My mom died before I could visit, and JustFly won’t help me get a refund

Winnie Lanoix’s mother dies before she can visit her in Fort Myers, Fla. But neither her online travel agent, JustFly, nor American Airlines, will refund her fare. Why not?

Question

I made the mistake of buying tickets through JustFly three times to go from Philadelphia to Fort Myers, Fla., to visit my mom, who was in bad shape after Hurricane Irma.

I did not pay attention and was still working and distraught. So I bought insurance for the first two tickets but not the third, thinking we’d be with her for Christmas. I don’t usually use companies like JustFly, and normally would have checked references, but I was not thinking straight.

Sadly, my mom died the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

We canceled the flight in time and were told we had a credit for the third flight. But when we called to schedule a flight for March for the memorial service we were told that we’d have to pay an additional $500 per person for the ticket above and beyond the credit of $1,600.

I paid $1,600, including an extended cancellation policy of $39. This seems absurd, given the cost of flights we found online. Can you help?

Winnie Lanoix, Lafayette Hill, Pa.

Answer

I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. At a time like this, you’d expect an airline and online travel agency to do everything they could to ease the pain of your loss.

Now, I know some of the folks reading this will say, “Rules are rules!” Maybe so. But the next time a loved one dies, I’d sure like to read their comments back to them. Rules may indeed be rules, but in your case, Winnie, the rules were made to be broken — and you’re in the right place to do some rule-breaking.

Related story:   American Airlines is "sorry" about the flight attendant who had a psychotic breakdown - but is it sorry enough?

My first suggestion: Reach out to our JustFly executive contacts. If you’ve seen our previous JustFly stories, you can probably guess the answer.

What about JustFly?

The rejection was followed by a few days of soul-searching. The lead advocate on this case, Michelle Friedman, reminded you that the tickets you purchased through American Airlines were highly restricted. Also, airlines don’t normally refund tickets if a relative dies, but they will consider waiving change fees if you can show a death certificate.

Still, you had purchased three round-trip tickets and your travel plans had been foiled by a hurricane and the death of your mother. This seemed like a real hard-luck case.

Yes, you could have avoided this by buying travel insurance, but JustFly wasn’t really an advocate for you. It took your money and then threw the rule book in your face. As a travel agent — even an online travel agent — it should have tried to help you.

A happy ending, thanks to American

I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. The airline would have been well within its rights to refuse a refund, but your story was compelling and heartbreaking. I know that if this had happened to me, I would not want someone telling me “rules are rules.” I mean, I wasn’t coming down to Fort Myers to go fishing.

American offered you a refund as a goodwill gesture.

Should American Airlines have refunded Winnie Lanoix' fare?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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