No refund for a sick passenger?

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By Christopher Elliott

After receiving a lung cancer diagnosis, Merrill Hakim requests a refund for her non-refundable ticket from the airline. But is that allowed?

Question

I have tickets on Aer Lingus to fly from Dublin to Paris. I received a lung cancer diagnosis a few weeks before our scheduled departure.

It was no problem getting a refund for our transatlantic flight with United Airlines, but Aer Lingus was only willing to refund the taxes unless I could reschedule within 30 days. Given the situation, that was not possible. They said the ticket would still have been good until the end of April, which is when we bought them, but who can make a commitment at a time like this?

I have no idea what my situation will be in April or any time before. Not yet, anyway, and certainly not in the 30 days they were willing to give me. Thanks for anything you can accomplish. — Merrill Hakim, Philadelphia

Answer

Good for United for refunding your non-refundable ticket. Aer Lingus should have done the same, but it didn’t have to.

You booked a non-refundable ticket with significant restrictions. An airline will inform you that you can opt to purchase a more expensive ticket eligible for a refund, but those tickets typically come at twice the cost of non-refundable ones. For most leisure travelers, this proves impractical, as these tickets are primarily intended for business travelers with corporate expense accounts.

Airlines sometimes waive their ticket restrictions, issuing refunds when a passenger dies or a close relative of a passenger dies, or when you’re in the military and your orders change. But again, they are not required to do that. A serious illness like lung cancer can be a reason for refunding a non-refundable ticket. In my opinion, it should be.

The battle for a refund on non-refundable tickets

Incidentally, airlines let themselves off the hook from their agreements with passengers for all kinds of reasons, including bad weather or events “beyond their control.” They have no obligation to operate a flight on time, or at all, and the penalties, if any, are negligible. I don’t have a problem asking an airline to waive its rules when it has little problem waiving a rule for itself. Cases like these often trigger a heated discussion on this site.

I see that you tried to contact Aer Lingus by phone and then in writing, but the airline wouldn’t budge for you. I sent you some higher-level contacts at the airline, but that didn’t work either. The answer remained a firm “no.” (Here’s how to get a refund on a non-refundable airline ticket.)

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I contacted Aer Lingus on your behalf and asked it to review your request one more time. It did, and decided to issue a full refund.

Should Aer Lingus have refunded Merrill Hakim's ticket?

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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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