Q: Earlier this year, I booked flights with Expedia on Icelandair for a trip to Paris and London for my wife and me. It was to be in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary. Since the day I bought the tickets, our lives have changed in a dramatic way. My wife was stricken with a very serious bacterial infection and has been struggling for her life in the intensive-care unit at the hospital. If she can recover, she will be in rehabilitation for several months and will not be able to go on the trip.
Since my wife cannot go, I would like to take our son, a 19-year-old college student. I have called Expedia and Icelandair to ask if this was possible, but both times I was told it was not. Each of these companies told me to call the other. I have since sent a letter via e-mail to Icelandair but have not received a response.
I would be willing to pay the difference between the original ticket and today’s price, but can’t afford another full-price ticket. It would seem reasonable to me that if I only need two seats, then I shouldn’t need to pay for three seats. The airline has very little if any risk in this situation.
I have heard of airlines that have special fares for families in crisis, and I hope that they would have some compassion. I did not buy trip insurance and now wish I had.
A: I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s illness. Under those circumstances, you could have requested a refund or a ticket credit for your wife. Icelandair would have offered her a credit for the full amount, as long as the flight hadn’t left. Refunds are handled on a case-by-case basis.
What led to some confusion is that you asked to use the same ticket and change the name on the reservation. Name changes are generally not allowed (airlines cite “security” concerns, but it’s mostly a money thing). If you had requested a refund and bought a new ticket for your son, this would have gone a lot more smoothly.
Let’s be clear about this: Under the terms of your ticket, you were not entitled to a refund in the event of an illness. You could have received a refund if your flight had been canceled by the airline, but otherwise your money belonged to Icelandair. Still, I thought you were getting the runaround. I contacted Expedia on your behalf, and it worked with the airline to secure a 50-percent refund for your wife’s ticket, and helped you book a new ticket for your son.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.