent, or a touchdown that was made. Considering all of the work and effort, double checking of facts and editing, saying that this one “slipped through” is utter rubbish. It was posted intentionally. It looks to me that most people are not pleased that this “slipped through” and happened to result in compensation (myself included).

          2. That’s something that you need to take up with Chris directly. As far as being pleased or displeased with his choice of topics and advocacy, I wouldn’t be so bold as to dictate to Chris his choice of cases or chastise him for the people who chooses to help.

            Fortunately, right and wrong are not a popularity contest. For whatever reason, Chris felt that helping this lady was the right thing to do. I leave it at that.

    1. You are correct…many travel insurance companies offer the pre-existing condition waiver now, as long as you meet the criteria. They are: 1) Purchase within a certain number of days if initial trip deposit, 2) Insure your full trip cost, and 3) Be medically approved to travel at the time of purchase. I think these are reasonable criteria to get coverage for a pre-existing condition.

      1. Good info! Just a note though, some companies don’t even require #3. My grandfather, who was not traveling with us, was in hospice care at the time of purchase. I spoke to 3 different sales reps at Travel Guard who confirmed this would not exclude us from coverage. So it really depends on the company. If you don’t care enough to do research and just buy the policy offered by the airline, that’s your own fault.

        1. That’s a good point. As your grandfather was not traveling with you, he was not a listed ‘insured’.

          Their wording for the 3rd criteria reads: “3. All Insured’s are medically able to travel when plan cost is paid.”

          And you’re right about researching your plan and calling the company like you did. You cannot blindly purchase travel insurance and hope it covers you.

          1. Exactly. I also spoke with several travel insurance companies beforehand and they said that the hospice care would exclude him from coverage, so it took talking to about 4 different companies before finding one that met our needs. We also made sure that the cancellation part of the policy covered family members. This was my mother’s father, and my mom was traveling with us. So it was covered.

    2. I always buy travel insurance unless covered by my credit card. I resent sob stories like this getting special treatment. Always worth asking but complaining when you don’t get is not on.

    3. I thought there was a moratorium too, but I guess not. Seems like most readers agree she should not have received assistance. Basically it is money coming out of US Air’s shareholder pockets into the OP’s. Although it may not seem like a lot of money in the scheme of things, most companies rely on gazillions of little bits of money coming in to cover the rather massive costs of the infrastructure. They already have to set aside revenue for mechanical difficulties, weather and other causes. Having to set money aside for whining customers who think they are an exception is just one more cost to add to the pile. I don’t even like US Air and am defending them in this case..
      As far as this website seems to be concerned, When Chris does an annoying or unjust case, it provokes more comments about it, which is more web page views, which is more ad revenue.

  8. We have “winter weather” in Houston today, which means the entire city is shut down under the threat of ice.

    I am watching the news. We were just told by the reporter that many flights are cancelled but…! “If you are scheduled to fly on Delta, you are in luck! They will allow you to reschedule your flight for free by waiving change fees!”

    Why are they making this seem like a favor!?!? It should be SOP in conditions that don’t allow people to travel to the airport AND while many flights are cancelled.

    1. FYI Raven … UA and AA have both issued the same waiver.. Fairly standard during weather that will keep them from flying

        1. Is it a thinly disguised jab at UA by the station for all of the negative changes they have done in relation to their presence at IAH? In other words, make one airline look better by just ignoring the other one doing the same thing?

        2. Do you have cable? Maybe you should ask for a refund for part of your cable bill due to poor reporting by the local news affiliate that THEY chose to include in their local channel lineup?

    2. Is it possible that Delta was simply disseminating information about traveler’s options (to alleviate worry)? Perhaps you read too much into the statement …

    3. Actually, it is SOP – reporters haven’t got a clue – the ones around here actually call US to get the skinny, so sound a bit more intelligent! 🙂

  9. Maybe it’s just me. But all these I-want-a-refund-on-a-nonrefundable-fare cases make me yearn to read about a drunk dude getting his eye poked out by a plant.

  10. It bothers me that when a customer becomes ill and is prohibited by his doctor to fly but isn’t given a refund. What about when an airline misses it’s departure time or cancels a flight for weather? That’s also outside of their control just like the medical emergency… so why can’t I then say that i want my money back? Maybe I don’t want to fly anymore after the flight was cancelled.

    All policies seem to solely exist to benefit the company without consideration for the consumer. Why can’t it be a 50/50 share? Why can’t everyone get a fair shake?

    1. I think Gregory House says it best …. “Everybody lies”
      Here’s the sad fact… When airlines used to make exceptions, dishonest people would fake notes to get refunds. The airlines don’t have the time nor should they have the expense of verifying every note so they stopped making the exception.

      When I worked for government motors, we found out about a local doc that would write a sick note without ever seeing a patient as long as they gave their CC for the co-pay. The union had a fit when we stopped accepting notes from anyone in that doctor’s practice but they didn’t have a leg to stand on since we proved the doc would write notes for healthy people.

      No difference here… when something gets abused it goes away…

      1. You’re right… you’re right… give an inch, take a mile. It’s just a shame that the few ruin it for the many but I guess that’s the way many things work right?

    2. Every airline I have ever flown on gives refunds for cancelled flights no matter what the cancellation reason. (Of course I have not flown on every airline so there may be some that don’t.) Also, many will allow a change with no fee if the delay i longer than a few hours.

    3. @MarkKelling:disqus is right. Airlines will give refunds for cancelled flights. They will TRY to give vouchers, but if you stand your ground you will get a refund.

      1. Oh right, thats a good point. I’ve only ever been offered the voucher but with flying so often, it usually works out just fine.

      2. as an airline employee, I can honestly say I’ve never “tried” to give vouchers when a flight has cancelled. That isn’t even a possibility in our systems. Having worked for 2 major airlines over 15 years, it was NEVER an option to give vouchers over a refund for a cancelled flight. IJS.

        1. IDK which airline you work for. I remember I was flying MSY-MBJ, with a connection in CLT. The first flight was delayed because of maintenance issues. You can probably guess which airline. This caused me and the rest of the plane to miss connections, and I was standing behind several people in line who were offered vouchers when they stated they didn’t want to fly at all.

          1. That’s not a cancelled flight. That’s a delay and a misconnect. Sure, you may feel like your trip has been cancelled, but that is NOT a cancelled flight. Big difference.

          2. Fair enough. I have read stories where people who asked for refunds in flight cancellations got offered vouchers instead, and had to push for a refund.

      1. Oh right, I forgot. There’s no room for understanding and compassion in our society. Rules are rules and thats it so deal with it or GTFO. That is the way we should move our society forward.

        CAPITALISM WORKS! Just look around and you can see it in the smiles of the poor and homeless.

        1. Send the OP a check since you obviously feel so strongly about it. It is easy to be generous with other people’s money.

        2. Do you know how many sob stories like this the airlines, cruise lines, etc. hear? We hear it right in this column countless times – so man y that we are all obviously sick and tired of hearing it again and again. If they make an exception for one, they have to do it for all. Sorry, it is up to the passenger to protect themselves.

  11. Whenever I purchase a non-refundable ticket, I pretty much figure it is a crap-shoot.
    If I get sick and can’t fly, oh well, that is just the price of doing business.

      1. I’ve actually had occasions where I was better off buying a whole new ticket and just allowing the “credit” to be swallowed because the entirety of the credit would have been eaten by change fees… It sucks, but it happens.

        1. Yes, happened to me more than once. Of course, if you purchased a round trip ticket, that is technically a violation, I believe it’s called a throwaway ticket

  12. And yet another “I bought a dirt-cheap-non-refundable ticket but I now I want that to magically become a full-price-flex-fare because I have a really good reason.”

    Time to stop waving the magic wand on these,

  13. “There is approximately a $500 voucher for us to use with them before January 2015. It is transferable so I guess that is good. I would of rather had the cash and be done with this company. “

    If I had received a $500 transferable voucher on an uninsured, nonrefundable airline ticket, I would hope I would have been a great deal more grateful.

    1. I thought the same thing! “….and be done with this company” … You mean the company that just did you a huge solid when it didn’t have to? That company? Geez Louise!

      1. But @Mel65:disqus, rules don’t apply to her and she was entitled to the refund all along. Don’t you know that they are a horrible company for not giving her a refund and making her take a voucher instead?

      2. With that kind of entitled attitude here, I wonder just how bad her letter to the executives was. It was especially nice that they issued a voucher knowing that she probably won’t be a paying customer ever again!

  14. I thought full fare was supposed to cover these kinds of situations.

    Besides that, can’t they use the credit on shorter trips that their health might allow?

    1. A refundable fare covers that and apparently they didn’t get it. The airlines was kind enough to give them a voucher – most wouldn’t even get that.

  15. For all of the people on here advocating that she get a refund…why don’t you send her the money yourself. It is easy to be generous & “compassionate” with other people’s money. So, if you feel that strongly about it, I’m sure you can reach out to Chris and get her the money yourselves.

  16. The OP and her hubby were going to Cancun to celebrate her 70th birthday. 70th! Even if they were in remarkably good health for that age, sh*t happens (what if one of them had had a sudden unexpected heart attack?) and I’m sorry, they should have bought insurance. While i have (some) sympathy and compassion for the truly unanticipatable, to a degree, a medical emergency for a 70+ year old is NOT outside the realm of “what if” that should have been considered prior to purchasing the ticket. It’s been said before, it should be said again, “If you can’t afford to LOSE the amount you paid for the ticket, then hedge your bets with insurance or a refundable ticket.” The voucher outcome is really the best possible thing they could have hoped for under the circumstances, in my oh so humble opinion.

  17. Wait … Only the husband’s flight needs to be refunded? Did the wife go on the vacation anyway while her husband was in the hospital?! I guess it can happen, but I just wonder what happened to her ticket even though it really has no bearing on the issue.

  18. IMO, US Airways showed a lot of compassion by issuing a voucher. If you can’t afford to toss the money away, always buy trip insurance.

  19. In perusing this discussion, it occurred to me that there is an approach that could address the airlines’ and the passengers’ concerns. While it would not keep passengers from asking for refunds, it’s a simple and relatively easy thing to do.

    On the web site, airlines could popup a screen (like Chris does about the newsletter) BEFORE the confirmation of a nonrefundable fare with a list of travel insurance providers, perhaps with links to their sites (and MAKE the customer close it). They could even “sell” that function to insurance providers and make some additional revenue. And customers could see the names of insurance companies they could potentially use.

    We all know that some provide “for any reason” insurance, but some go a step further in allowing one to insure select portions of a trip (i.e., ONLY for those portions that are non-refundable). But not every traveler knows where to start or who is legit. Airlines wouldn’t be endorsing any one over another, but simply disseminating helpful information.

    And, I envision the NEW response to someone requesting a refund: “Prior to the purchase of non-refundable fares, we display information about trip insurance providers. Did you research your trip protection options?”

    If OP says no, we’re done. If OP says yes, but I chose not to buy, we’re done. If OP says I didn’t see it, “It is possible that your browser blocked it, but we do everything we can to assist you in protecting your trip investment”. No matter what the OP says, the airline has provided good customer service and “we’re done” …

    1. Before you finalize booking a ticket online, almost every airline has a popup telling you how much insurance is and you have to decline to accept it. What more do they have to do?

      1. Sorry, not the same thing. I’m not talking about the insurer that they have partnered with, but rather a list of TI providers. Their insurance (at least the ones I’ve seen) seldom includes “for any reason”. Furthermore, with online sessions quickly expiring, keeping a session open while you read the Ts and Cs is risky.

        So, I’m suggesting a list so I can purchase on my own afterwards, AND more importantly, the list is an indicator (to me in any event) that these are likely “legit”.

        1. Always start there. Their phone center reps are super awesome too, they are the reason I found out about Travel Guard. They know what they are talking about, as they directed me to a company that would not exclude coverage due to my grandfather being in hospice. I had tried 4 companies before calling them and they all told me that would exclude coverage. Insuremytrip is the Kayak of travel insurance.

  20. Different Fact Pattern:

    Ticket purchasers are mid 20’s
    Bought tickets 9 months in advance
    Got pregnant
    unable to fly under airlines own rules.

    Refund? Of course not.

    Whats the difference? Pregnancy is voluntary? Not really, unless you can guarantee that each act of intercourse results in pregnancy, which we know is not true. So what if they were using birth control and it failed? Certainly as unintended as a appendectomy. But I bet you still would say no – when you can change the facts around a little and have a different result because of the sympathy of the persons involved – even more reason to follow the rules.

    Look – my MIL is 77 years old and in decent health – we are now buying cancel for any reason annual travel insurance because – you never know. We might be in the middle of a trip and she could drop dead and we’d need to get home for the funeral at least – and the airlines would charge us through the nose, making that insurance invaluable. . . . the fact that on any given day there may be an unforeseeable emergency increases exponentially after age 70 . .

    1. Unless you bought Cancel for Any Reason insurance, the pregnancy wouldn’t be covered by most policies.
      But don’t buy insurance just because your MIL is 77 – things can happen to YOU too. I had clients who has a car accident on their way to the airport for a trip, I’ve had two clients that had moped accidents and had to go to the hospital in foreign countries, I had a client that had a major heart attack on a cruise ship and had to be medivaced off the ship. If they all hadn’t had travel insurance, they would have been out thousands, especially for the medivac.

      Travel insurance isn’t just for or because of the elderly – young people should get it too. If you can’t afford to lose all the money you paid for a vacation if something happens before, or if you can’t afford thousands of dollars in medical bills if something happens while you are traveling – you need insurance.

      1. Actually, even if you bought a “Cancel for Any Reason” policy, you STILL probably won’t be covered for pregnancy by most policies, because it’s usually a general exclusion.

        Cancel for “Any” Reason is a complete misnomer.

        See the discussion here:

    2. We bought nonrefundable tickets to visit family, until my wife got pregnant and freaked out about flying. I mean – she was totally convinced that it would put her at a high risk for miscarriage. So we cancelled and then were willing to take the credit. I think we paid about $180 RT each and when I checked, the fee to rebook a similarly priced flight was $80. Seemed pretty good to me. Until she refused to fly with a young infant.

      So I’ve been there eating a nonrefundable fare, a nonrefundable hotel reservation, etc. That’s the risk taken to get a lower fare or rate. You really need to calculate if it’s really worth it. For myself it is because I’ve rarely had to cancel and the alternative is typically 2-5 times as much. You want that rate, then with it comes the risk that you’ll have to eat if if something comes up.

  21. Imagine if the airlines behaved as the passengers do:
    Airline: You know, that storm cost us a lot of money. And the baggage handlers’ strike cost us extra, too. I know we agreed to sell you the ticket for $500, but do you think you could make an exception and pay us an extra $200 this time? We also had several of the flight crew got sick and we had to give them sick pay!
    Passenger: No, you agreed to fly me for the ticket an associated fees.
    Airline: (going to Chris Elliott) “Can’t you get the passengers to make an exception? We really ran into a lot of extra costs on this flight and it wasn’t our fault. Surely they can all make an exception and give us an extra $200. ”
    When everybody plays by the agreed upon rules, it works better.

  22. Enough Already! How many more of these do we need to read? “I was too cheap to buy insurance for my multi-thousand dollar super important vacation of a lifetime and now i want my money back, can you help me?” .
    Whiners Unite! We are all so special, with special events and special one of a kind circumstances and we all deserve special treatment and a special waiver for all the rules.
    Gag me.
    Buy Insurance! or suck it up and act like a grown up and accept responsibility for your choices.
    Please stop coddling these people Chris.

    1. In a perfect world, Jim, your anger might be justified. But consider two things: not everyone is aware of trip insurance options, nor does everyone book online. The OP is 70, and a great many of our elderly population are frightened of computers. Can they use a TA? Sure. Should they know about TI? Maybe.

      For me, your statements are too black and white.

      1. V, not anger, disgust at what a nation of cry babies we have become.
        All online vacation booking engines (even the airlines) include and offer insurance and you have to accept or decline to finalize your reservation.
        A conscious decision. A Mexican Vacation without medical insurance? Really ? and your 70?
        Travel agents offer it as a matter of course because it offers a decent commission, I don’t know how this OP bought her trip but I bet you she had the chance and said “no” to insurance.

        1. PLEASE don’t think insurance is offered by TA’s due to the commission. That wasn’t even necessary to mention. When traveling, especially outside of the US, Medicare hasn’t covered emergency needs. What if this medical emergency had taken place while on vacation?

          1. Excellent point. And again in years of working with the elderly, they often think much differently than we do. Medicare, to them, is a magical medical solution. They just don’t always think outside the box.

          2. too true, and I apologize if I offended any TA’s who work hard at helping their clients no matter the age!

        2. Jim, we don’t offer it for a decent commission, we want to make sure our clients are protected. I can’t tell you how many times clients have needed it for a sudden illness and they got all of their money back. I hate to see my clients lose money if something happens and it has nothing to do with commissions. I buy my own travel insurance every time I travel – I would never travel without it because I have seen what happens when you don’t have it and something goes wrong.

    2. I said the same thing and then read down to your post. I am glad I am not the only one who doesn’t want to see these stories anymore, lol.

  23. The airline did more than it was required to do. Forget mediation. When I buy tickets using my AMEX card, it is set up to automatically charge me $28 for insurance, which has paid off twice. Easy to do and offers great financial peace of mind. That said, my principal airline, Delta, has shown great compassion involving two flights, one from Europe, during extreme family emergencies five years apart, But a flier can’t always expect such compassion and should take responsibility for sudden shifts in plans. By the way, I am no airline “apologist,” just a responsible flier who tries to look at both sides of the situation. Non-refundable means non-refundable and, in reality, a hard-hearted airline doesn’t have to do anything in such situations.

    1. I see no problem in asking for an exception, and do so for certain clients as well. HOWEVER – expecting the exception is another matter entirely. And as I did work for United, I can tell you WHY they take a hard line – the amount of BS we’d hear daily was ridiculous!

        1. We did keep track of most, and had an annual contest in our department for a winner of the most outrageous one! Have to laugh or go nuts!

  24. Okay. My wife and I are in our 70s. Great health, very active, travel all over the world (and we aren’t afraid of computers, either). Do we get travel insurance? You bet your sweet bippy we do. And do we check coverage terms directly with the insurance companies before we buy? You bet that same sweet bippy we do.

    This issue has nothing at all to do with age. It has to do with being a wise consumer. And although a “cancel any time/any reason” ticket may cost several times the cheapest ticket, the small added cost to insure that cheap ticket makes insurance a perfect option. There’s really no reason to ask for something from a for-profit corporation when you haven’t taken all the basic steps to protect yourself. Of course, if the airline gives you something, that’s nice. And they’re owed a “thank you”, not complaints because what they did wasn’t ‘enough”. ’nuff said.

    1. That’s terrific (genuinely) that you are travel and computer savvy, but my EXTENSIVE career in IT has clearly shown that many if not most of the elderly are intimidated by computers. They can turn one on, log on, and maybe browse a little bit.

      My brother is a classic example. He can use one if someone helps, but he’s been a baker his whole life. Depends on me and/or his children to help him. And he travels so seldom that trip insurance is far from his mind, not to mention that he can’t afford it.

      I don’t think you should paint the OP and her husband with your brush. Sorry …

      1. Then use a travel agent. They don’t cost you anything and can do everything you are doing and make sure your brother is protected.

        1. Thank you, but that wasn’t my point. My brother was used as an example to illustrate the challenge some seniors face in understanding the system. Stated another way, he doesn’t know enough to “know” if he needs a TA.

          I did that because some here assume that the OP should’ve known better, and could’ve purchased TI. And I do recognize the value of TAs …

      2. That’s my point exactly. All of our friends are computer literate and well travelled. And all of us get insurance.
        My point was that it’s wrong to characterize a group in the way a few commenters were doing. The issue isn’t age, it’s really just common sense. And that’s lacking in people of every age.
        My feeling about the OP was that it’s important to know what you don’t know, and get help. And that applies for any age.

  25. When I purchase a non-refundable ticket, I always assume that the responsibility rests with me to comply with the conditions associated with the purchase. Sure, I’m at risk, but that’s life—I make the choice and accept the responsibility of my choice.

  26. While everyone is all in a huff about the refund of a couple of airline tickets, does the OP realize what would have happened had that emergency appendectomy occurred just a little while later when they were in Mexico? Do they realize that Medicare does not pay for foreign medical expenses and if they have Medigap insurance, it may or may not pay for them, so they could be on the hook for thousands of dollars plus at least rescheduling the return and maybe medical evacuation for many more thousands of dollars? Someone asked why anyone would buy travel insurance if the airlines refunded airline tickets. That’s why!

    1. AMEN – insurance would have been the only viable option for them, as could have moved them to the best hospital choice, even if that meant immediately back home!

    2. I was the one that asked that. Honestly, I didn’t even think about that part of it, that’s a really good point. But that doesn’t exactly help the OP’s case, either.

  27. Tired of whiners who buy non refundable tickets & cry when things go wrong. BUY HEALTH &/or cancellation insurance. Especially if your in your 70’s.
    I’m @ 75 going to India very soon & you can bet I bought private independent insurance, over & above our Canadian Health Plan. At our age anything can go wrong ESPECIALLY health wise.
    I would not mediate! Sorry

  28. A lot of people my age don’t travel a lot. They remember the old times of good service and don’t realize that the fine print has gotten even smaller and takes up more pages. And for a chunk of those people, when a trip has to be cancelled, it can be almost a hardship.

    I travel a lot for a leisure traveler and do know the rules. I choose when to buy insurance for me (international trips and domestic tours) and when I will have to eat the loss, should I have to cancel ( point A to point B domestic flights.) I have no problem with other people, who ask for refunds and receive them. Life isn’t fair, but I’m lucky enough that losing some money on a trip doesn’t break me. I almost always vote for mediation…but not if the requester sounds like a greedy jerk.

    1. The basic thing everyone needs to remember – if you can afford to lose whatever you have paid for your vacation if something unexpected happens, then you don’t need travel insurance. If you can’t – then you do.

  29. I don’t think it’s fair to get an exception for this person when 99.99% of the people in this situation (including me) had to suck it in. In my case, I didn’t even get a voucher because the entire vacation was purchased with a cruise line and they only refund taxes and fees. What makes her special compared with everyone else?

  30. so much time is wasted even talking about refunds/credits here & by airline staff who have to be paid.

    A blanket no refund whatsoever inc taxes/charges & don’t even bother asking, would make fares cheaper.

    If you want take our travel insurance & stop whingeing !!!

  31. That is what travel insurance is for. Honestly, I am tired of even reading these same situations over and over in your column. Every person that has something like this happen then should be due compensation when they could have avoided the whole thing by either buying a refundable ticket or travel insurance.

    Chris, enough with these type of stores. I have no sympathy for these things when people don’t want to think about paying a little more for travel insurance.

  32. #1 Buy Insurance. When you get to that age you are at high risk of having a medical issues come up. If you don’t insure yourself its your own fault.

    #2 Appendicitis is not something that will ground you permanently. You can fly again in a fairly short amount of time. Its not something that causes a permanent disability or make it so you cannot leave the house.

  33. The negotiated transferrable voucher they have now received seems a good outcome. Consider the situation resolved with best wishes for good health to the unfortunate couple.

  34. Like many here, I sympathize with their predicament. I think it would be nice if the company refunded the fare. I don’t think the company is obligated to do so. There are a ton of reasons why a voucher might not be adequate but when you buy a non-refundable fare you are agreeing to assume the risk of that being your only option should a problem arise, or passing that risk to another in the form of travel insurance.

    I would love to see US Air agree to refund the change fee at least since this flight seems unlikely to ever happen and US Air is better off for it (since they still hold the cost of the ticket). But even there, I think that is the company’s decision to make.

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