“A medical certificate does not qualify for a refund” on Emirates

Ann Cederhall’s husband, Hans, had just recovered from a very long convalescence after multiple surgeries over the last two and a half years, but was now recovered and the Cederhalls wanted to celebrate. And having previously flown to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, twice on Emirates in business class, Cederhall was impressed with Emirates’ service and loved Dubai.

So she and her husband, who had never been to Dubai or flown on Emirates, made plans to go there and then on to Sydney to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday. A friend of Cederhall was an Emirates agent in Copenhagen, and Cederhall reached out to him to book their flights. Because of Hans Cederhall’s medical needs, which included a wheelchair, seating in business class, and the ability to move about the cabin, the friend booked the flights in legs of seven to eight hours each with multiple stops, from Copenhagen to Sydney via Dubai and Bangkok on the outgoing trip and from Sydney to Copenhagen via Singapore and Dubai. Cederhall paid for the flights and cancellation insurance using her Diners Club card.

But their plans hit a very big snag.

Hans Cederhall found himself unable to travel because of a recurrence of his medical problems in his right leg. As he had been given a medical certificate by his doctor indicating that he could not travel, Ann Cederhall reached out to her agent friend at Emirates to reschedule their bookings. Her friend told her that although the Bangkok to Sydney and Sydney to Singapore flights were refundable less a cancellation penalty, the flights from Copenhagen to Bangkok via Dubai and from Singapore to Copenhagen via Dubai were not. At Cederhall’s request the agent confirmed that “I hereby confirm that a medical certificate does not qualify for a refund beyond the normal refund rules.”

Cederhall’s confirmation had no indication that any of the flights were nonrefundable or nonchangeable; nor was there any indication that a medical certificate would not qualify for a valid exemption from refundability and changeability rules. The agent informed Cederhall that he could give her a waiver of 300 euros so that she could rebook her tickets for August, but she would have to pay for the new tickets.

Cederhall then attempted to escalate her cancellation and rebooking issues to a manager, who told her that she “should be grateful that they were considering waiving the change.”

At this point Cederhall decided to cancel the trip altogether. A customer affairs representative of Emirates responded to her email, reiterating that the only refundable portion of the trip was the Bangkok to Sydney flight. “While I note your disappointment, our response cannot be more favorable,” the agent wrote. “I am sorry if we have been unable to bring this matter to a totally amicable conclusion on this occasion.”

So Cederhall turned to our advocacy team for help in seeking a refund of the flights from Copenhagen to Bangkok via Dubai.

Emirates’ Conditions of Carriage for European flights makes no mention of whether or not a medical certificate indicating inability to travel is a valid reason for allowing a change to a nonchangeable booking or a refund of a nonrefundable fare. But as a matter of customer service, a medically certified inability to travel, coupled with a nonchangeable and nonrefundable airfare, is a double whammy that no traveler should be forced to accept.

Cederhall’s travel insurance through Diners Club will cover the costs of the nonrefundable tickets, less taxes and fees. But Cederhall feels that she shouldn’t need to make a claim on her travel insurance policy and that Emirates should be willing to waive their nonrefundability and nonchangeability rules for a medically certified inability to travel.

Should airlines grant refunds for passengers who have been declared "medically unable to travel" by a doctor?

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