I can’t walk, so how can I fly?

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By Christopher Elliott

Catherine Brubaker won’t be able to fly from Wichita, Kan., to Fort Myers, Fla., after breaking her ankle. Her Delta Airlines ticket is nonrefundable and the airline wants to charge a change fee and fare differential to use the ticket next year. Isn’t there a better way?


I need your help with a ticket on Delta Air Lines from Wichita, Kan., to Fort Myers, Fla., that I won’t be able to use. A few months ago, I fell and broke my ankle in two places. I’m still under my orthopedic doctor’s care. I have a doctor’s note that I can’t travel until further notice.

I’m also a polio victim and I’m confined to a wheelchair. In the house, I’m just now starting to use a walker and a safety belt, and with the aid of someone, I’m taking very small steps. I’m very weak. It will take me a lot longer to gain back my strength than the average person because of the polio.

I called Delta to see if we could postpone our flight until next year, hoping that by then I could walk on my own. They told me it would cost us another $180 each to change the tickets. I’m 79 and my husband is 81 and we can’t afford another $360. Can you help me? — Catherine Brubaker, Port Charlotte, Fla.


I’m sorry to hear about your fall, and wish you a speedy recovery. Unfortunately, the tickets you booked on Delta are discounted and highly restrictive. They’re nonrefundable and changes would incur a fee plus any fare differential. These rules sometimes mean that the tickets are completely unusable.

What about travel insurance? The kind of policy sold through an airline website probably wouldn’t cover a situation like yours. The insurance may be even more restrictive than the tickets they protect, and your claim would probably have been denied because your polio was a pre-existing condition.

A “cancel for any reason” policy might have helped, but you don’t get a full refund under many of those policies, just a percentage of your trip or a voucher for a new trip.

Let me be absolutely clear about this: You had no rights, under the terms of your purchase, to a full refund or for Delta to waive your change fee. But it can’t hurt to ask.

International Citizens Insurance helps expats, travelers and anyone far from home find the right insurance plan. Our knowledgeable agents will help you find the best plan at the right price and be your advocate for the life of your policy.

Delta Airlines offered a refund

At this point, some of you, dear readers, are probably saying to yourself: “Oh no, you didn’t.”

I know you think rules are rules, and you think I have no business asking an airline to bend its refund policies for anyone, even a 79-year-old polio victim in a wheelchair.

I disagree, that’s exactly what I should be doing. Airlines routinely waive their own rules when it suits them. I can’t think of a better time to ask one to do the same thing for a needy customer. (Here’s how to get a refund on a non-refundable airline ticket.)

I sent your case to Delta and asked it to review your request. I added that they were well within their rights to deny your request. (Here’s a flyer who requested a refund as Delta Economy Comfort fell short.)

Delta offered you a full refund.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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