Hey US Airways, do you really want my eyeball to explode on a plane?

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By Christopher Elliott

Jennene Colky can’t fly because she has a detached retina. Why won’t US Airways refund her ticket?

Question

I recently had to cancel a round-trip ticket between Chicago and Bangor, Maine, on US Airways, for which I paid $494, including a $50 seat upgrade charge.

About a month before my scheduled flight, I underwent emergency surgery for a detached retina, during which the surgeon inserted a gas bubble in my eye to hold the retina in place during the healing process.

United, bless their little hearts, fully refunded the cost of my ticket to my credit card within days. But US Airways took a different view, refusing to refund the fare.

The facts are that my eye would have exploded at a high altitude, even in a pressurized cabin, and I had a letter from a retinal specialist attesting to this. If exploding eyeballs aren’t a good enough reason to credit or refund the entire amount of an airline ticket, just what is?

I have subsequently received email notice of two $25 credits from US Airways (not yet posted to my credit card) which, I assume, is a refund for my seat upgrade. Not good enough. Can you help? — Jennene Colky, Oak Park, Ill.

Answer

Exploding eyeballs are one of the best reasons to bend a refund rule. I can assure you that no one — and this includes your airline — wants any part of your face to spontaneously explode in flight.

US Airways’ refund rules are fairly strict, and they are strictly enforced. On a nonrefundable ticket, you or your travel companion have to die before it will return your money. (To be fair, I’ve seen other exceptions, but they are few and far between.)

So how do you deal with life’s little uncertainties, like detached retinas? US Airways would argue that you should buy a more expensive ticket that can be refunded. Unfortunately, those tickets can cost up to four times more than a nonrefundable ticket. At that price, you might as well buy a nonrefundable ticket and throw away the ticket if you can’t use it. (Here’s how to get a refund on a non-refundable airline ticket.)

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But wait! Like the other major American air carriers, US Airways offers you a ticket credit (minus a change fee) that you can apply toward a new ticket. Once you’ve recovered, you can re-use the credit within a year of your initial booking date. That would give you plenty of time. (Related: What does US Airways owe me for ruining my vacation?)

If for some reason you’re having trouble reaching someone at US Airways, I have a full list of contacts on my site.

I spoke with a US Airways representative, who reviewed your record. Turns out you had only requested a full ticket refund, which the air carrier denied. The airline offered you a ticket credit and agreed to waive the change fee as a “one time” courtesy, a resolution with which you were happy.

I hope you get well soon.

Should US Airways have waived its ticket change fee for Jennene Colky?

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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.

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