After husband’s fall, will American offer a refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Susan Kaufman’s husband takes a fall, she has to cancel her flight from Boston to Washington, D.C. Will American refund the tickets — or ignore her request for help?

Question

I recently booked flights from Boston to Washington, D.C., for my husband and me to visit my son for his birthday. My husband has lung cancer. Before our flight, he fell down a flight of stairs and was unable to fly. I’m so disappointed to have to cancel our tickets and hope we won’t lose the cost of the flight on top of everything else.

I called American to cancel the flights and sent a fax and letter explaining the reason from his oncologist. I don’t want a voucher for the flights. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to use it, since my husband’s health is so precarious. Can you help me get the $445 back for the tickets? — Susan Kaufman, Westwood, Mass.

Answer

I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s condition, and I hope he makes a quick recovery. Actually, that should have been American’s answer to you — plus a timely refund of the $445.

Why should the airline refund a nonrefundable ticket? Because it’s the right thing to do. Oh sure, people will say that rules are rules (and indeed, they are). They’ll say you should have bought travel insurance, which might have covered you.

Then again, maybe not. I’m betting a claim like his would have been met with a form rejection, noting that his cancer was a “pre-existing” condition. (Related: I had to change my son’s name, but the airline won’t help me.)

American quickly and compassionately refunded the $445

Part of the problem with your claim was your level of technical expertise. You seemed a little uncomfortable using email and, instead, preferred to make your inquiries by phone and fax. That used to work for airlines, but not so much anymore. I think you might have made more progress by sending a brief, polite email to the right people at American with all of the necessary documentation. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American’s executives on my customer service site. Instead, you called and sent a paper letter.

That’s not an excuse for American and the other airlines that have outsourced their call centers and stopped reading their mail. But it’s just the reality of the situation. Next time, send an email if you can.

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I contacted American on your behalf. It quickly and compassionately refunded the $445 you spent on your tickets.

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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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