If the consumer-unfriendly ticketing restrictions quietly added by the three major domestic airlines this year don’t win the Worst New Travel Rules of 2016 award, they’re definitely strong contenders. “Silly travel rules we hope will end in 2017”
If you’re holding a nonrefundable airline ticket, the rules are clear: You can get credit, valid for a year from the date of your booking, by informing the airline before your trip.
That’s what British Airways’ ticket rules say (see Rule 3b2).
What if you fall ill? Rule 3b3 stipulates:
If, after beginning your journey:
* you become ill
* your illness prevents you from travelling on your next flight within the validity period of your ticket; and
* you want us to extend the validity period so that you can continue your journey;
you must give us a medical certificate. The certificate must:
* state the facts relating to your illness and
* confirm the date you will be fit to travel again (‘the recovery date’).
BA may extend the validity period until either the recovery date, as long as there is a seat available on the relevant flight in the class of service for which you have paid the fare.
“Should British Airways follow its own ticket rules? It’s not brain surgery — oh wait, it is brain surgery”
This is Ken Darling with his mother, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s. He won’t be able to use the United Airlines tickets he bought last year because he had to move her from a resident care facility into a hospital.
Darling wanted to apply his non-refundable credit of $1,121 to another flight, but given his current situation, that’s also impossible. United is willing to refund the fare — if he can show a death certificate.
Basically, my mom needs to die before February 7th in order for me to get the only thing they offer, a refund. There is no consideration anymore to illness — terminal or otherwise — for the customer or family. I don’t want a refund, just more time to deal with my mom’s future passing and to use my credit for what will now be a mourning respite.
Darling called United repeatedly last week, asking a customer service representative and then a supervisor to consider bending its rules. The answer was a firm “no” in broken English.
Let’s hit the rewind button for a second. Mom has Alzheimer’s, and you book an airline ticket, knowing you might have to make a change. What are your options? Not insurance, because a pre-existing condition like Altzheimer’s probably won’t be covered. A fully refundable fare? Come on. Those are outrageously expensive, and priced with business travelers in mind.
So really, Darling had no choices.
At the same time, the terms of United’s tickets were clear. Non-refundable means exactly that: no refunds. Unless the airline decides to make an exception. But that’s entirely up to the company.
I recommended that Darling send a brief, polite letter to United instead of calling. He did. And for good measure, he copied my colleague Peter Greenberg and me.
I normally recommend sticking to the facts and being as unemotional as possible, but Darling’s brilliantly-written letter is the exception.
I just want to use my tickets for what now will be a mourning respite after my mom passes in the next six to twelve months. It’s difficult for me to believe after all my 24/7 care for her that not only will I lose her, but also $1,121 because I cannot leave her. It makes the long goodbye even more saddening.
Less than four hours later, United replied:
Dear Mr. Darling:
I apologize for the inconvenience that we caused you in processing the refund for [your] ticket.
Per our discussion, please provide me a Dr. Note and upon receipt, I will process the refund.
Please contact me if you have any question.
Have a nice weekend.
I think that’s the right call.
Darling could have saved himself a few frustrating hours on the phone by putting his request in writing and copying the right people on his email. Thanks to United’s compassion, he has one less thing to worry about as he cares for his dying mother.