I had an aneurysm, but British Airways is keeping my money

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By Christopher Elliott

After Gavin King suffers an aneurysm and misses his flight to England, British Airways decides to keep his money. Requests for a refund or credit go unanswered. Looks like a case for the Travel Troubleshooter.

Question

I was recently diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm and my surgeon and my surgeon told me I wasn’t fit for travel. I had a ticket on British Airways to attend my daughter’s wedding. Because of this life-threatening condition, I couldn’t use my tickets.

I’ve contacted British Airways numerous times by phone, fax and email, requesting a refund or a voucher. It’s been almost six months, and I have not received an answer. Can you help me get a response from British Airways? — Gavin King, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Answer

I’m sorry to hear about your medical condition, and hope you’re feeling better. I’m also sorry that you missed your daughter’s wedding. British Airways should have answered your request for a refund or voucher, of course — even if to explain that it couldn’t do either. I’m puzzled that it wouldn’t even give you the time of day.

Here’s what appears to have happened: You were flying on a nonrefundable ticket, you had to have surgery, and you missed your flight. Either British Airways didn’t receive your voucher request before the flight, or it got the message after you left (at this point, it doesn’t matter). You were listed as a “no show” and the airline kept your money. It’s allowed to do that, by the way.

I reviewed your written correspondence, and while you’re clear and concise about what happened, you’re also borderline demanding. While I can understand your frustration, it’s always best to approach a request like this with your politeness-meter turned all the way up. Not because they deserve to be treated with extra deference (the don’t always) but because it’s more effective. (Related: British Airways canceled my flight, and now they refuse to give me a refund.)

British Airways’ response to a customer’s emergency situation

There’s no excuse, on the other hand, for British Airways’ delayed response. Even if you were completely obnoxious, you’re still a customer. I’m not sure if travel insurance would have helped in this situation. Many policies have pre-existing conditions clauses, and a clever claims adjuster might deny your claim because the condition that caused the aneurism existed before you purchase the policy. I’m no doctor, but I’ve seen things like that happen. (Here’s how to get a refund on non-refundable airline ticket.)

British Airways had four options: keep your money, offer a credit with a change fee, offer a credit but waive the change fee because of your circumstances, or give you a full refund. It probably could have kept your money, but that would seem heartless, given your circumstances.

British Airways offered you a ticket credit and waived the change fee.

battleface delivers insurance that doesn’t quit when circumstances change. We provide specialty travel insurance services and benefits to travelers visiting or working internationally, including in the world’s most hard to reach places. Currently selling in 54 countries and growing, our mission is to deliver simple solutions to travelers worldwide heading out on their next adventure.

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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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