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Travel Troubleshooter: After brother's death, airline won't refund ticket

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • December 13, 2013 - 2:43 PM

Q: My husband and I were recently scheduled to fly from Chicago to Las Vegas on American Airlines. Unfortunately, my brother died shortly before we left, and we canceled our nonrefundable tickets.

I subsequently noticed on the American website that nonrefundable tickets could be refunded due to a death in the immediate family. I called the refund services desk for many days and could never get through to a real person. The message on this phone was “Due to circumstances beyond our control, we can’t answer the phone right now, call back later.” I sent American Airlines two e-mails and received no replies. I faxed them a letter with a copy of the obituary — again, no reply.

I would like a complete refund of my $705 airfare, but no one will talk to me. It’s very frustrating not to be able to talk to a person. I hope you can help.

 

A: My condolences on your loss. American should have answered the phone the first time you called, instead of sending you through a bureaucratic maze during this difficult time.

American’s policy on the death of a passenger, immediate family member or traveling companion, is spelled out on its website. At the time you booked your ticket, it said a change fee may be waived or the ticket refunded, provided that a copy of the death certificate is presented to American Airlines.

The “refund” would be in the form of a nonrefundable transportation voucher that may be used for future travel on American Airlines only.

In other words, American will let you miss your flight because of a death in the family, but if you send it a death certificate, it will offer you a voucher. If you’re a “no show” without proof of the death, you would lose the value of your ticket.

If you had e-mailed or faxed your brother’s death certificate, along with your record locator, to the airline, I think you might have received the promised voucher. But it’s difficult to know. The airline was operating under bankruptcy protection at the time this happened, and things have a way of slipping through the cracks when a company is trying to restructure.

I contacted American on your behalf. A representative got in touch with you immediately and sent you a voucher for $705.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org

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