Do I deserve a refund after my destination turned dangerous?

Deep blue/Shutterstock
Deep blue/Shutterstock
Diane Austin’s problem isn’t that unusual, which is why I’ve decided to write something about it. In April, she booked a $730 roundtrip ticket in April through Orbitz on American Airlines to fly to Puerto Vallarta.

The purpose of her visit? To volunteer in a school in Tepic, Mexico, for two weeks. In order to cover her fare, Austin’s 80-year-old father used money from her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother’s bank account. After all, it was for a good cause.

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But the trip wasn’t meant to be. When her partner arrived in Tepic a few days ahead of her, she says the area turned suddenly unsafe.

“Cartel violence escalated dramatically,” she says. “A friend of hers was kidnapped and murdered, and a young woman had her tongue cut out for speaking out against the cartel. The cartel assassins have basically moved into Ruiz and Tepic, the two towns where we would be working. Needless to say, she canceled the rest of her trip, then called and told me not to come for my safety.”

At the same time the State Department issued the following advisory:

You should defer non-essential travel to all areas of the state of Nayarit north of the city of Tepic as well as to the cities of Tepic and Xalisco. The security situation north of Tepic and in these cities is unstable and travelers could encounter roadblocks or shootouts between rival criminals. There is no recommendation against travel either to Riviera Nayarit in the southern portion of the state or to principal highways in the southern portion of the state used to travel from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.

Austin phoned Orbitz to ask about a refund. An agent told her it was up to American.

So she called American, and a representative said her fare was completely nonrefundable. But the agent gave her hope and said the airline might work with her if another alert was issued closer to her travel date.

Austin emailed American. It sent her an autoresponse.

She called again.

“The girl did not even know what the cartel was,” she said. “She was totally inflexible.”

Right about now, half of you are saying: She shoulda planned this trip more carefully. It’s not as if that part of Mexico suddenly turned violent — it’s been that way for a long time. Austin knew the risks, and she should have built them into her trip. At the very least, she should have considered travel insurance, in case she needed to call the whole thing off.

Still others are saying: Why doesn’t American show some compassion here? After all, she’s not visiting Puerto Vallarta to hang out at the beach and go clubbing. She just wanted to volunteer in the nearby schools.

You probably know which side I’m on. But that doesn’t mean I’m right — or that this case is fixable.

“This is not just a person trying to cancel for frivolous reasons,” says Austin. “My life would be in danger. I am at my wits’ end. I can’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone.”

Austin wouldn’t mind taking ticket credit if she can’t get a refund, but she wants to transfer it back to her father so he can use it, which is something American won’t allow. It appears her only option is to take a ticket credit for her that would let her travel back to Puerto Vallarta. She doesn’t think it will be safe to return for a while.

I’d like to help with this case, but I’m not sure if American will see this the same way Austin does. Heck, I’m not even sure if you will see this the same way.

Should I mediate Diane Austin's case?

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117 thoughts on “Do I deserve a refund after my destination turned dangerous?

  1. “the agent gave her hope and said the airline might work with her if another alert was issued closer to her travel date.”

    was there another alert closer to her travel date?

    but over all her request for a refund transferable to her father is not too outlandish; the airline could afford to help her.

      1. I might not think twice about that if I’m booking a trip to Vegas, or Miami.

        If I’m booking a trip to some crime-ridden hell-hole….yeah, I might want to pony up the extra bucks just in case.

  2. If it was so bad, wouldn’t AA not fly there at all? After all, they have to think about the safety of their flight crew.

    1. Err, a little closer reading with reference to a map is necessary. The travel alert isn’t for Puerto Vallarta, which is where American flies, but rather her ultimate destination in the state to the north, Nayarit. She still could have traveled safely to Puerto Vallarta, but wouldn’t have been able to fulfill the purpose of her travel.

      But I’m not really sure what the right answer is here. I doubt travel insurance would cover this either as they typically have exclusions for civil unrest. I think this is really outside of American’s control and not their fault either – what if, say you booked tickets to go to a concert and the concert was cancelled. Do you expect the airline to refund their ticket because the purpose for travel no longer existed? Not really.

    2. Me thinks that when the US Department of States say, “Don’t go here” then it’s probably pretty bad. That should be reason enough for American to give her a full credit for future travel. I mean, at some point you have to be reasonable. When the government is saying it’s too dangerous to travel to this place, the airlines need to put profit seeking aside and take care of their passengers.

      1. Sorry, you didn’t read this correctly. Her flight destination of Puerto Vallarta was safe, it was her eventual destination to which she would have traveled by car or bus which was dangerous. ” In order to cover her fare, Austin’s 80-year-old father used money from her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother’s bank account.” Maybe the money should not have been taken from the bank account of a woman who was unable to OK the transaction, and who might need the money at a later date for her care. What is the lure of going into crime riddled foreign countries to “do good”? If you want to “do good” how about spending some time tutoring children in Newark or Camden NJ, Gary, Indiana or Detroit public schools if you want to help children who desperately need assistance with academics?

    3. When airlines fly into dangerous places they do not allow the crew to disembark, just refuel the plane and turn around and depart. My friend is a head steward on KLM. He flies on a route to a dangerous Middle Eastern country which shall remain nameless. The route is so lucrative for the airline that they fly it, but the crew is confined to the plane. They land, the passengers disembark, the new passengers enter the plane, and KLM takes off as rapidly as possible. They will not risk their crew by allowing them to exit the plane.

  3. When I buy a non-refundable ticket, I always have in the back of my mind that something bad could happen, and I would have to forfeit the money without taking the trip. It hasn’t happened yet but someday it will. Odds are, I’ll still be ahead, having saved a lot of money by not upgrading tickets or buying insurance. But the risk is, and should be, mine.

    Be happy you get a flight credit and take it on the airline’s terms. If there’s one detail I might try to negotiate, it would be to allow her to use the credit – in her name – toward a different destination. That shouldn’t cost American anything to fulfill. But they really don’t owe her anything at all.

    1. Once I booked a flight to Miami in the middle of hurricane season. I knew it. My options were to either buy a fully refundable round trip fare at $1800, a restricted fare at $1600, or a nonrefundable fare at $420. And the nonrefundable fare was $350 previously when my manager told me to hold off on my vacation plans if I was absolutely needed at work.

      I took the lowest fare I could get. It was a no brainier.

      However, as the flight approached there was a hurricane bearing down on Cuba heading for Florida. The day I got there was when there was a mandatory nonresident evacuation order in th Florida Keys, and I had a reservation in Islamorada that night and Key West the next night. Both nights were automatically cancelled. The flight got to Miami as scheduled. That was the risk of booking a discounted fare and I knew it. Fortunately for me the hotel I booked in Miami had plenty of room and honored the same rate for an additional two days.

    2. A credit IS good to anywhere they fly, so don’t understand what the problem is there – maybe she misunderstood.

  4. The airport at Pto. Vallarta is not closed, and there are many people who continue to be transported to and from Pto. Vallarta. Moreover, Pto. Vallarta is not north of Tepic, and the quoted travel advisory simply does not apply to Pto. Vallarta. I just don’t see any reason why Ms. Austin cannot fly to Pto. Vallarta. Why should AA refund a non-refundable fare to Pto. Vallarta when there’s nothing out of the ordinary happening there?

  5. If this was a sudden war breaking out, sure, a refund would be a nice gesture. But as you pointed out, this part of Mexico has indeed been unpleasant for a while, and the fresh State Dept. alert doesn’t change that. If the airport is open and flights are running, you shouldn’t expect a refund from the airline simply because you don’t want to go to a nearby destination any more.

    I agree that not going was the right move; it does indeed sound as if the trip would be a really bad idea. But sometimes bad things happen, and AA likes their money just as much as she likes hers. Somebody is going to be left holding the bag, and in this case it’s the holder of a non-refundable ticket. I don’t understand the attitude that large companies should feel obligated to give up money for free; it’s not as if AA “passed the hat” to passengers when they declared bankruptcy. If the company wants to give away something for free, great, but I don’t see how this should be considered compulsory…

    And I don’t get the comment that all she could get would be a credit to return to Peurto Vallarta… a ticket credit is a ticket credit; it’s good anywhere AA flies (minus change fee.) Is there not some other place her organization does work she could go to? Or is AA being generous and offering a waived change fee as long as she doesn’t change destinations?

  6. Wow, a full house in the Christopher Elliott Deck of Sympathy!

    Austin’s 80-year-old father used money from her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother’s bank account. After all, it was for a good cause.

    If her travel partner had been autistic and someone – anyone – were on a fixed income, I do believe we’d be looking at a royal flush.

      1. Going for the sympathy vote always gets my hackles up. If Ms. Austin wants sympathy, perhaps she should volunteer to work with Alzheimer’s patients here in the States. Why should American take into account how she sourced the money? Ridiculous.

        1. I’m a huge believer in helping out charities, but turning yourself (or your relatives) into a charity case in order to help some other charity just doesn’t make much sense to me. If you can’t afford a plane ticket then put off the trip until you’ve saved up enough for it. And if you happen to be in a situation where $730 in savings is never going to happen, then it’s time to look for volunteer opportunities closer to home.

          1. Dear Diane,

            Thank you for contacting me about your case. After reviewing all of the details, I don’t think I will be able to assist you in this circumstance. The ticket you purchased is non-refundable so the airline would have to make a large exception to its contract of carriage to assist you. In addition, the State Department alert was not issued for the airport that are you are traveling to but another destination. If the alert had been issued for Puerto Vallarta, I think we might have had a chance at either a credit or a refund but that is not the case here. I would recommend that you appeal personally to an executive. They seem to be the only ones who might be able to make this waiver. You might try Mr X, the head of refunding non-refundable tickets, at [email protected] or Mrs Y, the head of making customers feel better, at [email protected] (obviously I didn’t check the wiki to pull names & addresses but I would replaces these names, titles & email addresses with the correct ones). In cases like these, personal appeals seem to work better than appeals from people in the media.

            I wish you all the best

            Edited for readability

          2. Given that her father wasn’t going with her to Mexico to volunteer, I
            can see American’s point of view that it doesn’t want to allow the
            credit to be transferred to him. I think that sadly, even if she wasn’t
            going there to club and hang out on the beach, a ticket credit for her
            is the best she’s going to get.

            I like the above letter.

          3. Chris, another option is to ask to postpone the trip until things calm down and ask for leniency in change fees for a good cause?

          4. I’m actually on the fence with regards to the story (I like the idea of appealing to an executive); the setup is what I’m commenting on. Not to belabor the point, but an OP adding statements from the Deck of Misfortune immediately sets off alarm bells for me. Right off the bat, I suspect either the veracity or worthiness of the claim when such details are piled on.

            A claim should be judged on its merits, plus additional details that a reasonable person could consider extenuating. In a case like this, if the OP’s mother tragically passed away, that would be an extenuating circumstance. But the fact that the mother who paid for the ticket was otherwise fine, but had been stricken by Alzheimers’? Or that her father is 80 years old (but otherwise, presumably, fine)? That suggests the case has no merit.

            I’m sure the OP provided those statements to you, so I’m not giving you trouble per se.

      1. Everyone I know, of all ages, is on a more or less fixed income. This “volunteer” for a “good cause” can’t afford her own largesse. She got the money to support it from her aged parents.

  7. If I were to plan any travel to Mexico I would purchase travel insurance. Drug violence is a possibility at any time in any area of the country. There is no reason to mediate this case.

    1. That’s where you and I are different. I would never, ever go to Mexico. Actually, I wouldn’t even travel to anyplace in THIS country closer than 200 miles from the Mexican border, Not until they build a 30 foot, electrified fence with a 100 yard wide anti-personnel mine field (in case they somehow get past the fence). Keep the savages where they belong.

      1. How would I get my apple trees trimmed? I think it is always good for the paranoid to stay close to home

    2. It’s hard to know whether travel insurance would have helped here. I checked my travel insurance policy and it’s definitely clear that if a government body issues an advisory against traveling, to meet the insurance conditions you must not travel to that area. But the key thing is whether the violence began before or after the travel insurance was purchased. I think a reasonable person could argue that violence in certain areas of Mexico is a well-known, long-running issue, that was “pre-existing” prior to the purchase of insurance, and thus not coverable.

      1. Buying coverage for terrorism is very tricky. It usually has to be to the city you are flying into or out of and within a certain time period. PVR had no terrorism.

  8. I am not sure what does her mother’s Alzheimer has to do with this. Other than getting more symphaty. If this money was essential for the mother, than they should have not taken it at all. If not, than why mentioning it?

    1. That’s what I was wondering. The source of the money that paid for the ticket (shame on her for taking her mom’s money) and the purpose of her trip is not the airline’s concern; they aren’t justification. She made questionable travel plans and now she should deal with it. Take the credit from the airline for a future trip, repay you mother and start thinking with your head.

  9. So the OP is “volunteering” at the school, but doesn’t have enough money of her own to pay for the air fare? What about living costs such as meals and room while she is there? Sounds like she needs to get a real job first that would pay her enough to do her volunteering. And didn’t she look into the situation in the area before she volunteered and booked her flight? The area was not “suddenly unsafe” it has been unsafe for quite a while.

    But on the topic of the airfare: It is non refundable, there is nothing preventing the OP from reaching the destination where the airline will deliver her, it will be her choice not to travel not the airline canceling the flight. A flexible credit which would allow her to rebook to any destination minus the rebooking fee) would be a nice gesture by the airline. Sorry, but I don’t feel this is anything that needs further looking into.

    1. So the OP is “volunteering” at the school, but doesn’t have enough money of her own to pay for the air fare? What about living costs such as meals and room while she is there? Sounds like she needs to get a real job first that would pay her enough to do her volunteering.

      Some awfully presumptuous assumptions.

      FYI, it is very common for volunteer programs to offer free no frills shared accomodation and meals. Furthermore, relevant volunteer experience can lead to career opportunities.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I am very appreciative of people who do volunteer work and am glad the OP wants to do what she can. I have done some in the past where basic meals were provided during the time I spent there, but never lodging. I still try to volunteer as often as I can.

        I admit I did not consider that the OP was at a point in her career where she was still trying to find an advancement route. Most people I know who have 80 year old parents are well along in their career paths and have jobs that allow them the opportunity to do volunteer work and also have enough money of their own to pay their way.

        It’s just that something about having to take the money from her ailing mother hit me wrong about the whole thing.

        1. “It’s just that something about having to take the money from her ailing mother hit me wrong about the whole thing.”

          I would like to present a counter-point to this, and the other posters who have brought up the parents’ money being used as a red flag. It is *possible* that the OP didn’t ask for the money, and that the father insisted that he pay for part of the trip. I say this from personal experience with my in-laws. Anytime they hear that we’ve made a large purchase, or are planning a big vacation, they send us a check, and won’t take no for an answer. Once, I sent the check back, saying we appreciated the gesture but really don’t need the money and would feel bad taking it, but my mother-in-law mailed another one. I didn’t cash it, so then she just transferred the money to my wife’s bank account without telling me. Some parents are just like that – they want to feel like they’re helping the kids, and no amount of arguing will stop them.

          Not saying that’s what happened here, but I wouldn’t necessarily be so quick to judge that the OP “took” the money from her mother.

          1. Umm, sorry, I can’t see that interpretation. Her father took the money from her mother’s account. Not from his account. From an account where it probably wouldn’t be noticed by the account holder.

            Normally I don’t point out nasty things like that, but that element of the story really struck me as off.

      2. “Furthermore, relevant volunteer experience can lead to career opportunities.”

        That would make sense if it had been the OP’s 80-year old grandfather providing the funds. But it is the OP’s father. We’re talking about somebody who is probably around the age of 50, give or take, yet can’t scrape together $700 for a plane ticket. There’s nothing wrong with getting it from the father if he can afford it, but don’t write to Chris with some sob story about how the money was supposed to be used for mom who has Alzheimer’s.

        1. We’re talking about somebody who is probably around the age of 50, give or take

          “Probably?” Sure. Writing first-hand as someone with older parents, that would be a bad assumption in my case. There are also lots of long term unemployed people of all ages looking for jobs and/or considering career changes today.

          Maybe none of this applies to the OP or maybe it does.

          The article does not say the money “was supposed to be used for mom who has Alzheimer’s.” It says the money was from an account with her name on it. I can see why you might suspect something sketchy, but it isn’t necessarily. The detail could be relevant not to conjure up sympathy for the ailing Mom, but to explain why the OP wants the flight credit to go to Dad rather than to the account holder (Mom) or to herself.

          There are just too many assumptions being made about the OP’s private details here for my tastes and I don’t see the relevant purpose other than to cast aspersions.

          1. Explaining the credit going to dad could be accomplished by simply saying he’d given her the money for the ticket. Which is the truth. And if you don’t like my guess at the age of 50, feel free to change that to 30 or even 20. It won’t change the fact that the OP was old enough to come up with $700 for her own plane ticket. If she didn’t have the money for this particular trip, there undoubtedly would have been another opportunity once the funds had been saved. Again, absolutely nothing wrong with the parents paying for it if they can afford it, but don’t turn around and make it sound like it’s extra important to get this resolved since they really shouldn’t have been parting with the money to begin with.

          2. Explaining the credit going to dad could be accomplished by simply saying he’d given her the money for the ticket

            If the name of the billing party isn’t Dad, then that could lead to more questions if there’s no explanation.

          3. The actual source of the funds for any plane ticket is irrelevant. Maybe if the organization volunteered for provided the funds and the desire is to return the funds to them because the volunteer work will not be performed, then maybe. But that’s not the case here.

            Why did she feel the need to mention anything more than “my parents provided the money to buy the ticket”? Since she threw out several conditions that appear meant to inspire sympathy, and most of the regulars here have heard those or similar conditions used for some of the more ridiculous requests we tend to think of these negatively, it tends to raise suspicion. The mom’s account could have been set up specifically to fund family members volunteer activities, we just don’t know and have to react to the story as presented.

          4. We don’t know how it came up. We learn about the OP’s Mom from Chris’ summary. I suggested one possibility in my reply to Joe.

            Yes, the source of the funds may be irrelevant because the rules say tickets are non-transferable, but the OP is clearly hoping (perhaps unrealistically) for an exception to that.

          5. You can always ask, but when turned down, is this really a reason to contact a consumer advocate when the ticket purchased is nonrefundable and nontransferable, yet reusable?

          6. That wasn’t what we were discussing, we were discussing the assumptions being made about the OP.

            But to answer your question, someone who hasn’t flown much might have what you think are unreasonable expectations. Not necessarily because they are an unreasonable person but because they don’t know better.

          7. Yes, it is what you were talking about. She was asking for an exception to the rules of the fare. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but is it necessary to ask Chris when you are turned down by the carrier on your nonrefundable, nontransferable ticket to a destination, PVR, that had no terrorist warnings? Yes, she is probably a novice traveler.

          8. Hardly anything in life is “necessary,” strictly speaking. But if she thinks the carrier is being “unnecessarily” inflexible, then turning to a consumer advocate is a logical step.

            BTW, I understand why tickets are generally non-transferable (it would be abused by “scalpers”). But I never really understood why there isn’t an exception for transferring a ticket *to* the original billing party. I don’t immediately see how that would be abused.

  10. I don’t think she’s being realistic on many fronts. When is her 80 year old father going to be able to take a vacation away from his alzheimer’s stricken wife? This was a volunteer vacation, and she implies she’s getting on the plane if she doesn’t get her money back. Isn’t avoiding serious danger worth more than $700? In a perfect world the airline wouldn’t be a pain, but it’s reasonable to stick by the fare rules in a case where the destination isn’t the problem, a different destination is. I get that money is tight, but if it’s that tight, she shouldn’t be booking a vacation even if she’d be doing good works on it.

    1. Maybe help her get a credit she could use to go somewhere other than her scheduled destination, but that’s it.

      1. But an airline credit IS good to anywhere they fly – I think she just wants the money, and is willing to say anything to get it.

        1. Sometimes airlines can make it more restrictive, but we don’t really know the details. Not sure about this in general!

          1. If you cancel your nonrefundable ticket prior to departure time, the fare is reusable up to the date of the initial ticket purchase. You can use a nonrefundable fare for a another nonrefundable ticket and you can use it for a less restrictive ticket, but the original fare remains nonrefundable should the second ticket get cancelled. Linda and I know this, as we sell airline tickets and know to read the rules.

          2. I don’t think you said what you meant to say. The fare is reusable up to a year from the purchase date, since it would be hard to reuse it up to the initial purchase date. ( I think we’re all able to read the fare rules here. I hope you didn’t mean to sound condescending. Many of us work or have worked in travel. )

          3. Yes, I should have added one year from the date of the initial ticket purchase. Actually Lauren, many who have participated here have openly stated that they don’t read the rules and many who write to Chris don’t think the rules should apply to them, as they didn’t know them. So it is a big issue with DIY’ers.

          4. You could not be more correct about people thinking the rules shouldn’t apply to them. I fully think this case is a big one of those! Working in travel is hard, especially with how people get high hopes and want it all for a basement price, and they can get mean when they don’t get their way. You’d know that though, good times, right!!! Best wishes.

  11. Orbitz is passing the buck. She bought her ticket through Orbitz, not through AA. Once again (I’ve said it on this site so many times): If you think that there might be some reason you will want to change your plans, BUY A REFUNDABLE TICKET. If you buy a NONREFUNDABLE ticket, guess what? IT’S NONREFUNDABLE. I wish the airlines — ALL of the — would STOP ever, ever, ever refunding NONREFUNDABLE tickets. Then maybe people would stop buying them. Stop arguing that corporations should show “compassion.” Customers should show some COMMON SENSE and ABILITY TO READ. Again, NONREFUNDABLE means NONREFUNDABLE.

  12. It is difficult to expect the airline to allow for all possible scenarios. There is not a warning for the destination they fly to.

    1. Not so, there are specific areas that are unsafe, but much of the country is very normal and no more dangerous than any other destination. Don’t let the newspaper headlines have that much influence on you.

  13. How is that the airlines fault ? They were not responsible….is there any personal responsibility left here ?

  14. AA was too generous. She should have either travelled or eaten the ticket and chalked it up to a bad bet on her part.

    1. Well, issuing a ticket credit is the normal course of action for cancelling most non-refundable tickets; no special treatment necessary, so I don’t consider AA’s action “too generous”; it’s what anyone gets just by asking.

      1. No issuing of credit. You use your ticket number and keep an eye of the ticketing date so you don’t lose the value and get reissued as the ticket is kept open in the airline’s system.

  15. Posted by State Department in November 2012: “Nayarit: You should defer non-essential travel to all areas of the state of Nayarit north of the city of Tepic as well as to the cities of Tepic and Xalisco. The security situation north of Tepic and in these cities is unstable and travelers could encounter roadblocks or shootouts between rival criminals.”

    This warning was months before the booking. This was not after the purchase but before. Headline is wrong;”facts” are wrong.

    American has its own lists of worthy charities and Ms. Austin is not on it. The specific warnings about Tepic were widely disseminated on line for over six months. Take responsibility for your choices, Ms. Austin, when you took money from your father to buy an airfare to a dangerous area.

    People are just looking everywhere but in the mirror to determine why this whole situation went wrong.

    1. This is an important point. If the warning was in place even before she booked her flight her case is less than nothing.

      I remember a case a couple of years ago here where the letter writer wanted a refund on a flight to Sudan I think. Same situation; Chris cited the State Dept. Travel Warning, when in fact it merely superseded one that had been in place for many months.

      1. She didn’t fly into Tepic, she flew into PV. BIG difference as far as the airline’s are concerned and travel insurance, too.

  16. When I booked a trip to Tunisia shortly after the revolution, I purchased trip insurance for the first time ever just for this reason. She should have purchased trip insurance.

  17. I think a refund should be automatic for any destination that comes under a State Department ‘do not travel’ advisory after the trip is booked.

    1. Ah … but the airport destination isn’t under a State Department warning. She’s leaving the immediate area around the airport and traveling somewhere else.

      1. I think that’s key. Puerto Vallarta is not dangerous. I believe her story, but I’m just some guy who has known people who have made similar trips to do good work rather than play in the sand – I have done so myself. I’m not sure the airline has any way to know if the story is true, and they really don’t have the investigative resources to verify it. She should take the travel credit.

    2. And Puerto Vallarta WAS NOT on the do not travel – so then you agree she didn’t qualify for a refund under those terms.

  18. No. Rules are rules. “refundable” tickets are out there for those who choose to purchase them, as is trip protection. Everyone wants to make the airlines (tour operators, cruiselines, etc) seem like big heartless entities, when in fact they are just trying to be consistent and fair across the board. An ounce of research before signing up for the volunteercation would have shown the OP what was going on before she swiped $ from her mother to do this. Now it is the airlines fault because they sold her a non-refundable ticket in good faith? Please.

  19. I voted “no” for several reasons:
    1. Non-refundable ticket – you have to be able to absorb the loss is something happens. It’s a crap shoot to buy a non-refundable ticket, but that is the chance you take to get a cheaper price.
    2. Using money from a bank account that belongs to her mother that has Alzheimers. $730 could have been used to help mom. (Just my personal opinion here.)
    3. No need to travel to Mexico to do good works. (Just my personal opinion here.)
    4. Take a travel credit from American Airlines and run with it.

  20. If she can get a ticket credit, she should take it. Honestly, I was known as a pretty generous guy in my airline days, and I would have a hard time refunding this. Voucher for future travel, maybe, if she could prove to me she was headed somewhere dangerous.

  21. The destination was dangerous before she bought the ticket, Chris. I suspect the State Department warnings were already in place. A little bit of pre-ticket information-gathering would have prevented her predicament. You need to change the headline.

  22. I think no compensation is due in this case. The situation wasn’t truly unexpected (Mexico has been under cartel violence for several years already), it is totally unrelated to transportation services (I usually think airlines must be responsible for delivering passengers when air traffic is disrupted by weather, strikes etc), and the rules are not some fine-print that tilts the balance in favor or the traveler.

    So, no, I wouldn’t not mediate this case. This is one of those circumstances where “life happens”. I would cancel my trip as well if I were her, but I think this is really a case of bad luck. The airline can’t be held responsible, financially, for this.

    The closest comparison I can make is with people who buy air tickets to a given city (not a travel package), and then want the airline to refund them after knowing the festival they were going to attend was cancelled for some reason totally unrelated to the airline and transportation.

  23. This is ridiculous, why do people think they’re immune or somehow not responsible for following the same rules everyone else must obey?

    If you’re unhappy with the non-refundable fare rule then pay more or buy travel insurance (though I doubt it would have covered this trip unless they had the more expensive cancel for any reason policy). You booked a nonrefundable ticket and something out of your control happened at the destination, well, it’s out of the airline’s control as well.

    Also, the plane is flying to PV, if they wont refund, why not just make a vacation out of it and go to PV?

    I voted no because she bought this ticket KNOWING it was non refundable and is now asking for an exemption.

    1. for some reason I just don’t see someone buying a plane ticket from orbitz even having the thought of insurance pass their thoughts at all just saying….the same ones that give themselves 15 minutes to connect in HUBS then demand the airline give them free stuff when they miss it duh it takes that long just to wait on a jetway in a HUB HUB= NO LESS THAN 45 minutes to connect it should be ILLEGAL to sell seats on flights that have any less than 45 minutes to connect…

  24. I voted no. I sell airline tickets and no travel advisory was given for PV. She panicked. She had someone else purchase a nonrefundable ticket for her, so the amount of the ticket is reusable anywhere AA flights in her name so she can still use the fare and the taxes are adjusted accordingly. Not a total lost.

  25. The airline is not a charity. They are a business. You buy it and it’s non-refundable, it’s a done deal. Newsflash: Mexico is dangerous! Don’t go there. Airlines will still fly there but you have to make your own decisions. The airline is not accountable for your safety outside of the flight.

    1. I kinda agree with this too though…they certianly do not refund the money I would have made at a second job when i get caught out past the time they were to have me back in base due to weather or maintance or just “extending me” because people call in and I don’t etc. and had to cancel a working day at the hospital NOPE noone cares LOL

  26. Sorry. She lost me with the bit about her “80-year-old father” paying for her fare with “money from her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother’s bank account.” Why do people lard their requests with such gag-inducing extras? Bleh. :-p

  27. I said not to mediate. This is not American’s fault. We (readers, travelers) get upset when the airlines don’t issue a refund under reasonable circumstances, but we can’t expect the airlines to cough up money under unreasonable circumstances — that just isn’t fair. This is not a situation where American should be a risk-sharing partner. Ms. Austin paid them to fly her to Puerto Vallarta, and it’s not as if they aren’t willing to fulfill their side of the bargain.

  28. The big problem I see with this is that, while she says she is not going to Puerto Vallarta to go clubbing, how does the airline know that? How many such stories do they hear in a day? Just like the police officer who pulls you over has likely heard 20 excuses that day about why someone was speeding, so has the airline agent on the other side of the phone. How are they to judge whether or not you’re telling the truth? Yes, she can send documentation to prove it, but to be irritated that the agent won’t just take your word for it is a little silly. As JPP42 pointed out, there was no unrest in PV. She could have traveled there safely and thus American’s part of the contract would be fulfilled. It isn’t their fault or their concern if the place you’re traveling to once you’re out of the airport is dangerous. That’s pretty much why I voted no. Sometimes these things happen and there’s not much you can do.

    PS — Was anyone else slightly bothered that the money was taken out of the bank account of an ill woman who probably lacks the capacity to consent to such? If you wanted to do this and didn’t have the money then shouldn’t it be on you to raise it however you could instead of taking money out of someone else’s account?

  29. Here’s the real risk that I see in Chris taking this case. It may destroy his credibility with AA for future cases where the complainant really has been wronged (example: State issues a travel warning for PV and American elects to continue to fly there even with the warning without issuing refund/credits or someone is denied boarding without required compensation). If Chris is seen as taking every case (which I know he doesn’t) where someone wants a refund for a non-refundable ticket, he risks not being able to help those that have been wronged.

    If the travel warning was for PV, I might feel differently but its not. The OP took a risk traveling to a high threat area (last time I checked violence in that part of MX has been ongoing for some time to the point I believe some cruise lines stopped coming into port). The risk isn’t new. I see no reason why AA should have to lose out because she failed to mitigate her risk in some manner.

  30. American does not need to show any compassion, they are an airline. My understanding, however is that: when the State department declares a “do not travel” event, the fare is refundable in full. If there is a strong advisory, which has been on and off for years ( many cruise ships stopped traveling to PVR ) then tough – no refund. During the Swine flu, full refunds, after a major natural event, full refunds. I think that American is correct.

  31. Maybe find a place a little less violent to volunteer next time. Admirable as her cause may be, she still could have gone to Puerto Vallarta.

  32. Rules are rules, but there also discretion, and at some level at American I am willing to believe that rules intended to protect the airline from customers trying to avoid penalties they fully understood when they bought their tickets can be neutralized. The trick is finding that person. I had a less dramatic problem with United when we had to purchase a business class ticket to return my wife to the US after an accident. The original ticket on Singapore Airlines (a partner to UAL), in coach, had been purchased with miles, and when I requested that the miles for that unused ticket be restored to the account, I was first told no way. Then I was told that UAL would issue me a ticket good over the next 12 months for the same route. I then observed that UAL’s partner had benefited from my having to buy a $3200 one way ticket rather than use half of a $700 RT. Needless to say, my wife was not going back to Singapore during that time period. I escalated my request to a supervisor and got a very nice email back saying that the miles were being restored, and apologizing for UAL not weighing the factors.

  33. Isn’t a bigger issue that they are taking money from her Alzheimer’s stricken mother, who one would think may need that for her own support, and using it to support a vacation (however good the cause of the vacation is)?

  34. Ms. Austin should have researched the area more carefully before booking. The State Department warning was new but not the violence. Basic research shows the problem was ongoing and escalating—it was not suddenly dangerous. I know you have to have empathy to be as successful as you are as a consumer advocate—but you lost me at the money from her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother’s account. Sorry but where the money came from is not really important and is simply trying to build sympathy where very little is warranted. Sometimes people make choices without doing due diligence and that seems to be the case here. It may have seemed sudden to her, but was not to many of us who follow the news. She made a poor choice and has is relying on her mother’s illness as a building block for sympathy. Family and friends know that I fall for sob stories—but this one is way over the limit.

  35. Come on, people even Jennifer Lopez with all her $$$$ makes mistakes and entourage about countries to visit! Companies should be more human. Poll results indicate you should take this case Chris.

    1. Bet you don’t own a business. Should you be able to cancel your travel plans for a full refund on your airline ticket to SFO due to an earthquake in Marysville, where there is no airport to fly into just like Tepic? She bought a ticket to PVR, not Tepic and as such, she can reuse the unused fund for another destination or have a vacation in PVR. She bought a NONREFUNDABLE ticket to PVR, not Tepic! If she had a concern, she should have bought a refundable ticket.

      1. The option of refundable tickets is clearly priced to discourage their use. You could fly first class at those prices. For the vast majority of personal travelers this is not a valid option.

        1. That is a decision a traveler has to make. If they can’t afford to lose their funds or reuse their funds, then at least they have the other option. Yes, it is more expensive, but at least they get their money back if they cancel.

  36. Not just no, but HELL NO.
    If the OP wants to be a good Samaritan, there are plenty of schools in the US that can use her efforts if travel requires her to rob her elderly parents to get a plane ticket


    #Cold-hearted bastard in the house.

  37. I have been an AAdvantage member for over 20 years. You have to be willing to go to the top. It has happened to me, and by the time I got someone at corporate, things changed to a helpful sympathetic mode. They will help with this issue, but you have to be willing to keep asking until you get to someone who has the power to say yes.

  38. The bottom line is her “contract” with American Airlines was to fly her to Puerto Vallarta which they would fulfill. There was no State Dept. advisory against the flight’s destination. Where she goes after that is up to her. Should have gotten trip insurance.

    1. Travel insurance may not have covered this. This is where you have to be very careful on suggesting travel insurance for something like this. What coverage they have for terrorist acts, is usually into or out of the city of the airport with a time period stated, as well.

  39. easy one, let them transfer the ticket to the father. American themselves said they’d work with her if the travel warning was still in place closer to her date, then reneged on this pledge.

    1. despite my heartfelt opinion above, I really don’t understand why more people don’t buy trip insurance when they’re traveling to strange (or even not-so-strange) places and can’t afford to lose their money when things go awry. it costs like $20.

  40. I 100% think that not only should they refund her money but, should be required to do so. If only things could be re-regulated.. things are certainly written to benefit airlines not consumers. A lot of times I actually see the airlines side of things based on the fact that they have black and white policies written on their webpages, use a little common sense, and personal responsability but, no in cases like this it makes me very sad for the person out of her money and I really hope you can help her get something back!

  41. What volunteer organization sends people to places that the State Dept has travel advisory warnings about? Take the credit if they are offering and run.

  42. 1-travel insurance can and should be easily purchased for EVERY trip
    2-Don’t plan a trip to a destination you know has potential danger

  43. My sister and brother-in-law from the UK ended up in New York during Sandy. It wasn’t much fun for them however I can’t imagine the thought would even cross their mind (it never crossed mine) that they should get compensation for it.

  44. This is what travel insurance is for. In 2011, I had a trip to Morocco planned and booked. The subsequent Marrakech bombings and Arab Spring events threatened to halt our trip. At the time, Morocco was relatively stable, but we didn’t want any surprises. So we bought travel insurance for ~$80 per person. We went on our trip, had a fantastic time, and had no use for the travel insurance, but $80 was a small price to pay for peace of mind in the event that something did go wrong.

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