No refund for a sick passenger?

Markus Mainka /
Markus Mainka /
After Merrill Hakim is diagnosed with lung cancer, she asks her airline for a refund on a non-refundable ticket. But is that allowed?

Question: I have tickets on Aer Lingus to fly from Dublin to Paris. I was diagnosed with lung cancer a few weeks before we were due to leave.

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I had 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 tell you that you always have the option of buying a more expensive ticket that can be refunded, but those tickets can cost twice as much as the non-refundable variety. For most leisure travelers, that’s impractical (indeed, the tickets are meant for business travelers on a corporate expense account).

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.

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 aren’t required 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.

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.”

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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167 thoughts on “No refund for a sick passenger?

  1. i had a similar situation but took the trip anyway (on Aer Lingus)- so glad i did.

    my doctor was trying to convince me “with a doctor’s letter they will defiantly give you a refund!”-i called BS (and i already put in for my vacation days).

    should Aer Lingus have given a refund? no because it sets a bad president. as i recall there was an article by Chris about a guy with a sick dog –

    where does it end? if you give the cancer patient a refund do you have to give the guy with a sick dog a refund? what about someone who’s car broke down and desperately needs to cancel his vacation in order to get the money to fix his car!

    if they write to chris, chris will get results (probably even for the made up guy with the broken car)- but should airlines and hotels volunteer these refunds – no.

    1. To group someone who’s car broke down or someone who’s dog was sick in with an individual with lung cancer is just irresponsible at best. Save for the cancer, neither of those instances are going to result in the death of a human being. Someone’s mother, daughter, aunt, cousin… It’s a stance like that which gives these soulless, hollow corporation justification to be downright jerks.

      If someone contacts Chris and he reaches out to ask someone to reconsider for their sick dog or broken down car, it’s the good devil on the shoulder giving the corporation advice. If they say no, they won’t do the refund, it shouldn’t be held against them. Thats the rules. But Cancer is a totally different story here….

      1. “It’s a stance like that which gives these soulless, hollow corporation justification to be downright jerks”

        And they are well-known as soulless, hollow jerks ahead of booking, since the ticket refund policies are disclosed ahead of time. But, they are soulless, hollow jerks with whom the OP was perfectly willing to deal with, until the consequences appeared.

      2. Why should the airlines be held to a different standard? What if he just financed a new car – should they be required to take it back at full price?

        “Cancer is a totally different story here…”

        More than a couple of people in my extended family have died of lung cancer. They lived for years after diagnosis. I doubt he would have been in any different health “after a few weeks” unless there were some rare circumstances or was diagnosed very, very late.

        1. If you buy a new car and then find out you can’t drive it, you can sell it to someone else. If we had an automatic right to sell an airline ticket we couldn’t use, I would agree with you if we held airlines to the SAME standard as your example. But no – there’s another let’s-rub-it-in rule against that.

          1. Yes, that’s part of what’s do wrong here. In the rest of the world, you buy something, you can’t use it, you sell or give it away to someone else. But no, with airlines, tough luck.

        2. Why are the airlines held to a different standard? I would LOVE to see the airlines and customers held to the same standards. We can change our flight plans with little or no notice, a storm anywhere near our home would qualify as an act of God and we cannot be held liable for it upsetting our travel plans, if we do incur additional charges we can pocket the cash and pay them in back rub coupons, if they want to speak directly with us they will need to pay a convenience fee. I could keep going. Those different standards are nothing but scams to rip-off their customers with, they would be shaking in their designer boots if anyone expected them to abide by the same conditions they set for their customers.

          1. Plus, I think most peoiple are prejudiced against people with lung cancer. I was never a smoker but the stigma is still there.

        3. When you get a diagnosis, you have to do a zillion tests and see a zillion doctors, decide where you will be treated, and how you will be treated, and deal with the fact that you were just told you’re terminal. Trust me, travel is not the first thing on your mind, and my husband was near to breaking down too. if I would have been in different health? I would have been in chemo, which also keeps you from traveling. And if I could have gone, I would have.

    2. There are no precedents here. An act of mercy does not mean that you agree to do the same for everyone…or even anyone else.

        1. 1. How?

          Had the airline reviewed the case privately and decided to extend courtesy and compassion, it would have been a private matter between the OP and the airline and none of us would have been the wiser and

          2. So what?

          1. And I have to say I had no trouble whatsoever with the airline that was getting me to Ireland, Continental.

          2. Thank you so much! You perform such a valuable service. I’m glad I stumbled on this discussion and this part of the site.

    3. Even some of the jerkiest airlines are seeing the downside of being the jerkiest airline. The Spirit equivalent in Europe is Ryan Air, and even they apologized and refunded the change fee for a man who lost his entire family in a fire. And they pledged to quit being just total jackwagons.

      But let’s be clear. This isn’t altruism. The story states that, basically, being jerks is costing them customers and sales, and according to the story, the shareholders are concerned “that customer service issues were hitting sales.” Oh, really, being jerks cost you sales? Who knew?

  2. That last paragraph is the one that exposes airline hypocrisy on this matter. Rules are rules, contracts are for thee and not for me, and any passenger stupid enough to get lung cancer right before her flight deserved to get reamed. But expose the case to the Internet publicity floodlight, and the dedication to The Rules melts away. Gee, I wonder why?

    1. I think the first paragraph in Chris’ reply is more telling, especially where he notes that Aer Lingus didn’t have to refund. As other had mentioned, there were other avenues that the OP could have taken to protect themselves against unforeseen circumstances.

      I respect Aer Lingus for refunding, but would not have lost respect if they held their ground.

  3. The airline didn’t have to refund the ticket, but it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. I’m glad that it did, even if it needed a little persuasion.

      1. There are a fair number of people who hate it when a business shows compassion because those costs may be passed on to them. Its actually not a true statement, but a strong belief.

        1. Let’s assume it was true. What would the pass-along cost in this case be over the long haul? Is my saving 25 cents on a possible future purchase from Aer Lingus really worth my worry?

          1. Joe, there are many commenters in here who take the position of “rules are rules” and take it as a personal affront when anyone asks for even the slightest bend in the rule. Because gosh-darnit, it’s NOT FAIR! If they issue refunds to every cancer patient or parent of a dying child, that might make their ticket go up by a quarter-cent! And besides, rules are rules! And on and on.

            I consider them to be just as soulless as the corporations who refuse to show humanity.

            I’m with Carver on this. One act of mercy (or even TEN) does not set an unbreakable precedent. Every situation should be viewed individually. When corporations act like actual humans, it makes me want to do business with them.

          2. I am always one of the rules stickers in most cases, but I am Carver on this one. While I am a rules are rules fellow, and fully support non-refundable tickets being non-refundable, I also believe in a good appeals process for valid reasons such as this. Who defines the valid processes, the airline of course, but if this were my airline, begin medically unable to travel with a Dr.s note should get a refund.

          3. Ok, medically unable with a doctors note – that could be for an earache – and then, I am sorry, a refund may not be the thing, since rebooking is certainly possible then.

            But for a lifethreatening illness such as lung cancer, where the treatment will leave you unable to travel for the forseeable future – I am all for it.

          4. So the policy would be that if ti can’t be rescheduled, then a refund will be issued. Good call.

            Though I am not sure if an ear ache would constitute medically unable to travel. I asked my ENT Dr. once if I should travel with an ear infection and a clogged drainage and she said it would hurt, but I could not actually be injured. I told her I heard about peoples ear drums breaking on an airplane due to the pressure and she said that’s a myth, it may feel like they break, but unless we represented instantly at 35,000 feet, it won’t cause any damage. And Ill tell you, it really did hurt, but I was fine later.

          5. And that is precisely what they told me. They said their rep here should have granted clemency, and they they decide on a case by case basis.

        2. All businesses have a bottom line. To say the receipt or disbursement of money having an impact on the cost of services is untrue is simply wrong. It may be infinitesimal or insignificant, but every dollar has an impact.

          1. It may have impact on the bottom line, but it may not have impact on the pricing of the ticket. Would seem that other factors would be involved in pricing tickets, such as markets, competition, etc etc…

          2. That’s not true at all. If an item is a commodity, (which many would argue coach service is) the sale price of the service is divorced from the cost of providing the service. The only question being is whether over time, its a financially worthwhile endeavor.

          3. The refund only has an impact if the seat is not resold. In this case, I believe there was more than enough time for the airline to still resell the seat, and, often, they will actually need it because they may have oversold the flight anyway.

            Thus, the impact of this one refund (or even 10 or 20 throughout the year for reasons such as this), is probably much less than most people think.

        3. Actually, unless they cannot resell the seat, there is nothing to pass on. They caculate that a certain number of people will not use their nonrefundable tickets and they usually oversell flights, so they tend to be full, and still pocket the money for the unused non-refundable flight.

          That may not happen every single time a non-refundable ticket goes unused, but often enough that refunding it on a rare occasion like this will not result in higher ticket prices for everyone else.

          But unless you know how the system works, you should not make such statements.

      2. there are also a few people who vote down comments just because, and some regular posters here both admit to doing so, or are the targets of such down votes.

    1. I agree. What did the OP’s travel insurance company say? It would be much more appropriate to go after them since that’s precisely what travel insurance is for. I’d be appalled to learn they turned her down on a technicality. Publish their name so we know who to avoid if that was the case!

      1. I doubt the traveler purchased travel insurance. Otherwise they never would have gone to the airline. Each travel insurance policy I’ve bought has covered the cost of the ticket (not the policy cost) in the event you cannot travel for medical reasons, like cancer, with documentation from a physician. You have to read the policy you purchased to get the details on what is covered and how to file a claim.

    2. Who buys travel insurance before you know you need it?WE were always lucky before. NOW I buy it, and the expensive kind for allowable pre-existing conditions. I am happy to say I got lucky and was diagnosed with a mutation that allows me to take a pill, so I can travel now. It was touch and go for a good while at the beginning and it was one hell of a shock.

      1. I buy travel insurance every time I travel outside of the U.S, except for short hops to Canada. I have never needed it, but I have come close. Such as the time I fell down three steps and fractured my ankle in Ecuador. I let the swelling be my splint while I hobbled around for the remaining days of my trip and had it treated at home. Insurance is for the unexpected.

        That said, I love it when any company has compassion and does the right thing for the customer

      2. I have a continuous travel insurance policy. Costs about 50 euros a year (I live in Finland). Maybe it’s much more expensive there but at least with our prices it’s stupid not to buy one. You can get one that covers you always when you go 50km away from your home.

  4. Companies should have supervisory personnel that are empowered to make exceptions to rules on a compassionate basis (and be rewarded for their decisions). General guidelines could be established so that there is consistancy. Think of the goodwill that would have been generated had someone sent her a handwritten short note expressing their sympathy and best wishes and agreeing to extend the ticket value for a year, or allow a name change. They maintain the non-refundable policy, but also maintain their reputation. Unfortunately, there would probably be a lot of unethical people that would lie to get what they wanted and use social media as a tool to get it.

  5. The OP had multiple places where she could have protected herself. First, foremost, this is a trip outside the US with non-refundable tickets valued at hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Why not purchase trip insurance? Its there to cover things just like this. Unexpected event outside your control.

    Secondly, Aer Lingus is not like a lot of US airlines. A refundable ticket isn’t 3 -4 times the cost of a non refundable one and includes additional benefits. I just checked the route a month out. Non- Refundable with no bags €63. Completely refundable with two bags, lounge access & seat selection €149. Bags at the airport are €30 a piece so it really only costing her €29 to have a refundable ticket (assuming she has two bags and waits until the airport to pay) or basically 50%.

    I wish her a speedy recovery.

    1. Thank you fr the good wishes. You’re the only one to think of that. We actually went the slightly expensive route with Aer LIngus but it was still only several hundred euros.

  6. “Non-refundable” is supposed to mean just that, non-refundable. (Although I believe all airlines, even Spirit, DO put in their Contract that they’ll refund your estate if you die.) They aren’t “non-refundable unless I have a really good reason.” A situation like this is precisely what trip insurance was designed for; it would have been a pretty straightforward claim.

    1. That’s why its called compassion. Making a choice that to do the right thing, rather than the legally mandated minimum.

      1. While I tend to agree with you because I like to think I’m a kind and compassionate person, at the same time, EVERYONE has a story; an issue; a heartbreak, an unhappy event and must make the decision to either pay lower fare and cross fingers, or pay for insurance “if” they want to mitigate risk for contingencies that can’t be anticipated. I’ve been in a somewhat similar situation to the OP. We had plans months out for a vacation to Hawaii. I was suddenly hospitalized with “an unusually large” blood clot. Totally unforseeable as I’m a healthy mid-40s woman, so we didn’t buy insurance. My Dr. said “no way you can sit on an airplane for 9 hours” but it didn’t even occur to us to ask for a refund. We rescheduled for 10 months out, swallowd the fare differences and fees all the while crossing fingers that by then I’d be good to go. Thankfully it worked out. But I would never have the chutzpah to ask for a refund on a non-refundable fare.

        1. I’m very happy that your heath situation was resolved positively. Had the OP had the ability to reschedule, I’d say that was the appropriate solution. That doesn’t seem like that was possible in the OPs situation

          1. The answer is to spend fifteen bucks and either a.) buy some travel insurance, or b.) buy a full-flex fare, unless you’d rather gamble and eat the price of a ticket instead.

          2. Buying travel insurance is a gamble too — you could *still* eat the price of a ticket even with insurance. There are plenty of scenarios outside your control that are not Covered Reasons.

          3. True, but had the situation not resolved, we’d have swallowed the cost because we definitively selected “No Thanks” for the insurance and weren’t willing to pay the Fully Refundable Fare price. But, as I said ^^ there… I’m a chronic rule follower. It’s a curse sometimes!

          1. There’s a difference between asking, getting a “no” and moving on vs asking ,getting a “no” and going to the media about it with a sob story.

            I’m fine with the first. You can always ask for an exception. I have an issue with the second.

          2. Seeking the help of a professional whose knowledge of an industry far exceeds you own is not a big problem for me. It’s not like they ran to a TV station to yell to the world. They just asked Chris to see if he could help.

          1. Hello? I never expected to see my name in print. It was a big shock to see it today. I read Chris’s column and I thought why not try?

          2. That’s interesting, that along with Chris mediating your case, you weren’t informed that your story would be featured on the website and what day to expect to see it. I thought that was all part of the deal. Especially since once it’s on the website, I’d think you would want to read the comments. Lucky you that your story was chosen! (Mine was not. I still don’t understand the reasoning, since I’ve seen similar stories here since; but on the other hand, now that I’ve followed the site for a couple of years, I’ve seen some of the unkind comments, and maybe it’s not worth it for a couple hundred bucks.)

            Best wishes for your good health, and I hope you can travel to Ireland someday. It’s a beautiful country.

          3. Since this all happened about a year ago, I think it was before Chris set up the web site, but I could be wrong about that. In any case, I had only ever seen his columns in the newspaper, and I wasn’t told it would be on this site. I do subscribe to his posts though so I saw it when it popped up, and was able to respond. I’m not sure you should be sorry your story didn’t make it. It is amazing how callous some people can be! Thanks for your good wishes. I did get to Ireland. We repeated the trip we were supposed to have made exactly a year later, living from scan to scan. My husband is Irish so we go or went quite often, and I love it there.

          4. I didn’t say, or I think, even imply, that it was necessarily a “bad thing” simply that it takes a level of gall to ask for a refund for something that is explicitly non-refundable. I choose not to be “that person” because I have a low level of “chutzpah” … that’s all. I’m happy-ish that the OP got what they wanted; I’d be happier if they’d done the right thing and bought insurance or a refundable fare in the first place. 🙂

      2. Why is it “the right thing” to give somebody something they explicitly refused to pay for? (Either trip insurance or a refundable ticket.) It’s nice, to be sure, to make an exception, but I certainly don’t view it as the “wrong” thing when an airline delivers exactly what the customer paid for.

        And where does it stop? Few people cancel non-refundable trips on a whim. If the airline wants to refund people that can’t fly due to sickness if they can produce a doctor’s note, then they should put that in their contract and be done with it. Giving refunds to people that can attract media attention while sticking to the contract for everybody else isn’t exactly the height of fairness.

          1. That’s exactly the reason (state allowed oligopoly) why consumer laws can be crafted to FORCE airlines to have a minimum decency standard regarding PENALTY FEES.

          2. Surprising, I have no objections. Penalty fees are unenforceable in many other areas of law. Airline can extract them purely due to their oligopoly.

  7. I voted yes, but when spending more money than you can afford to lose, trip insurance (read the fine print before choosing) is the way to go.

  8. Most of the time, I believe that “non-refundable” is “non-refundable”. Sick dogs are inconvenient, but life happens. On the other hand, cancer is a major issue, and it needs to be addressed quickly. It is not always something that can be ignored for the length of the trip. It is as life-changing an event as a death in the family, a circumstance that usually does lead to a refund of a non-refundable ticket.

    I do think it would have been reasonable for Aer Lingus had asked for proof (doctor’s statement) before issuing a refund. As mentioned below, unscrupulous people will jump on any perceived loophole.

  9. Aer Lingus should have promptly refunded the full cost of the ticket upon receipt of the request from the passenger accompanied by the supporting information from the physician treating her. I am against a refund just on the passenger alone saying that a major illness is preventing her from travel. Too many people try to game the system by claiming any number of unforeseen circumstances in order to get the tickets refunded. She should also have purchased trip insurance. I know it is overpriced in many instances, but it is usually lower priced than the cost of the tickets. Hindsight is always 20-20, but this OP could have done more to protect herself. Aer Lingus, if the passenger had all the supporting documentation, should have refunded the ticket promptly. Your mediation was definitely called for in this instance.

    1. No it shouldn’t. The passenger has to actively decline travel insurance during booking. Why should she be given a benefit she didn’t pay for?

      1. It shouldn’t have HAD to, but it is nice that it did. Big difference, and I for one am glad they decided to have a heart and give the refund. And a bit of good PR can’t hurt. I’d be more likely to choose them over a competitor after this…

        1. This. I’m always fascinated by these sorts of cases because you get the one side who are so uptight about the rules they get offended that somebody got a break, and then there’s the other extreme who think the airline should have been sent to hell if they’d even considered not refunding.

          I see a glorious middleground where you can applaud the airline for being compassionate when they technically didn’t have to be.

          1. +1
            I much prefer to do business with companies that don’t exhibit a “rules is rules, so sorry to be you” attitude. Long live healthy competition.

        2. Where is the PR? Wow, 1 person is saved and 200,000 denied. I have sold 100 of thousands of airline tickets and tours. I have gone to bat for 100’s of my clients knowing darn well they DID NOT deserve refunds. I have won a couple of dozen cases and that is my service to the clients. That is indeed where my office gets P/R. There is no travel corporation left that really cares. It is purely the luck of who reads the letter. OP happily got lucky. Do not blame Aer Lingus for doing what their stock holders demand – follow the rules.

    2. I am 67 years old, have been traveling all my life, and this is the first time I was ever not able to make a trip. When you are faced with sudden disaster plus huge expense, it is noce to know you can get a little compassionate help.

      1. I am glad you did fine a compassionate response, and hope your health has greatly improved! And I hope that if any of us find ourselves in the same situation, we are treated with an equally compassionate response.

        1. Thanks very much. I am improved and am in a holding pattern, which I hope keeps on holding! And I also hope that more companies will be more compassionate .

    3. Unless in the rules of the fare it is stated that on a nonrefundable ticket that medical emergencies for the passenger is covered, you shouldn’t except any refund. If they refund, that is nice, but the rules are what are followed first. Remember this was not an international fare from the US, but an intra Europe flight on a non US carrier.
      Years ago, before gaming the system became part of many passengers past time, I could call and get things waiverd, like a refund, without documentation. But now you need proof to back up your request.

  10. Why does it always take some sort of public shaming to get these companies to show some sort of human decency. It’s is CANCER, not a cold.. not the flu… not something that is solved in 2 weeks. It’s pretty disheartening when it takes the threat of public exposure just to do what’s right.

    1. Unfortunately – not for the person with the sick dog or flat tire – to THEM it is an exception they want compassion for as well.

  11. I am disappointed that Aer Lingus caved and that Chris took this on. Aer Lingus should not be playing travel insurer. It offers very cheap insurance during the booking process, and Merrill chose not to purchase this so should not be accorded the benefits of those who did.

      1. Yes, because the cost of Aer Lingus doing things like this will get passed onto its other passengers, like me, in the form of higher fares.

          1. Yet, this is exactly the attitude of today’s traveler and why we have unbundled fares. Everyone wants what works for them and screw everyone else.

          2. So do different airlines. United actually has an Emergency Provision in their fare rules. I don’t believe Aer Lingus has.
            I would recommend UA before EI.

          3. But if EI had been ticketed in the fare with UA, this would have been covered for the OP. I wonder what the OP paid for the EI ticket. Fares are very low between DUB and PAR, so losing that ticket amount wouldn’t have been too painful if it was booked in a low fare.

          4. If the EI flight was on the same routing as United’s Trans Atlantic fare, yeah sure. But I think this was on a separate ticket (DUB-PAR).

            I want to point out that an End-on-End combination will have the strictest rules of any carrier followed. This was not EOE.
            I am for some international minimum standard. It makes my life and my customers’ life easy.

          5. Why did you do two separate reservations and not one with a layover in Ireland before heading one to Paris? Cost? I priced a flight from DUB to PAR for $120. That isn’t too bad a fare with taxes! But I also was looking at October which is shoulder season, not high season. Usually for Amercian’s the luggage cost on Ryan Air eats up the fare savings.

        1. How can you be so sure of that?
          Suppose the OP had bought the lowest price Fare Basis and at the time she cancelled only the higher fares were available. I believe EI would not put her seat back on the lowest fare bucket. They will sell it at the highest price they can.

          1. But you were the one who made the assertion that refunding the OP’s ticket would increase YOUR cost of your ticket. You can’t prove that. That’s my point.

        2. Doing some rough math. The airlines would have to give over 1500 compassionate refunds per day, every day, without ceasing, to raise the average ticket price by an entire $0.25.

          1. Aer Lingus doesn’t trade in dollars and doesn’t sell anywhere near as many tickets as you’re assuming to get those figures.

            Aside from that, you’re also ignoring the revenue lost from people who don’t buy insurance or flexible tickets because they figure they’ll get a refund anyhow if they need one or come crying to Chris if they don’t.

          2. You’re stetching
            In order

            I’m answering your general point that compassion refunds will increase your fares. I’m using US numbers.

            In general, flex tickets are designed for and purchased by business travelers. Those aren’t the one’s likely to come “crying” to Chris. I buy plenty of flex tickets when I am traveling for business. Either I need flexibility (e.g. I don’t know how long a deposition will take) or its on such short notice that the difference in price is negligible.

            The lost revenue is not a loss the way one might argue a compassion refund is. Apples and Oranges

          3. They could give away a free ticket on every single flight and not have to increase prices by more than a couple bucks (Euros, if you prefer) per ticket to cover the loss.

            And why are you assuming every single person from now until the end of time is going to get a refund? Again, getting back to whatever business you work in, I guarantee you that A) There are exceptions made to rules and B) Those exceptions are just that, exceptions, and not the norm.

          4. You make a lot of assumptions you don’t understand a thing about coming up with that total. There are things behind the scenes you DON’T see. I’m glad he was refunded in this case, but if they had stuck to their guns, would not have blamed them either.

    1. Values aside, it’s rather telling you can’t see that there just might be some PR value to the airline in not coming across as total jerks in a publicized case like this. Show some compassion in this case to avoid being badmouthed and tons of potential customers being turned off. Your business has NEVER bent a rule? Not for your biggest customer, or in a high profile case, or to win some new business?

  12. Just be glad it was Aer Lingus and not RyanAir. RyanAir wouldn’t even respond to such a request, however warranted it might be.

  13. No! And neither should United have made the refund. While we can feel sorry for the situation (and I do wish for a fule and complete remission) what part of non-refundable does the OP not understand? Bending rules is all that this entitled world is looking for. Insurance is so cheap. It is stupid to buy a full fare ticket, you can throw away 3 supersavers before you break even, But insurance is $20-50.00 depending on the cost of the ticket and the age of the flyer. You never know when you are the victime. Shame on United for breaking their own rule. I had a migraine, a car wreck, a mental feeling that I was going to ????; which is due a refund?!

    1. Actually, United COC states that in the event a passenger is unable to fly due to medical reasons (With documentation from a physician), they will refund the non-refundable ticket. So United actually followed their rules.

        1. What I see is vague and says a nonrefundable ticket holder may request a refund under the policy of unplanned event which includes ‘certain illness situations’. I cannot find more detail yet what that would entail.

          1. It looks like the removed it post merger. I posted the old site from a web archive, but it just says change fee. I know in the past it was the full ticket in certain situations.

        2. I am now wondering if they removed it post merger because I did a quick scan and didn’t find it. I bookmarked the page a while back and just found the link, and it is gone too, but the web archive shows it. However, what I am finding just states a refund of the change fee, I believe it used to be the full fare too. I know because I submitted a request once when I had an emergency hospitalization, and I got a full refund.

          Here is what the webarchive states:

          Medical, personal and travel emergencies

          In certain scenarios where travel plans are impacted by a situation outside a customer’s control, United will refund any change or cancellation fees associated with the customer’s itinerary changes. Please note that the ticket must be changed or canceled by the time of the originally scheduled flight. Any difference in fare resulting from the itinerary change will still be charged. This policy applies to the following situations:

          Loss or theft of travel documents belonging to the customer or a travel companion (including items such as passports and visas, but excluding paper tickets)
          Jury duty or subpoena appearance required on the part of the customer or a travel companion
          Political unrest, not covered by a waiver or a pre-existing travel advisory, that impacts travel plans of the customer and/or a travel companion
          Involuntary job loss on the part of the customer or a travel companion
          Serious illness or injury to the customer, a travel companion or an immediate family member
          Death of a travel companion or an immediate family member (Please note that in the case of death of the customer, a full ticket refund can be issued to the original form of payment.)
          Military personnel activated for duty during the travel dates, and their immediate family members.

          Tickets may be reapplied to a revised or new itinerary; or tickets may be refunded to the original form of payment. Please note: A copy of military orders must be presented at the time of refund or reschedule request.

          To request a refund of your change or cancellation fee if one of the above situations applies to you, please contact United’s Refunds department by mail at the following

          United Airlines Refund Department – WHQAK
          P.O. Box 66282
          Chicago, IL 60666

          In order for a refund of your change fee or cancellation fee to be granted, the following information and documentation must be included with your request:

          Name on ticket
          13-digit ticket number (beginning with 016)
          Flight number(s)
          Date of departing travel
          Full mailing address
          Phone number
          Documentation of the situation:
          Embassy receipt or police report for lost or stolen travel documents
          Jury duty notice or subpoena
          Government travel warning
          Termination letter from employer
          Doctor’s note stating inability to fly
          Death certificate
          Military orders

          1. They changed the URL. Live page is now here:


            Ticket Refund policies > Refund Policy

            Refund request for nonrefundable tickets — unplanned event

            United will refund change fees and tickets in certain cases. All requests must be received prior to the ticket’s expiration date and must be accompanied by proper documentation (see “Documentation requirements and processing” below). We will refund tickets only when the unplanned event prevents the use of that ticket within one year of the ticket’s date of issue. In all other instances, the fare can be credited toward future travel, though the customer may receive a refund for flight change fees (see “Change fee refunds” below).

            If your refund request is approved, a refund, minus a $50 USD processing fee*, will be provided to the original form of payment.

            This policy applies in the following cases:

            Death of the traveler, traveling companion or immediate family member
            Travelers in the reservation actively on jury duty during the dates of planned travel
            Certain illness situations
            *Except where DOT 14 CFR Part 382 applies

        3. Not in the COC, but there is language about “certain illness situations” on United’s current website (Home > Reservations > Refunds > Refund Policy > Refund request for nonrefundable tickets — unplanned event)

          I tried to post the link many hours ago, but that post is still held up for moderation.

    2. Since I had a reply stating UA’s policy here it is. It is subjective to interpretation by UA and is different for each person. Do not ever travel without cancellation insurance, you could be the next victim. OP was lucky they got a liberal UA person. 99% of the airlines would turn them down.

      Refund request for nonrefundable tickets — unplanned event United will refund change fees and tickets in certain cases. All requests must be received prior to the ticket’s expiration date and must be accompanied by proper documentation (see “Documentation requirements and processing” below). We will refund tickets only when the unplanned event prevents the use of that ticket within one year of the ticket’s date of issue. In all other instances, the fare can be credited toward future travel, though the customer may receive a refund for flight change fees (see “Change fee refunds” below).

      If your refund request is approved, a refund, minus a $50 USD processing fee*, will be provided to the original form of payment.

      This policy applies in the following cases:

      Death of the traveler, traveling companion or immediate family member

      Travelers in the reservation actively on jury duty during the dates of planned travel

      Certain illness situations

      *Except where DOT 14 CFR Part 382 applies

  14. When I first got in the travel business in the mid 1980’s, airlines allowed refunds on “non-refundable” tickets if you presented a doctor’s note.

    Unfortunately, many travel agencies (mine included) stocked up on Doctor’s Office Letterhead. The Airlines figured it out and changed their policy. That was when they began imposing change fees vs. totally non refundable tickets.

    Rules are rules in this instance.

  15. She had the transatlantic portion of the fare refunded by United, which was a much more expensive fare than Dublin to Paris. In the Spring those one way fares are of the order of $30-50, a mere fraction of the transatlantic fare.

    No Ryanair would not have refunded a cent of this fare, and Aer Lingus has become a competitor of Ryanair – rock bottom fares in times of low demand, and all those other irritating conditions and extra charges. United does have a linkage with Aer Lingus, but since the OP notes these are separate fares, then she must have made separate reservations, no? Count herself lucky that United came through, and forget the Aer Lingus reservation … I am surprised that they gave in on this one.

    1. I did the reservations by myself on line. Aer LIngus is no where near as cheap as Ryanair and the service is much better, which is why we paid more.

      1. So how much did you pay? I do not accept the statement that “Aer Lingus is no where as cheap as Ryanair” and Aer Lingus still is a competitor, thus many of the usual extra charges that Ryanair are also imposed by Aer Lingus. Ryanair does not believe in “service” so the competition on that score is easily won by Aer Lingus – but how much does that count for on such a short flight, DUB to CDG ?

        1. WE have flown both and Ryanair was always a lot cheaper even with the add ons. I seem to think it was about $250 euros. It was a year ago and I’m not going to dig through records to try to find it.

  16. United’s COC states that they will refund non-refundable tickets in the the event the passenger is unable to travel due to medical condition. So long as they are medically unable to travel. I am not sure about Aer Lingus’s policy.

    While I am a firm believer of non-refundable being non-refundable, I do favor an appeal process with narrowly tailored criteria begin put in place for situations such as this. The airlines don’t have to do that, or refund if their terms state they don’t, but I would support such a policy.

    As far as airlines breaking the rules when something happens beyond their control? They are not breaking the rules. Delays, due to weather, air traffic, etc. are in the policy, and passengers can get a full refund in those cases.

    1. @emanon256:disqus I fly UA a lot and has never heard of this provision. I just read thru scanned the COC for medical and medical certificate and couldn’t find anything either (but its also 40+ pages long). I’d love to have the language for the future if you could post it.


      1. See my post above to CE. It appears it was removed post merger. I posed a web archive text because I had book marked the page, but even that doesn’t say refund unless death, just refund of change fees. I know it used to be the full ticket cost because I used it once, and it was clearly documented then.

        1. I know AA used to do that as well. I made use of it in Paris, and when my father fell on the way to the airport and was rushed to the hospital he invoked that provision as well.

          1. This is usually part of the rules of an international fare. It allows for the passenger or a family member getting sick as a reason, documented, not just verbal, for a refund.

      2. International fares from the USA, usually have, in the rules, that your ticket is refundable due to medical reasons. So United was doing what the fare said to do.

        1. I have to agree with you. I have read exactly what you said in many UA fare rules or past COCs. I’ve never bothered to read the current COCs. Maybe I should 🙂

    1. Since you asked 🙂

      it protects you some of the time, but not necessarily — details completely outside of your control may still leave you stuck even with travel insurance. Chris has published plenty such examples over the years.

      People keep repeating the fallacy that if you can’t afford to lose your non-refundable deposit, you should get travel insurance. No, if you can’t afford to lose your non-refundable deposit, you shouldn’t make the deposit at all. Because you could still lose it even with insurance.

      That doesn’t mean people should never get travel insurance. It’s a matter of weighing the costs and the risks.

  17. Wait a minute. I have a chronic illness, that often has “flare ups” lasting several days or weeks at a time, when I literally cant get out of bed, or hold my head up. I know when I purchase a Non Refundable ticket that it is NON REFUNDABLE. Period. Why do people continue to think they should be the exception? My husband was on our vacation to Italy 5 weeks after having stage 4 colon cancer. The price this consumer would pay is losing the vacation. Buy travel insurance if you cant afford the loss.

    1. Her ‘over the water’ ticket was refundable and yours could have been if you were traveling internationally from the US due to medical reasons. It is in the rules of the fare, which you should cut and paste to save for reference when buying a ticket.

    2. Its a fundamentally different issue. If you know you have a certain issue, then its your responsibility to be proactive. Otherwise that’s just irresponsible and I’m not advocating that. This is about showing compassion for something that is completely unexpected.
      Besides, travel insurance often wouldn’t cover a case like yours as its pre-existing.

      1. Travel insurance purchased from my regular insurance provider has a rider, it pays with certain limitations. It has to be purchased for every single trip. Not worth it for a small trip, but i definately purchase for long, expensive vacations, like a cruise.

  18. I am notoriously immune to sob stories. From my years in teaching and sales I have heard enough sob stories to harden even the softest heart. I tend to be skeptical when listening to excuses. I noted in my earlier comment that she should have bought insurance but that Aer Lingus did the right thing in refunding the ticket. Something about the simplicity and sincerity of the request rang much more true than some of the complaints I have seen on here. (The screaming twin toddler story still rings that “untrue” bell for me.) That does not mean that the airline must honor every sob story they hear. But sometimes a request is sincere and true and stands out from all the people wanting a refund because of their dog, their car, their court date, etc. One exception will not brake the bank or cause of your fares to go up.

  19. FYI, when you break a fare, meaning you get more than one ticket, you lose the refund for medical reasons on an international fare from the US. Something to consider when pricing an itinerary. Many fares allow for a stopover and the rules of the fare with the medical reason will still apply. They might be a bit higher, but considering the refund benefit, it is something to consider.

        1. Bodega3, I got your 2 questions but don’t really see where to answer them, so this seems as good a place as any. Easiest answer is that this happened a year ago in August and I think Continental still existed then. We have used them for such a long time that we still tend to think Continental rather than United. The reason I couldn’t do a flight with a stop is that we fly into Shannon because that is where our family is, but you can’t get to Paris from there any more. We have to go u p to Dublin. I also didn’t know you could book a flight on another airline with the first one you fly with.

          1. Now I can’t find the comment where you asked if I buy insurance now. You’d better believe it! It was hard enough to deal with being sick, and then to have to deal with all the travel issues too.

          2. I noticed my entries are not here now. Not sure why?
            Did you have travel insurance and if so, did you cover the EI flight?

          3. I don’t know why they’re at the top. Maybe because they’re more recent? At least they’re easy to find. this year when we traveled, we had insurance for the whole trip. Last year, before I knew I was sick, I didn’t have insurance for anything. Now I ALWAYS buy insurance.

          4. If the carrier has a through fare to a destination, but doesn’t fly all of the routing a partner carrier is then part of the itinerary. An example would be SFO to CPH on LH. LH doesn’t fly to CPH but they partner with SAS via FRA. But yes, flying into SNN and out of DUB would mean two separate reservations.

  20. “indeed, the tickets are meant for business travelers on a corporate expense account”

    I disagree. I work in an environment where many people fly millions of miles and we are always told to buy non-refundable tickets. Even if a good number go unused because of changing schedules its still more economical across the whole to buy them.

    Refundable tickets are for people who can’t afford to lose the fee if they change their plans, pure and simple. And this economy really only applies to people who seldom travel, for the reasons I stated above. To say its for business travelers and give these people who cheap out and then want to change the rules is just a “punt” on your part Chris. Life happens, and there shouldn’t be someone there all the time to pay for it. I’m sure the refundable tickets were right there next to the cheap ones, and the buyer makes a conscious choice, whether they admit it or not (saying its not a conscious choice is saying they have no idea why those other fares are more expensive and I’m sure the words “refundable” that normally appear next to the amount should hold the buyer to some sort of accountability).

    I think its decent if airlines (or any other business) gives people a break, but I’m not going to hold it against them if they don’t. As a travelling culture we’ve become accustomed to rules not applying to us, and its creating a culture of entitlement.

    1. Refundable tickets are for people who can’t afford to lose the fee if they change their plans, pure and simple.

      Why would someone who can’t afford to lose $x spend three times as much on a refundable ticket (i.e. usually spending more than $x extra even after a change fee)?

      And if it’s not meant for business travelers or others who want to pay more for perks, then why do those fares so often include perks (like lounge access and upgrades)?

  21. I understand that rules ARE rules, but you really have to be a veteran traveller to undersand what these rules mean, and you have to come into the process being aware that the travel industry functions differently than all the others, where if you don’t use the service or keep the product, you don’t pay.
    My father recently booked a trip to Canada on AA, and when the event he was planning to attend was cancelled, he called AA and asked them to cancel his ticket. It was a non-refundable fare, but the agent he spoke with didn’t say that, and instead she told him that his flight had been cancelled, thanks for calling. So he watched his credit card statement for a refund, and when it didn’t happen, he called back and was THEN told that cancellation does not equal a refund. At my suggestion, he sent an email asking that they allow him to use the fare he’d paid for a later trip, explain his lack of understanding of the rules, etc., and they agreed to it, but this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other industries. Rules may be rules, but they’re bad rules.

  22. Not for the first time, a heartless vendor changes its mind when faced with the prospect of bad publicity from a widely-read consumer advocate. Congratulations Elliot.

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