US Airways tells customer her cancer isn’t terminal enough for a refund

Not the friendly skies. / Photo by wbav - Flickr
Not the friendly skies. / Photo by wbav – Flickr
Ben Coleman and his wife were supposed to fly from New York to Oakland last November on US Airways. The couple had purchased nonrefundable roundtrip tickets on US Airways for just under $1,000.

But in October, Coleman’s wife was diagnosed with cancer.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

“Her diagnosis is positive and the doctors tell us — nothing is certain, of course — that it will be a hard year, but expect that she will lead a long healthy life.”

That’s when things got a little complicated.

Coleman explains,

I called US Airways to cancel my ticket and hope for a refund. This was several weeks before my travel dates.

I was told that because I bought a non-refundable ticket there was nothing that they could do except issue me credit that would be good for one year from the ticket purchase date.

They also informed me that due to rebooking fees and other fees, the actual amount of my credit would be much less than my original purchase price. This is, of course, pretty unhelpful as there is no chance we are flying anywhere before this credit expires.

I was told that I can email their customer service desk to appeal.

He did appeal, in writing. US Airways asked for documentation of his wife’s condition, a process that took several weeks. After submitting the paperwork, the airline rejected his refund request.

I was told on the phone that they only refund tickets in cases of terminal cancer.

Are you kidding me?

I get their super strict policy — I did buy a non-refundable ticket — but why make me go to my wife’s doctor, waste his time, and the precious time I have with him, and ask him for this favor, if you’re just going to reject it?

Coleman wants me to see if US Airways will reconsider its decision, and I’m tempted to.

Here’s how the conversation is likely to go: I’ll ask US Airways to take a look at the case, and it will ask if I’m aware that Coleman could have purchased a more expensive, flexible ticket. And I will ask the airline how much such a ticket would cost, and then we’ll get into a debate over whether it’s fair or reasonable for someone to pay three times more for a ticket just to be able to change a date or get a refund.

It’s an unwinnable argument.

What puzzles me about this case is that a US Airways representative actually told Coleman that his wife’s cancer needed to be “terminal” in order for her to get a refund. Isn’t it enough that she’s going to be suffering through chemotherapy treatments for the rest of the year, and that the ticket credit will certainly be unused?

Like Coleman, I understand that nonrefundable means nonrefundable. But come on. Passengers cut airlines some slack when they can’t operate a flight for reasons beyond their control. It’s not as if the Colemans thought it was possible they’d have to cancel their trip for medical reasons.

Should I mediate Ben Coleman's case with US Airways?

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211 thoughts on “US Airways tells customer her cancer isn’t terminal enough for a refund

  1. Wow. I had the same situation last year and I had two non refundable tickets with United, one domestic, one international. After I cancelled the trips, the international ticket was automatically refunded, and the other, United refunded my ticket (less $50) after I sent a Drs letter. US airways is COLD!!

      1. And do international carriers lose money because of this tiny bit of humanity? Of course not – they make it up in goodwill from passengers who are more willing to book with them next time.

  2. It was dumb for the airline to make them go through documentation on the illness for nothing. I’d be ticked off about that too. Normally I wouldn’t be for mediating a pretty clear-cut non-refundable ticket case, but the fact that the airline made them jump through a hoop just for the fun of it makes me reconsider.

    1. the airline probably didn’t know the cancer was treatable until they saw the documentation. i have a feeling that the OP didn’t mention that part originally, that it wasn’t terminal.

  3. Unfortunately, US Airways does not have a written [publicly accessible] policy regarding penalty waivers in case of illness or death. It’s not on the fare rules, contract of carriage, or Customer Service plans. So non-refundable is exactly just that, non-refundable.
    Now that’s pretty heartless. And, this is the carrier that will swallow American?
    Run as fast as you can.

    1. Just checked a few other spots online and it appears that when USAirways says non-refundable what they mean is just that…non-refundable. Even their “elites” have complained about the policy when they could not get a waiver.

      1. One time I had to change a flight on US Airways due to my wife begin in the hospital. They told me about the change fee and fare difference. I agreed to pay, gave them my credit card info, and then the agent said, “You are the first person who has not put up an argument about the change fee, you know what, I’ll waive it for you.” I was pleasantly surprised. On the other hand (separate occasion) I was waiting around LGA and my flight was delayed 3 hours. I went to the gate of the earlier flight that was about to board and asked to go standby. They told me there was a fee for standby, so I left. Then I saw on their website that the standby fee is waived if my flight is delayed. I went back to the gate and request they let me go standby and waive the fee, the agent still refuses. I ended up paying the fee anyway, and its a good thing because my flight ended up getting canceled.

        Like most airlines, I think the policy is all about who you talk to.

  4. Chris, if 15 minutes of your time might help this couple recoup $1,000, then I’d say it’s time well spent. Do I think US Airways will give in? Maybe 20-80. But I wonder if the OP told US Airways that the cancer wasn’t terminal, or did he just leave it at “diagnosed with cancer” to bolster his request? If he flat out said, “she’s expected to completely recover”, I’d be surprised if they asked for further documentation. Always two sides…

  5. Whatever else it was, it was poor customer service to tell them to get a doctor’s note only to reject it because the cancer wasn’t “terminal.” Disclaimer: I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that the line between “terminal” and “non-terminal” can still be very fine because I think cancers can go from being non-terminal to terminal…and because some anti-cancer agents used in chemotherapy can in themselves be carcinogens. So it makes no sense.

    1. I completely disagree. This may have been a CS agent trying to find a loop hole. If the appeal was, “My wife has been diagnosed with cancer and we can’t travel.” The CS agent on the other side may have thought what a number of people would … It’s terminal so maybe I can get them an exception. When the Doctor’s note comes back, it isn’t terminal there’s no room for the exception.

      1. I’m with you on this. Its been my experience that they are only looking for the fact that the passenger is not medically able to fly. If the Dr.s note said that, I would hope the outcome would be different.

      2. Sorry, but I disagree with that. It still doesn’t make for good customer service to look for loopholes-especially involving cancer. Cancer sufferers, terminal or not, are in terrible pain, especially if they’re on chemotherapy, not to mention the side effects like nausea and hair loss. Giving them a dismissive back of the hand like what happened here may have saved US Airways money in the short run, but it will lead to very bad publicity which could really hurt them in the long run.

    2. How was it poor customer service telling them to get documentation? The person telling them to get the documentation I’m pretty sure is not the one to make the final determination. They were probably doing exactly what they were suppose to. Now the poor customer service would be not explaining beforehand that only terminal cases would be considered.

      1. It was poor customer service to make the rule that distinguishes between “terminal” and “non-terminal” cancer in deciding whether or not to allow for a refund. As I said, any cancer can go very quickly from “non-terminal” to “terminal,” and even with a doctor’s note, it’s very subjective. Even if the doctor claimed it was “terminal,” I wouldn’t put it past the airline to bring in someone of its own to counter that the doctor was wrong, etc. and keep fighting it out, while in the meantime the cancer sufferer is 1) denied a trip that s/he paid for, 2) denied a refund, and 3) forced to get all this documentation in the first place that’s just being used against him/her as a weapon by the airline.

        1. No, that is poor corporate policy, not customer servicce. From the customer service point, they did everything to help the people. They explained about the credit and even went so far as to tell them how to appeal it. How did the CSR provide poor service? The CSR can’t over ride corporate policy. They don’t have the authority.

          1. Ed, I was speaking in terms of how the company relates to its customers. That is bad customer service, whether it’s delivered by a customer service rep acting on his or her own authority (if s/he has any) or whether it’s set down as corporate policy.

          2. Jennifer, I would guess that somewhere within the doctor’s note, the carrier saw that the cancer patient could travel at some point and reuse the fare. If the letter had been worded in such a manner that future travel was questionable or not possible for a long time period, the carrier most likely would have dealt with this differently. That has been my experience when assisting clients in getting a refund.

          3. Still, the carrier doesn’t really know that either. Not being “terminal” doesn’t mean travel at any future time is possible. The patient may feel too weak or whatever to travel even if s/he isn’t going to die.

          4. Having been a part of the refund procedure for decades, I can tell you that what isn’t said is as important as what is said. I fully understand that what the woman was going to go through could be an issue down the line and that is exactly what you need to address along with the immediate cancellation. I don’t defend the carrier’s decision and I am just presenting what I have learned over the years and have had great success in obtaining refunds.

    3. I would guess that in many if not all cases, the customer service rep never finds out if a refund was issued or not. They just relay what sort of documentation is required in order to have a refund even be considered.

      1. I’m sure you’re right. Customer service representatives are often forced by their employers to do their jobs in ways that, interestingly, offer no “service” to the customers.

  6. I have been reading your blog for a long while now but this one really caught my attention.

    Would these “service providing” company start to think about the actual “service” instead of sticking to T&Cs and fare rules etc.? Any person with enough sympathy would have put him/herself into Mr. Coleman’s shoes and feel for him.
    Let alone to say this in a colder way that the airline would have made this an excellent WoM or even a PR winning strategy by not only refunding the fare but offering this couple a chance to somewhere they have never been?

    I just feel sad about this.

  7. Ok so today I get to be the jerk.When did non-refundable not mean non-refundable? They had the option to purchase refundable tickets but decided the expense was too high. They had the option to purchase travel insurance to cover their non-refundable tickets and decided that it wasn’t worth it. They chose to take a risk that nothing would happen and lost.
    I might feel differently if it was terminal cancer and I suspect that might be the reason behind them asking for documentation. Fortunately for her, it isn’t terminal cancer.
    I lost my MIL to cancer so I have some idea of the path ahead for the two of them. I understand what chemo can be like. Ultimately I come back to the same place… if you make the exception for this, where does it stop? Major surgery? Joint Replacements? Broken bone? Minor surgery? Illness that causes you to miss the event you were traveling for? All of these are unplanned. All of these would keep you from traveling. I’m sorry but US Air lower their price to make the ticket non-refundable. They did this because they transferred the risk of not flying to the OP and the OP accepted that risk at purchase. I wish his wife all the best in what will be very tough trials ahead.

    1. Mr. Baker: As for where does it stop, I think any medical emergency would constitute grounds for an exception. Joint replacement surgery is usually scheduled. Some major surgery, too.

      1. That’s all well and good, until you realize that prices would have to go up to pay for it. It’s not as if airlines run on a huge profit margin. Every seat that goes empty and revenueless is a nearly 100% direct hit to the bottom line.

        1. They claim they do give refunds if it’s “terminal cancer.”

          If so, that raises prices for everyone too, no? Does that mean they shouldn’t do that either?

          I’d love to see the math. I suspect we’re talking about a few pennies (if that) on an average airfare. Which I for one would gladly trade for seeing passengers like the Colemans treated better.

          But as others have pointed out, the carrier can help the OP’s without even issuing a refund in this case. They could use some discretion and extend the standard 1-year expiration deadline on her ticket.

          1. Yes, if you die, or are soon going to, I think even Spirit will refund your ticket. But the line has to be drawn somewhere, and US Airways apparently believes that somebody that isn’t terminal will probably find some way to use that ticket some time in the next year.

            And the number of passengers that either die, or are diagnosed with a terminal disease is so small that it is indeed insignificant. Allowing cancellations for “any medical emergency” (as was proposed) is not insignificant. (And wide-open to abuse.)

          2. Where did I propose “allowing cancellations for any medical emergency?” Did you confuse me with someone else? I don’t have a blanket opinion on that — the details matter.

            I think, at a minimum, allowing exceptions to the 1-year ticket expiration deadline for documented serious illnesses that require a year or longer of travel-free recovery time is a no-brainer.

          3. Michael: That was my bad… I did confuse you with another poster; I corrected the post about 30 seconds later, but not until Disqus sent out your notification.

      2. My wife freaked out after she got pregnant. We had two non-refundable fares and just cancelled them and accepted the credit. In the end we didn’t have the time to use the tickets and the credit expired after a year. That was the cost of having a non-refundable fare.

        However, I have no issues with trying to negotiate something like this. If there were medical recommendations to not travel, that would seem to be different. Although there is no evidence that air travel is that bad for pregnant women, I understand a lot of pregnant women believe that it increases the risk of miscarriage.

        1. Pregnancy/Cancer…apples to oranges. This coming from someone who just had a baby and traveled when I was 6 months pregnant.

    2. The simple solution would be to allow passengers to give resell or give away tickets they find they can’t use. This would free carriers from having to argue the fine points of passenger medical records when something like this comes up. And with the ticket already sold and passenger identification primarily the TSA’s problem, why should the airline care who occupies the seat? Any given person in New York has a relative or a friend who wouldn’t mind a vacation in San Francisco.

      But fundamentally, nobody gives you rights. We’re have to take a right to transfer for ourselves through legislation. Give the carrier a ten-dollar fee for the cost of changing the passenger record, and all’s right with the world.

      1. One of the few times I don’t disagree with you… but the airline factors purchased, unused tickets into their pricing model. How much more are you willing to pay when they take this into account?

        1. But, the ticket is purchased, therefore, no loss in revenue to the airline unless you sell it to someone who would have paid a higher price. I’m old enough to remember when you could give the ticket to someone else after purchase . . .

          1. @9ea149431ac774d0b5c36b15a36c065f:disqus There is a loss in revenue. Their ticketing models include that (pick a number 2%) of non-refundable tickets sold won’t be used. If tickets can be resold and used by anyone, that x% goes away.

          2. Yeah just like a concert or a ball game. You could give away your tickets to a friend if you get sick or something. We pass along train tickets in our family all the time.

          3. Soutwest just did away with this capability. Obviously the policy was being abused. This is how many of the current rules have come about. When I started selling airline tickets, we could change them very easily.

        2. How many purchased tickets actually go unused on a flight? If it is 1 or 2 out of hundred, or roughly 2-4 per standard narrow body passenger plane, then yes, I would be willing to pay 1-2% more for a ticket to have the “insurance” of being able to transfer it.

        3. How would the small number of actual unused tickets really compare to the CSR time invested in judging all the reasons people have for seeking exceptions to non-refundability?

          Now consider the value of the accounting data that market prices on a secondary ticket market would represent. You can bet that with today’s yield management software, no airline is going to consistently underprice tickets to the extent that traders on such a market would be able to make reliable speculative trading profits.

        4. John, are you seriously suggesting that there is any logic, common sense, or good business practice behind most airline fares? Most airline fare profiles appear to have been produced by deranged monkeys (my apologies to monkeys). The good business practice is obviously absent, along with customer loyalty, as most airlines bleed red ink. One exception, Southwest, would also be most likely to have handled this situation in a much more compassionate way.

          1. Interesting that you think WN would have handled this differently. They have been the most difficult to deal with in this regards from my experience assisting clients.

      2. Ticket transfer / resell is not allowed in order to prevent “ticket arbitrage.” If it WAS allowed, the industry’s standard pricing model of selling cheap advance purchase fares and charging last minute (usually business) travelers a premium would become utterly broken. This would raise leisure fares by quite a bit and shrink the number of seats overall as fewer people flew.

        I could see transferring the credit being allowed for a nominal fee, but that credit should be fixed to the dollar amount of the fare, not the routing/date.

    3. You are not the jerk. I think its “Normal” to buy a non-refundable ticket, and expect it to be non-refundable. I think its abnormal to buy non-refundable, and think you can get a refund regardless of the circumstance. Yes, its worth asking if a unique situation rises, but don’t get your hopes up either. It is non-refundable.

      I feel for them because of their cancer, but not because they didn’t get a refund. My Uncle had non-terminal cancer and died a few years alter. His wife later got diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 3 months to live. She is still alive 2 years later. Its been hard for the whole family. I hope the OP gets through her treatments with minimal suffering and goes on to live a long life.

    4. Interestingly, I just heard from US Airways. They’re very unhappy with this story. I can’t go into details — the email was “confidential” and I do respect that.

      As I mentioned in the story, the airline is well within its rights to deny a refund. But I don’t buy the slippery-slope argument. US Airways is in the business of transporting people, and things sometimes happen to people. We let the airline off the hook when there’s a delay for reasons beyond its control. It’s not unreasonable to ask it to give us the same consideration.

      1. @elliottc:disqus Hmmm… The airline not happy about a story where you made them look bad, before you gave the a chance to do anything, for fulfilling the terms of the agreement they made with the OP. I would never realize why 🙂

        I disagree with your letting airlines off the hook. I can remember stories you’ve done where people wanted compensation for a flight being late and them missing a major event.

        Ultimately who would be the judge of what is serious enough? Cancer? What about skin cancer? Heart attack? Broken limb? Serious illness that require hospitalization? All of these are serious traumatic events in that person’s life. All of which they would argue fall under your sometimes things happen argument. None of these were planned. Most of these are covered by a good travel insurance policy.

        I guess we agree to disagree on this one 🙂

        1. I’m so glad you replied. One of the airline’s points (again, without giving away the actual content of the email) is that the commenters were piling on with the negative remarks. I assured them that there was a debate, and that some commenters actually saw things US Airways’ way. Your answer is a good example of that.

          1. Always there to help a consumer advocate out… Especially when it means disagreeing with you… You think maybe US Air will hook me up with an upgrade? Of course that would mean I’d have to fly them first….

            Edit: … Not to mention the upgrade guilt 🙂

          2. So the airline just expects everyone to respond with positive, light-hearted responses? And it hurts their feelings when we don’t?

            That takes a lot of nerve to contact you like that, complain about your readers calling them on the carpet for their bad behavior and then STILL do nothing to help out the OP? How old are these people? 12? 13?

          3. Christopher, all airlines observe this very strictly. I cancelled 3 trips last year due to my wife’s terminal cancer, including a trip when she went into her final coma, and Delta did not refund ANY of the trips, regardless of the circumstances

          4. It seems to me that maybe the airline could meet them halfway on this. How? OK, so the ticket is non-refundable. But how about issuing a credit, but allowing the customer to transfer that credit to someone else if they can’t use it?

            Maybe a parent would give the credit to one of their children for a trip home, or even donate the airline credit to charity and get a tax deduction. I can think of a few right off the top of my head. Make-a-wish, or organizations which fly soldiers home on leave come to mind.

      2. It doesn’t do well for me to comment on US Air given my husband just spent 18 hours trying to get from Philly to Louisville on Sunday but, Chris, you are absolutely correct, you have nothing to stand on when the situation takes an unexpected turn. We got the call at 4:30 a.m. that the 10:00 a.m. flight was cancelled. Call to re-schedule an earlier flight, get to the airport at 6 a.m. Oops! Flight is full. Put you on the 2:30ish p.m. flight. Get a plane to the gate, everybody line-up to board. Oops! This plane is going to Pittsburgh – sorry. Put you on the 6:45 p.m. flight to Charlotte and then the 10:00 p.m. flight to SDF. Got to SDF finally at 11:45 p.m. Did US Airways offer a food coupon, maybe a drink coupon. Not a gosh darn thing. Sorry, it’s weather, you’re screwed, hope you can enjoy spending 18 hours in the airport while we keep telling you you’re going to fly shortly so you don’t try to make arrangements with another airline. I can assure you that’ll be the last time they get our business!

      3. Confidential? In what way?

        If there’s a unilateral notice that a message is considered “confidential” it would be unenforceable. If it was implied to be in confidence, then that would be a matter between you and the sender.

        Enforceable confidentiality would require that a non-disclosure agreement be signed in advance.

        1. Maybe, but they can also choose not to be very cooperative with him again in the future if he pisses them off, I would think.

      4. But if the airline cancels their flight for any reason whatsoever (even totally outside airline control), or delays the flight by a significant amount you are entitled to a full refund if you want it; they don’t get “off the hook” at all.

      5. “We let the airline off the hook when there’s a delay for reasons beyond its control.” no, you can almost always get a full refund when your flight doesn’t go.

        1. so why not have the same rules for the passenger . . . offer a full refund when you can’t go for “reasons beyond yourcontrol.”

      6. How can a company send a confidential email to a journalist before you agree to hold it in confidence? The contact after the first email should be confidential, after you agree to make it confidential, but the first email is simply a communication to a journalist. What m I missing?

        1. Semantically, you’re right. When speaking to a journalist, you can’t demand confidentiality after the fact; you should arrange for it beforehand. Realistically though, if Chris burns US Air this time, guess how much cooperation he gets from them next time. In this case, even if US Air didn’t ask for confidentiality first, I think Chris did the right thing.

    5. I’m glad you chose to be the “jerk” because i agree- non refundable means non refundable.

      I traveled with very non- terminal cancer (a part of the body where cancer is the most treatable). My doctor tried to convince me to cancel my trip saying “I’ll write you a letter and they’ll have to refund you!” she’s in her 60’s so maybe that would have been true 10-20 years ago. but i knew she was mistaken.

      1. The Colemans could have purchased their nonrefundable tickets plus travel insurance, right? If you develop an illness or other covered events listed in your policy that prevents you from completing the travel, you just file a claim with the travel insurance company and at least get some of your purchase price refunded.

        I really feel sorry for them, I’m sure they probably need the money for living expenses now that Mrs. Coleman has such a serious illness. You would think the company would just refund it; but in the meantime I buy travel insurance or else gamble on unforeseen circumstances.

    6. WT…….Yes someone getting something unexpected happen they should be able to cancel their flight and get a full refund if they have documented evidence of this. The airlines can opt to cancel a flight for any reason—effing up your travel plans….or they claim circumstances beyond their control…like weather even thought there is no weather issues.

    7. Re: When did non-refundable not mean non-refundable?
      The way I read it, if the OP’s wife had TERMINAL cancer then the refundable ticket would have been refundable.
      So Yes, there are times!

      1. I have no doubt that the doctor’s letter didn’t get written in a way that would have helped the OP. I have had nonterminal clients get a refund.

  8. An additional follow up:
    I do love how we all have assumed that this was some really ugly form of cancer but I just reread the article and there’s nothing in it about the type or the treatment. For all we know, it could be a small skin cancer that is removed during a very minor procedure and monitored from then on. That would completely fit with his doctor’s statement and the airline’s reaction. My MIL’s oncologist would not have made a similar statement about any of her diagnosis that involved Chemo… Just too many variables.

    1. No, it clearly is NOT just “a small skin cancer that is removed during a very minor procedure.” The doctor said it would be “a long hard year.” That means the woman is going to be undergoing CANCER TREATMENT (either chemo or radiation or both).

      A refund would be the RIGHT thing for US Airways to do, whether it’s technically part of their policy or not, who cares?? The OP is asking for Chris to assist him and Chris SHOULD assist him. Chris is here to be a consumer advocate. And the OP is a consumer who needs some advocating. It would be the RIGHT thing for Chris to do – regardless of whether it’s an airline policy thing to do.

      1. Or… it could be a skin cancer spot that has to be monitored for a year and she needs to be monitored for it metastasizing during that year. If they make it through it, she home free.

        The fact is that we don’t know.

        1. Seriously? You are equating a “spot that needs to be monitored” with “a long hard year”?? If it were a “skin spot that might metastasize” (melanoma) they wouldn’t “monitor it for a year” – they’d treat it quickly. If it were a “spot to be monitored” (Squamous or Basal Cell), the OP could fly off to Fiji for a few months without a care in the world and come back for her 6-month check-up. Your points are invalid and unrelated to the OP’s situation.

          1. What John is saying, as I have also pointed out, we don’t know how serious the condition is. We have a statement the OP says the doctor told him. But we don’t have the actual statement. Is the OP perhaps exaggerating? Again, we don’t have the actual statement from the doctor to know.

          2. What on Earth is the difference? And who cares what the actual doctor’s statement says. The question here isn’t what USAirways specific policy says. It’s whether Chris should mediate.
            Do you seriously think the OP would say “My wife has cancer” as an excuse just to get a ticket refunded when there was really nothing wrong? OK, there are people in this world who do that sort of thing. But putting a statement like that out in the universe is a horrible thing to do if it’s not true. I am a big cynic but I find it extremely improbable that someone who would do that would then also take the time to ask Chris to intercede.

          3. You were the one bringing up the point about the severity: The doctor said it would be “a long hard year.” I was only pointing out that was a hearsay argument and we don’t know the actual facts.

          4. We NEVER know the actual facts in all of Chris’ posts because its people telling their side of the story. Why is this so different?

          5. The problem is when people base arguments on assumed facts. My original response was pointing that out to another response that was based on assumed fact.

          6. So Ed, your point is that people should post their actual medical reports on here so that you can assess whether Chris should mediate a simple request?
            This isn’t a court of law. Chris is a CONSUMER ADVOCATE…this isn’t a court of law.
            …And I did not “bring up” the severity. If you want to argue for the point of arguing, I won’t buy into it …but at least read all the comments and get your facts straight before doing a “she said” about me. Because “she didn’t”.

          7. I NEVER said they should post it on here or even implied such a ridiculous notion.

            And my comment was about your quote from the OP being taken as fact to dispute the other post about it not being serious.

          8. No, she was responding to somebody who questioned the severity. And every article on this site is hearsay.

          9. Kara, what the doctor wrote plays a huge part in how the carrier will deal with this type of situation.

          10. If the OP wanted to exaggerate, the easiest way to do that would be to downplay the positive prognosis. You actually believe the OP would include the “long and healthy life” line if they were trying to exaggerate the severity?

          11. Actually @KaraJones:disqus my MIL used to say the hardest year wasn’t the year of Chemo and radiation, it was the year afterwards waiting to see if it was truly gone or if it had metastasized.

            The fact is that we don’t know

          12. So….you just make MY point! Argument over. You’re now saying that she has not only one but probably TWO years of trouble ahead. Does this sound like someone trying to B.S. their way out of using a ticket???

          13. You are completely missing the point… You have no idea, and neither do I, on what her course of treatment is or is not. Cancer does not always mean chemo. Cancer does not always mean radiation. Cancer could mean a lumpectomy and monitoring for a year to see if it spread (which by the way was the course of treatment for one of my friends).

  9. Corporate Responsibility and Reputation.

    I really think it is time we (the public) put some pressure on Retirement and Equity Funds (that we might be invested in) to do the right thing.

    I went to Morningstar to see which of the funds own a substantial amount of USAirways shares.
    Fidelity Capital Appreciation 8,108,223 4.99
    Janus Contrarian D 5,261,675 3.24
    Fidelity Independence 3,350,000 2.06
    Vanguard Small Cap Index 2,610,866 1.61
    Fidelity Disciplined Equity 2,700,000 1.66
    Vanguard Small Cap Index Inv 2,625,337 1.62
    Legg Mason Cap Mgmt Oppor D 2,600,000 1.60
    DWS Core Equity S 1,676,700 1.03
    Vanguard Explorer Inv 1,975,655 1.22
    Eagle Small Cap Growth A 1,359,640 0.84
    Total: Top 10 funds 32,268,096 19.87

    It seems that the funds we are so used to dealing with for our 401K and IRAs own about 20% of USAir. Maybe they can persuade USAir to be a little bit more humane.

    1. I think that’s a really good idea. And I also agree with TonyA’s use of the word HUMANE. This is a case about being humane – not about following policy. And that’s why Chris should absolutely help here.

  10. Further evidence to support my claim that no one should fly US Air, ever. Ben and his wife deserve better treatment than this–maybe it’s not fleshed out in the fine print, but US Air could have a dash of human decency at times.

  11. I sometimes find consumer complaints against the airlines indulgent or naive. Not this one. The woman was undergoing chemotherapy. That, and not her prognosis, should be grounds enough for an exception to the nonrefundable status. Please mediate this!

  12. Everyone, including Elliot and the OP understands what non-refundable
    means. The issue here is whether US Airways should (not “must”) exercise
    its judgment (e.g. cancer versus broken bone) to make some sort of
    accommodation in this particular case. And requiring that the cancer be
    terrible is just plain sick. At the very least, US Airways should have
    agreed to extend the OP’s credit for a couple of years. It is simply
    the kind thing to do. The rules is the rules kind of world is surely a sad

  13. When an airline states the origin, the destination, the date of the flight, and the schedule, the passenger expects it to be true. Christopher says, “Passengers cut airlines some slack when they can’t operate a flight for reasons beyond their control.” That of course is patently false. Passengers want compensation for any sort of irregularity, and Christopher’s column’s are full of these.

    So when an airline states “nonrefundable” why does the passenger assume he or she has a valid exception to make it not true?

    You take a risk when you buy the cheapest fare. If you must change or cancel flights, you can hope to have an American Express Platinum Card (for which you pay handsomely) which will refund up to $200 in fees. That card also gets you into many airport lounges and has other benefits, but I digress only to show workarounds to the “fee for change” dilemma.

    (Another workaround is to check out the new American Airlines fare categories on line for direct booking. For around a 15% premium, sometimes more, you can get a no-change-fee ticket.)

    If you don’t want the risk, then pay more. Very simple. A serious illness is not a reason for a refund. Using the big “C” to get a refund doesn’t work for me when the doctor calls it non-terminal. Some can successfully argue a serious back disorder is more painful and debilitating than curable cancers. Other chronic illnesses can keep you at home for more than one year.

    Rather than devise a complicated matrix of illnesses for which a word does not mean what is says in a dictionary, let’s keep it simple stupid, (KISS). Nonrefundable means nonrefundable.

    1. Unless you fly Southwest, who treats their customers in a fair and reasonable manner.

      There should be some give and take. When there is a severe service ‘anomaly’ the airlines expect us to be patient and work with them. Can’t they show the same consideration when the shoe is on the other foot? If US Airways is going to treat their customers like crap when the customer has an unforeseen and severe problem, why are they surprised when the customers demand unreasonable compensation when there’s a flight delay or cancellation?

      Hey US Airways — try the Google motto. Don’t be evil. Or more accurately, stop being evil.

      1. “Unless you fly Southwest,…” The whole country will be upset if the other US based airlines start acting like Southwest. First, fares will go up. Southwest do not have the lowest fares on every flight. Why do you think that the fares for Southwest are NOT listed on any fare search engine site. On a trip to Dallas this month, the fare difference between Southwest and US Airways was over $ 200 per passenger. Over the holidays, the fare difference between Southwest and US Airways was over $ 250 per passenger.
        Second, all of these airlines will stop flying to places like Walla Walla, Regina, Victoria, etc. One of the reasons why Southwest is profitable is that they only fly profitable routes. Flying into ‘small’ airports requires smaller planes thus higher costs (i.e. more parts to carry; different techs; etc.).

        1. .Without knowing what the published fare in the market was at the time of your search, it is not necessarily correct that they had the higher fare. It most likely was that at the time of your search, what was available was higher.

          Southwest keeps tweaking their business model, so they are becoming closer to the major carriers than the other way around.

          1. For over ten years, I have compared fares between America WestUS Airways and Southwest due to clients and/or employers requesting these comparisons. The fares from America WestUS Airways were the same or lower than Southwest.

          2. Unless you are looking at something like this in your comparison, you aren’t comparing fares, as comparing what is available at the time of your search. This for travel from PHX to LAX and you can see that WN(Southwest) has the same fare as all the other carriers for their lowest fare: Then the next fare up, you find the same fare for the carriers. Looking at the fare basis, which this is, is the only true judge of fares, then comes availablity, which you probably only have access to. You have made these statements in the past and unless you have access to what I show below, you aren’t really getting the full picture.

            1 GA00ERD1 G X 131.00 AA —- -/1 -/ –
            2A KA00A0NA K X 131.00 DL R09AU -/1 -/ –
            3 TXA0NL2 T X 131.00 US —- -/1 -/ –
            4 TXA0NL2 T X 131.00 US —- -/1 -/ –
            5A TXA0SL2Y T X 131.00 US R09AU -/1 -/ –
            6 MLA0PNRO M X 131.00 WN R06MR -/‡ -/ –
            7 OLN0PNR O X 131.00 WN R06MR -/‡ -/ –
            8 WA0KN W X 146.00 UA —- -/1 -/ –
            9 OLA0PNRO O X 146.00 WN R06MR -/‡ -/ –
            10 RLN0PNR R X 146.00 WN R06MR -/‡ -/ –
            11 VA00ERD1 V X 153.00 AA —- -/1 -/ -‡

          3. You are correct…I will claim that there are two types of fares…published fares (as you listed above) and fares that are available at the time of purchase. I am not a travel agent so I don’t have access to all of the published fares. To be fair, published fares can be meaningless…an airline doesn’t have the lowest fare class for every seat in economy…typical, they will limit the number of tickets for their lowest fare classes. If the fare for class T (11th Tier Economy ticket) on United for a flight was $ 100 but all of the seats at this fare was sold out, it doesn’t mean anything to me. It is like the car dealer that advertise that they have the lowest prices…they have a car model at $ 20,000 (in AZ, a car dealer needs to list the number of cars at this price in their advertisement) but their next price level for the same car model is $ 25,000…the car dealer can claim to have the lowest prices but if the model doesn’t have the options that you or only have one car on the lot…it is meaningless. What matter to me is the lowest fare that is available to purchase when I need to purchase a ticket. When I travel for business, I don’t have the luxury to pick the days to travel when the fares are the lowest.
            I booked our airline tickets for the Thanksgiving holiday two months before we traveled. I went to US Airways and Southwest websites to check the fares. The reason why I went to the Southwest website is that my brother think that Southwest has the lowest fares and I enjoy saying “US Airways because their fare was $ 200 cheaper per person than Southwest” when my brother asked me over Thanksgiving dinner what airline did we fly.”

          4. Comparing fares to availabliity is like comparing apples to oranges. You have posted many times here saying that WN doesn”t have the lowest fare, but what you really mean is that the lowest fare on WN is sold out for the date you wish to travel. Two different things. WN has done a remarkable job in marketing themselves and they are the first many people look to for a ticket. So of course their lowest fares sell out quickly but if they fly in a large market, like LAX or OAK, you can often find other carriers still have the lower fare available…which is what you found for your Thanksgiving booking.
            By giving out bogus information, you aren’t helping anyone.

        2. Think about this for a moment: haven’t passengers bitched for years about the lack of any slightly more expensive option to get the flexibility of being able to change tickets without losing everything? This option is exactly what Southwest offers, and which legacy airlines claim is impossible. Yet WN makes a ton of money offering this option, which is why the resentful legacy carriers make it a point to lock it out of their fare search engines and interline agreements.

          1. The reasons why Southwest makes a ton of money are 1) they fly only the profitable routes (i.e. high volume); 2) they have one piece of equipment (737) since they don’t fly international or into small airports (i.e. 747, CR7, Dash200, etc.). They have done an outstanding in marketing themselves as the ‘low fare carrier’ similiar to Wal-Mart (i.e. ‘always the lowest price’) where the public believes that they have the lowest fares. In reality, they don’t have the lowest fares for every route just like Wal-Mart doesn’t have the lowest price on every item.
            Orbitz is owned by a group of legacy airlines but the last time that I checked the airfare search engines such as Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire, CheapOair, etc. are NOT owned by the legacy airlines. The reason why the fares of Southwest are not listed in airfare search engines is that they don’t want the public to know that they don’t have the lowest fares. For over ten years, I have compared fares between Southwest and America WestUS Airways and the fares from America WestUS Airways were the same to $ 300 cheaper than Southwest.

            A passenger can now able to purchase fares that include change-fee waivers at American Airlines…it is something like $ 18 extra. It is my guess that it won’t be too long before the other legacy airlines will be offering this option.

    2. ” Passengers want compensation for any sort of irregularity”

      you got that right!!! just this week i had a 55 year old woman demand compensation when she showed up to my gate at 3:22pm for her 3:10pm flight and it was gone. and i mean DEMAND.

  14. Rules exist to be bent. It’s a serious illness, and not as if she’s staying home so she doesn’t miss a bridge game. Chemotherapy is awful, and you certainly wouldn’t want to travel when you’re going through treatments. Strict policies are in place to prevent people taking advantage, but in this case, it’s not acceptable to ‘stick it’ to someone who has an excuse worthy of consideration.

    1. I love that first line. Things go so much better when places take that attitude that rules are a general starting point that are fungible when required. But so many places act as if their arbitrary corporate policies were carried down from the mount, so they’d be struck down if they even considered making an exception.

      1. Ever since I first heard this, I have always believed that “the rule book is for the blind obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men and women”. I always tried to follow that and get my employees to follow that when I was still working.

  15. If they are able to resell the tickets, they should refund minus actual administrative costs. If not, they should not. This would be fair and reasonable, hence very unlikely.

  16. Non refundable tickets should be able to be turned into a credit in the event of an illness. they should just spell out the rules in advance and stop making people guess. I hope his wife recovers fully.

  17. My cousin has been cancer free for a few years, but still has to get her doctor’s permission to fly. US Airways could gain some “customer service respect” here; I say help the Colemans. It’s a worthy request, not like some people who just have a sense of entitlement and want the rules to be for everyone else but them.

  18. You can always count on US Airways to be cold-hearted. Yes, the tickets are nonrefundable, but at least they could extend the validity dates of the remaining funds, waive the change fees, something. It’s called being caring and human in the face of unexpected adversity.

  19. Non-refundable is non-refundable. You have cancellation insurance for available to you for a reason. The client paid a cheaper non-refundable rate. The airline owes him nothing. I am very sorry for his wife’s diagnosis but happy the outlook is good.

  20. When I purchased nonrefundable tickets on USAir for a recent flight to DC, I had the option to pay $15 to ensure a full refund should I have to cancel for any reason. Since my trip was a few months out, and my daughter’s schedule is subject to change, I thought $15 was a small price to pay for a little extra piece of mindl.

    1. Are you sure you could have cancelled for any reason? Those policies usually contain a lot of “gotchas” in the fine print.

  21. I wonder if a HIPAA violation could be brought up. They demanded her medical records from her doctor only to turn down the claim. Seems like they have her private records and she has nothing for it.

    1. There is no HIPAA violation here. If the person wants to claim an exception for medical reasons, the airline is within its rights to require proof. Doesn’t matter if the request was approved or denied.

    2. No medical records are required. Doctors write these letters all the time, but it is very imporstant on how these are written.

  22. Where do you draw the line? I wouldn’t expect an airline to waive a fee if I were, say, violently ill with stomach flu that made it impossible for me to fly. Terminal cancer is worse than stomach flu, but chemo for non-terminal cancer seems comparable. I don’t mean to diminish this customer’s condition; I’m sure she is dealing with pain, discomfort. practical obstacles, and fear. But that’s precisely what trip insurance is for.

    If I were the customer I would certainly ask for a refund, and if Chris asked they would probably relent as a PR move. I also think most airline policies for cancellations, changes, and transfers are counterproductive. But I don’t think US Air is being particularly unreasonable in this case.

    1. “I wouldn’t expect an airline to waive a fee if I were, say, violently ill with stomach flu that made it impossible for me to fly. ”

      Which is exactly why so many people in this situation fly anyway, even though it means infecting the rest of the flight.

  23. I just re-read to see if I missed the part where the wife was told NOT to fly. Couldn’t find it. Sorry to sound harsh but I agree with others that this is a pandora’s box, offering a refund (only a non-refundable ticket no less) would create a situation wehre people would be asdking for refunds for every condition & the airlines just wouldn’t be able to stay in business. (I do not work for an airline BTW).

    1. This has been brought up by many of us in the travel business and with airline employees. When you get lied to enough times, you change your business practices as the airline’s have done in the 30 years I have sold their tickets. Look at Southwest. They have adjusted their very reasaonable policies because people take advantage of them.

      1. Exactly. I remember in the late 80’s, when the airlines went to nonrefundable, non-changeable, except if the passenger brought a note from a doctor, then they could change. We got all sorts of notes handed to us, including dentists, chiropractors and my favorite one, a doctor of theology! People took advantage of the airlines. And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it was in response to the airlines being unreasonable however that is little more than a rationalization for equally bad behavior. My grandmother taught us all that two wrongs don’t make a right.

  24. I’ve told this story a few times here.

    In 2009, my mother was diagnosed with “beyond stages” metastatic colon cancer. At the time, we were given a diagnosis of “21-67 days to live” if the chemo didn’t work (it worked for a while – we had her for 13 months). So while no one had actually said “terminal”, she was in very bad shape and wouldn’t be traveling again any time soon.

    A week or so before, my parents had bought two sets of airline tickets (not sure if they were refundable or not): one set on UA about 9 weeks out to my brother in CT, and one set on NWA about 6 weeks out to visit us in the greater Minneapolis area. My Dad had been flying on UA almost exclusively for years; he only had a few flights on NWA, as he had finally figured out they had the best prices and flight selection into MSP.

    He first called UA and wanted to cancel the tickets. They gave him a song and dance about cancellation wouldn’t result in a refund, but he could have a credit for tickets to use in the same year. He pointed out there was no way they were going to be able to use the tickets in the same year, and my mother, possibly not at all. They stonewalled. He decided to call back later and hope for a more sympathetic agent.

    He then called NWA, and explained the situation, expecting to get the whole song and dance about no refunds, especially since he had no real loyalty to them. To his surprise, the agent on the phone said “Of course we’ll cancel the seats and refund – I’m even going to waive the fees. That’s a popular flight, it’s not like your seats won’t fill up by the end of the week.” She even went further and gave my father her Name and Agent # so I could ask for her and she would help me get flight arrangements that weren’t going to cost an arm and a leg. We are convinced to this day that she must have been a cancer survivor or a family member of a cancer patient to have helped us so quickly and compassionately. (I ended up driving, so didn’t call the very nice agent – I always felt like I should have, just to thank her.) I also think it had something to do with the fact the DL-NWA merger was going on as well 😉

    He called UA back, told them what NWA did and shamed them into the refund and cancellation.

    There are rules and non-refundable tickets, and then there’s just compassion and logic. As long as there is documentation from your doctor’s office – and my Mom’s case manager/nurse practitioner said to send people to her for verification of the diagnosis if anyone needed it for anything – I think airlines need to lighten the hell up. It’s not like they probably couldn’t re-sell that seat to someone else.

  25. In March 2011 I was diagnosed with stage 2+ colon cancer. After surgery, I started chemo in June (the day before my son’s high school graduation). We chose my chemo start date so we could take a long-planned cruise. It was a very hard year, but I was able to travel. I wish Ben and his wife the best in their upcoming journey. What helped me was to continue living my life as normally as possible and that included taking the cruise.

  26. I don’t have a problem with non-refundable per se. I have a problem with the airline taking MY property and reselling it. If I cancel a non-refundable ticket the airline should NOT make my seat available unless they are willing to compensate me when/if that seat is sold.

    1. When you buy a ticket, you are paying for a service. You don’t own a seat on the plane. The whole reason the discounted tickets are discounted, is because the airline can re-sell them if you cancel.

  27. While I can very much agree that non-refundable means non-refundable, I can’t help but feel this particular OP needs the benevolence of the airline.

    Though the prognosis is good for his wife, cancer can be very unpredictable and can turn on a dime. I hope, fervently, for this man’s wife that all goes well and as expected.

    This being said, US Airways needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing here, which, IMHO, is to give him a full refund, to include not charging them a change fee. Cancer is a financially debilitating illness, what with co-pays, all the doctor’s visits precipitated by driving all over hell’s half acre, special diets, etc. The OP and his wife will need every penny they can get their hands on.

    If US Airways is unhappy with how they’re public image is being tarnished in this posting, how about not blaming the posters here who aren’t afraid to say the emperor has no clothes and look, hard, at themselves and how they’re handling this.

    If the people from US Airways were regular visitors of this site, they’d know this is a group of people who offer no quarter, nor do they expect it. (I tried to remember one of Christopher Elliott’s favorite phrases and can’t remember beyond, “No favors…”) To see the poll so overwhelmingly in favor of the OP, to see so many comments favoring the OP, US Airways needs to just give it up and do the right thing.

    1. Although you would think the airlines would want to be decent and do the right thing, it’s surprising how hard that is to achieve. My wife had to cancel a trip on British Airways because of a health emergency and they were reluctant to refund anything at all, despite the policy on their website that says they won’t transport you if you are not medically fit to fly. Even with a doctor’s note, they tried to fight doing anything. At one point, they told me that they would refund taxes but not fees. They eventually gave us a partial refund, but we are now sitting on aloud six hundred bucks in flight credit that a will not be able to use.

      The airline should refund the full fate in a case like the one described here. If they won’t do so, they should not expect people to say kind things.

        1. It was an international fare. The fare rule said non-refundable but their website had a published policy that says says you have to be medically fit or they won’t carry you.

  28. Both sides can make a compromise. I believe getting a credit for 2 years instead of 1 is something good to push for, and something both sides should be happy to agree on.

  29. Stupid (possibly relevant) question: How fully refundable is a fully refundable ticket on US Airways? And where is this documented on

    There is no initial search option for “refundable” (or non-refundable) airfares. There are “Flexible” fares, with this mouseover description:

    Cancellations and changes are allowed although fees may apply depending on fare rules

    How does one view those fare rules? Other airline websites generally let you do this (clarity/readability of the rules is another matter), but I don’t even see an option for that on

    The CoC isn’t much help:

    When a customer requests that a “refundable” ticket (including electronic tickets) issued by US Airways or a ticket indicating US Airways in the itinerary be refunded, such refund will be made to the customer or to the purchaser, if such purchaser is identified on the ticket, as indicated below:

    If no portion of the ticket has been used, the refund will be the amount equal to that paid minus any associated ticketing fees (for example, change fees or cancellation penalties).

    Where could one verify which cancellation penalties apply (or not) to their “Flexible”/”refundable” ticket?

      1. Do you mind sharing a URL or a screenshot where you found this clearly documented on the carrier’s website? Without any disclaimers referencing additional fees that may still get applied?

        1. When you click on coach/economy fares, you also get a chance to see higher coach fares. Book those and then you see the word REFUNDABLE.

          1. I see. So we can just ignore the disclaimer on the home page and the plain language in the contract which states that cancellation (and other) fees may still apply even for “REFUNDABLE” tickets.

            I’ll keep that in mind the next time someone who comes to Chris for help gets blasted for missing a detail like that.

          2. The fare on the carrier’s website dictates the rule. Discounted Economy fares are nonrefundable. Full Economy fares usually are refundable. You have to read the rules and then print them out if you are going to purchase a ticket using those rules. It isn’t rocket science!

          3. It isn’t supposed to be rocket science, and it generally isn’t with most carriers. But you can’t read and print rules you can’t find.

            Which is why I’m asking for a citation. Why won’t you cite the relevant fare rule from

          4. No, you didn’t. A price and the word “refundable” doesn’t tell us what refundable ticket cancellation penalty applies.

          5. There aren’t any so there is nothing available to post other than REFUNDABLE. I sell tickets Michael, I know the rules. Geez.

          6. Nice to know that you “know” the rules and can assure us that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the language of the contract.

            Is it unreasonable to expect the rules you “know” to be clearly documented on the carrier’s own website for the benefit of the rest of us who aren’t as brilliant as you?

            “REFUNDABLE” tickets on US Airways can have “CANCELLATION PENALTIES” — says so in their own CoC.

            If you want to tell us that you’ve never heard of such cancellation penalties in practice, that’s a contribution to the discussion that might be of value to some readers.

            I don’t see how your spending so many replies misdirecting and ducking my simple request for the carrier’s documentation is of any value to anyone.

          7. Bodega has access to a GDS which also has access to all carriers rules.
            You a customer don’t. Therefore you have the right to go to the airline offices and ask for it. I do not think the current rules says it need to be posted for you online.

          8. Yes, however, bodega prefers to grandstand than to just come out and admit that.

            If US Airways’ stance is “they should have bought a refundable ticket” then I think it’s fair to point out that US Airways for some reason doesn’t give their customers the means and information to conveniently do so without taking blind leaps of faith.

          9. I give up. You win. You know all about ticketing and fares and rules. Go open a travel agency and make millions.

          10. Please do not respond to my comments anymore.

            I posed a question for the group. You ignored every single invitation to use your expertise to answer it and chose to offer exclusively sarcasm and misdirection instead.

          11. I respond where and when I want. I answered your question but you refuse to take a simple answer and want to nitpick. Refundable means what it says when a fare is stated as such. End of story.

          12. TonyA addressed the question. No thanks to you for wasting everyone’s time with your tiring act.

          13. Glad he got through to you. Sometimes people need to take something easy and make it difficult as you did.

          14. The issue is that people mostly buy the lowest fare without really thinking about the possibility of getting sick and needing to refund. Who would ever think they will get cancer before they take a trip to Oakland? Most people will probably worry about getting mugged in Oakland, not Cancer.
            The refundable / non-refundable (endorsements) labels are really the quickest way to tell whether a ticket can be cancelled and still get most or part of your money back.

            But if you really want to know how to PROFESSIONALLY do it, then here is ONE way.
            1) Look for a NORMAL FARE. The fare type code typically is Economy Unresticted including second and third levels. The fare type codes are EU, ES AND ET, respectively. Also, a lot of Economy Restricted fare types may also allow for refunds with a fee. But as you move on to the types Excursion, Advance Purchase, Instant Purchase and Special (non normal) fares, tickets tend to be non-refundable.
            2) Then look at the Category 16 Penalties to confirm that the fare allows for cancellation and refund and what the admin charges will be if any.
            3) If you are thinking of changing your dates instead, you must also read Category 31 Voluntary Changes (or rerouting).
            All the above are part of the automated fare rules carriers upload to ATPCO and which GDS has access to.
            Some online vending sites provide a link that allows you read the fare rules. Some do not. If they do not, you must call the carrier or the agent and ask for a copy.
            If you do not have a GDS, you can use Rick Seaney’s site Fare Compare to research most of the fare rules. The old travelocity site also is another possibility.

            Here is one thing you all should understand – Airline systems existed before the internet and Al Gore becoming Veep. The internet simply allowed DIY distribution on top of the current, antiquated, system that still works IF YOU HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE TO USE IT.

          15. That makes sense.

            The problem with calling the carrier is illustrated here:

            The problem with relying on a source other than the carrier for a DIY purchase is that the carrier could always say the information is wrong or out of date.

            The carriers actions had a lot to do with the vast increase in DIY distribution (e.g. cutting commissions, creating incentives for booking on the carrier’s site). So I just think it’s fair to highlight that they actively sought to create this situation, and yet (at least in the case of US Airways) they don’t provide DIYers with the tools and documentation to understand what they are buying.

          16. I think I have to repeat my original post. USAir’s fare rules and COCs are missing flexibility, IMO. No tools will help you with this carrier. You need to ge lucky and talk to a person who has the authority and heart to be kind to you. That said they have been quite nice to my family members here in HPN Westchester NY. But, I do not fly them.
            I am a regular reader of Yves Smith’s site. Although I like her work on econ policy, I would not necessarily agree with her on airline policy.

          17. To be clear, I didn’t link to Yves Smith for her opinions on airline policy.

            I linked to show her first-hand experience — which illustrates what can happen if you think common sense applies and you even call the carrier to double check the fare rules. Even if you are “lucky and talk to a person who has the authority and heart to be kind to you”… that didn’t do her any good.

          18. Yes, there are times you just wanna cry. I have been there EVEN IF I DID ALL MY HOMEWORK.

            Back to Yves’ issue. I need to explain her problem.

            IMO, she made a mistake.
            She COMBINED a non-refundable fare and a refundable fare in the first class cabin to make a roundtrip ticket. When you do this, the most restrictive rule kicks in. The whole ticket becomes non-refundable.

            She would be better off buying SEPARATE ONEWAY tickets on first class. The return ticket would still be completely refundable in her case).

            I think people get confused with the meaning of FLEX fares.
            It actually does not mean “anything”. You still need to read the fare rules. Essentially a FLEX fare is a NORMAL fare (that are refundable and changeable without a penalty fee BUT you have to pay the fare differential if the current fare is higher).

            Since tickets need to be REISSUED, it must be repriced.
            You just do not take the next flight without a reprice!

            When you change your return flight for a NORMAL FARE, here are the USAir rules:

            NOTE –


            So failure to understand the rules of USAir can be hazardous to your sanity. 🙂 When you discuss (or argue) with USAir, you are better off if you can quote the fare rules to them. So go get the rules, read them, and then argue.

          19. You still need to read the fare rules

            That’s the Kafka-esque dilemma. Like you said and showed, you can pull it up in your GDS. All Yves can practically do is call US Airways and speak to agents and supervisors who don’t understand the rules either.

          20. ” You still need to read the fare rules”

            That’s the Kafka-esque dilemma. Like you said and showed, you can pull it up in your GDS. All Yves can practically do is call US Airways and speak to agents and supervisors who don’t understand the rules either.

          21. Michael,
            For some reason, your comments are being re-posted a couple of minutes later by “Guest” at the same IP address as yours. The same thing happened yesterday. Is this something you can disable at your end?

          22. Mistake on my end, sorry. I tried to go back and select “Delete” and the comment temporarily disappears locally, but then it comes back when I reload the page.

          23. Thanks, Michael. It looks as if whatever you did worked. With your permission, if it happens again, we’ll just delete the duplicate posts on our end.

          24. Yes, Refundability does not mean you will not have to pay an admin fee.
            It only means you can cancel and get a refund. You must still find out how much you need to pay for an admin fee, if any, to get your money back. Note I said money, not certificates.

          25. Nice to know that you “know” the rules and can assure us that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the language of the contract.

            Is it unreasonable to expect the rules you “know” to be clearly documented on the carrier’s own website for the benefit of the rest of us who aren’t as brilliant as you?

            “REFUNDABLE” tickets on US Airways can have “CANCELLATION PENALTIES” — says so in their own CoC.

            If you want to tell us that you’ve never heard of such cancellation penalties in practice, that’s a contribution to the discussion that might be of value to some readers.

            I don’t see how your spending so many replies misdirecting and ducking my simple request for the carrier’s documentation is of any value to anyone.

          26. Go by the rules of the fare Michael. A refundable ticket is refundable but if you use a nonrefundable ticket to help purchase the refundable ticket, then the nonrefundable portion remains nonrefundable. Whatever you are reading, as I don’t see it, is giving you the most restrictive considerations as they can’t print every possible scenario. If you need assistance, call a good ticketing TA. They have all the information at their fingertips and can help you with any scenario you might come up with. No online reservation site, including the airline’s, will give you everything you need to know.

          27. If you still can’t even be bothered to read the contract of carriage citation I posted in my very first comment above, then please don’t bother responding with idle speculation.

            It will take you 2 seconds to find it (search for “cancellation penalty”). And those are referenced exclusively with respect to refundable tickets.

          28. If you still can’t even be bothered to read the contract of carriage citation I posted in my very first comment above, then please don’t bother responding with idle speculation.

            It will take you 2 seconds to find it (search for “cancellation penalty”). And those are referenced exclusively with respect to refundable tickets.

          29. I read it. If you have the carrier issue the ticket, isn’t there a ticketing fee? That isn’t refundable, but the ticket cost is. A refundable ticket is just that, REFUNDABLE.

          30. Follow your own advice. And if you don’t want to talk about cancellation penalties, don’t respond to my questions about cancellation penalties in the first place

          31. Maybe people will learn that DIYing means they need to find the correct info by themselves. It can be found if they know how.

          32. You need to ask the carrier and not bodega. Here’s what the DOT says.

            9. CONTRACT TERMS

            Throughout this booklet, we have tried to provide you general information about airline travel. It is important to realize, however, that each airline has specific rules that make up your contract of carriage. These rules may differ among carriers. They include provisions such as check-in deadlines, refund procedures, responsibility for delayed flights, and many other things.Domestic TravelFor domestic travel, an airline may provide all of its contract terms on or with your ticket at the time you buy it. Some small “commuter” carriers use this system. Other airlines may elect to “incorporate terms by reference.” This means that you are not given all the airline’s rules with your ticket [The proof has a weird symbol here; it should be a dash] most of them are contained in a separate document which you can inspect on request or on the airline’s web site. If an airline elects to “incorporate by reference” it must provide conspicuous written notice with each ticket that: 1) it incorporates terms by reference, and 2) these terms may include liability limitations, claim-filing deadlines, check-in deadlines, and certain other key terms. The airline must also:* Ensure that passengers can receive an explanation of key terms identified on the ticket from any location where the carrier’s tickets are sold, including travel agencies;* Make available for inspection the full text of its contract of carriage at each of its own airport and city ticket offices;* Mail a free copy of the full text of its contract of carriage upon request.DOT also requires most U.S.airlines to post their contracts of carriage on their web site, if they have one.There are additional notice requirements for contract terms that affect your air fare. Airlines must provide a conspicuous written notice on or with the ticket concerning any “incorporated” contract terms that restrict refunds, impose monetary penalties, or permit the airline to raise the price after you’ve bought the ticket.If an airline incorporates contract terms by reference and fails to provide you the required notice about a particular rule, you will not be bound by that rule. In addition, a DOT rule prohibits airlines from changing a term in your contract after you buy your ticket if the change will have a significant negative effect on you.

          33. Thanks.

            I suppose the absence of cancellation penalty details, plus the “fees may apply depending on fare rules” mouseover message for Flexible fares might each qualify as a “contract term by reference” that does not include “the required notice about a particular rule.”

            But I would hate to depend on that interpretation (and it could be impossible to prove the missing notice many months later if it came to that.)

          34. I just went to USAIR’s website and no where on the home page do I see what you say you saw. As for fares, I booked roundtrip coach/flexible and this is what came up:




            When I booked roundtrip coach/economy, this is what came up:



            Not sure what isn’t clear on this for you?

          35. What part of the CoC passage I already quoted — which states that cancellation penalties may apply to “refundable” tickets — do you not understand?

            BTW, on the home page, hover on the “?” next to “Fare options” and you’ll see this:

            Flexible – Fares are fully refundable and may be changed at any time (fees may apply).

          36. You are confusing cancel with a change fee. You can cancel for no fee. If you change your flexible fare a fee MAY apply but it also MAY NOT apply.

          37. You can cancel for no fee.

            How generous of you to tell me so. Once again, why won’t you quote where tells us so?

          38. You can cancel for no fee.

            How generous of you to tell me so. Once again, why won’t you quote where tells us so?

  30. How is Mrs Coleman’s cancer the fault of the airline? Anyone who votes yes, is doing so purely on an emotional argument. You expect the airline to uphold their end of their contract of carriage, why wouldn’t you hold up the Colemans to the same standard?
    The Colemans bought an airline ticket knowing it was non-refundable. Of course they had no way of knowing that they were going to get sick but that’s what travel insurance is for… unforeseen circumstances.

  31. What did the doctor’s note say? I have never had a client’s medical cancellation refund request be denied so how the letter from the doctor is worded is very important.

    1. I used to chair an appeals committee for tuition at a university. Our medical refund policy was very clear. To get a refund, your medical condition must be such that your doctor recommends you no longer attend classes and you will be eligible for a 100% refund. We had a few examples, such as the Doctor recommends that you drop from full time to part time. Doctor recommends you drop all classes, etc. If you have a Doctors note that states the Doctor recommends you not take a class, you get a 100% refund, even if the class is almost over.

      We had a lot of appeals, and a lot of Doctors notes. The notes usually said something like, “I am treating Sally Student and recommend that she stop attending the university this semester.” We got several a week from the students them selves, their parents, their spouses, etc. They always got a 100% refund.

      Every once is a while we got one that said that they are treating such and such student, and their medical condition should not affect their class work and they recommend they continue to attend classes. In those cases, the appeal was always denied.

      I reviewed1,000s of these appeals and the Doctor was always very clear. They should… or they Should not… It was always black and white. I would suspect in the OPs case, they were still able to fly, otherwise they would be getting a refund.

  32. Sorry, this is what travel insurance is for. If you decide not to buy the insurance, don’t expect a refund when you get too sick to travel. I generally don’t buy travel insurance (I have extended medical to cover issues when traveling) because the cost over many flights would exceed the cost of the odd ticket lost to medical issues. But I won’t cry if the airline won’t give me my money back if I’m too sick to travel.

  33. As previously reported, I had to cancel 2 tix on Virgin Atlantic several years ago due to a serious back issue; I would not have been able to fly for 10 hours. The agent told me that they couldn’t waive the penalties and fees unless I was dead. I actually appreciated their candor! We are again discussing the meaning of “non-refundable” aren’t we?

    1. What did the rule of the fare state regarding medical cancellations? Usually on international tickets, there is a medical rule. However, without a doctor’s note, you aren’t going to get a waiver.

  34. I’m really torn on this one as there can be a black and white side of this argument and a gray side. If it is looked at as black and white, you buy a non-refundable ticket, the expectation is that you use it or lose it, or in this case pay the change fee up to a year. On the other hand, the part of me that lives in gray would like to hope that if in the same situation that someone would show some compassion and work with my situation, especially if the airline was notified within a reasonable amount of time so they could resell the seats.

  35. “a US Airways representative actually told Coleman that his wife’s cancer
    needed to be “terminal” in order for her to get a refund.”

    so he claims.
    nonrefundable means exactly that. it would be nice if USAir refunded them, or waived the change/penalty fees, or extended their worth. but they aren’t required to nor should be shamed/coerced into doing so.

  36. I voted yes because there is some middle ground for both parties. I get the non-refundable but what in concept would allowing for credit on another flight hurt? Especially if the original seat were resold.

    1. Do travel insurance policies cover cancellations of non-refundable tickets for cancer-related reasons? A lot of times travel insurance is just as unhelpful as the airlines themselves-for the same reason. Any time a customer needs a reimbursement, it means less money in their pockets.

      1. With many of the travel insurance policies, if you take out coverage within a certain time period, usually within 14-21 days, preexisitng conditions are covered for not only the passenger, but a spouse, and some family members. Documentation is required for canceling and it takes several weeks for the refund.

  37. Not to be hard nosed but stories like these come up from time to time about varuious carriers. Airlines did once accept medical excuses, but with teh advent of home laser printers, officilal looking “doctor’s notes” on letterhead became dime a dozen, so the carriers ended the practice because (as is often teh case, soem people abused the system and ruuined it for everyone. I have no doubt that this specific case is authentic, but the carriers to do not have time or resources to seperate ther wheat from the chaff. This is why there is tarvel insuarnce.

  38. Not to be hard nosed but stories like these come up from time to time about varuious carriers. Airlines did once accept medical excuses, but with the advent of home laser printers, officilal looking “doctor’s notes” on letterhead became dime a dozen, so the carriers ended the practice because (as is often the case, soem people abused the system and ruined it for everyone. I have no doubt that this specific case is authentic, but the carriers do not have time or resources to seperate the wheat from the chaff. This is why there is travel insuarnce.

  39. My issue is the airline will resell the seat and suffer no loss. With a hotel, they have to leave the room empty and will not be able to sell it. My point is if the airline is able to resell the seat they should be required to refund the ticket.

  40. Or the only way it is “fair” have the same rules if an airline has a schedule change and cancels your flight. The way it is now is only the passenger has the risk . .that is unfair.

    1. Yeah. I have pointed this out in the past but people like to come back with the, “well the airline has to refund your money.” While that is true, the airline is still free to then resell the seat and make the money back. If you have to cancel, you don’t get the option to resell the set. So, as you point out, it is only the passenger that is taking the risks from what I can see.

  41. policies are put in place to dumb down the rep’s job; he/she doesn’t have to make a thoughtful, educated decision. also, policies add to the bottom line & fairly do protect the merchant from would-be scammers (which is not the case here). those other fees are frivolous trimmings, too. i, as a consumer, would write to the ceo. it used to be john pope; i don’t know who it is now, but that’s easy enough to find — i’m pretty inappropriate, so i would write to his home. if united is making medical decisions re. mrs. coleman, mr. coleman NEEDS to go beyond their so-called “medical” committee. i mean no disrespect to mrs. coleman, but chemo can cause vomiting, fainting, even heart attacks. is united willing/able to deal w/ this? how about an unplanned landing b/c of mrs. coleman’s illness? talk about refunds for unhappy customers. i think the customer service would rather help the colemans rather than deal with an entire flight of customers.
    united used to be an a-one quality airline but has fallen considerably; this is a prime example. i’ve dealt w/ southwest’s customer service, & they really do treat the customer w/ respect & humanity.

    1. oops — sorry! insert u.s. airways where i typed “united.” u.s. airways has never been a top quality provider, & i’m not surprised by their decision. when in rome….

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