It’s been six months — where’s my refund, American Airlines?

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By Christopher Elliott

After Charles Wohlust’s brother-in-law dies, American Airlines agrees to refund his ticket change fees. But then it doesn’t. What should he do?

Question

While we were in the Caribbean last summer, my brother-in-law passed away. I called American Airlines and they changed our schedule to fly home early so I could give my sister support and help with last-minute arrangements for the funeral.

The American representative who changed my ticket was very understanding and indicated that she had to charge a $200 per person change fee, but assured me that once documentation was provided I would be reimbursed the $400. That was the last verbal communication I had with American Airlines.

Since you can’t talk to anyone in American’s customer relations department, I emailed them and received a reply late last summer, indicating a credit would be given as a one-time courtesy. I emailed back thanking them for their consideration. Since then, nothing. I emailed again in January, with the standard automated response every time.

Customer Relations apparently means no relations with the customer. I would appreciate if you could help obtain my refund. — Charles Wohlust, Winter Park, Fla.

Answer

I’m sorry for your loss. American was right to ask for documentation but wrong to ignore you. Right, because too many passengers have claimed a relative died and took advantage of an airlines’ generous policy of waiving fees (never mind that the fees shouldn’t even exist — I’m not going there today). But American was wrong to ignore your repeated request for a refund after you showed the proper documentation.

Here’s what hurts about a case like this: It’s happening at precisely the time when you need a little compassion, and indeed, at a time when a company agrees to help you. I think that’s what makes American’s broken promise hurt most. It’s not about $400. It’s the principle.

I’m not surprised by the airline’s radio silence. That happens with every airline, but when you’re the world’s largest, as American is, it’s easy to get lost in the thousands of complaints. For what it’s worth, I don’t think American ignored you deliberately. As one of the most complained-about air carriers, it was probably just struggling to keep up with the crush of emails. (Related: How passengers exact revenge on fee-happy airlines.)

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American Airlines lost the file

Still, it’s no excuse for what happened to you. After you failed to get a response from the customer service department, you could have appealed to one of American higher-ups. I list their names, numbers and email addresses for the American executives on this site. (Related: American Airlines refunded only half of my ticket — where’s the rest?)

I contacted American on your behalf. It says it emailed you in August, asking for documentation of your brother-in-law’s death, but never heard back from you. I would almost believe the airline, except that you sent the documents several times. I think it just lost your file. American Airlines isn’t very good with customer service.

That’s easily remedied. You re-sent his death certificate and American Airlines refunded your $400, as promised. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

Complaints about travel are not new to us. Here’s the best way to get your travel industry complaint resolved. And if that doesn’t work, you know where to find my advocacy team.

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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 São Paulo.

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