Ana Iamandi’s parents purchased British Airways tickets from Romania to the United States to visit their daughter, but her father became ill before the original departure date, and died before the tickets could be used. Who should refund the fare?
When Ana Iamandi’s parents, who are citizens and residents of Romania, decided to visit their daughter in Arizona, they purchased their tickets from a local travel agent. Before they could use their tickets, Iamandi’s father became critically ill and was hospitalized. He was unable to travel on the original departure date, so the travel agent called British Airways to determine what options were available.
In such a situation, the last thing family members want to worry about are administrative hassles. And when a passenger dies before the departure date, an airline refund is almost a certainty. Iamandi’s case raises important questions about whether airlines should extend that same compassion to surviving family members if the passenger dies only days too late.
Iamandi also called British Airways to determine if a refund of the tickets was possible and was told that the tickets were nonrefundable. It would only provide a refund if Iamandi’s father died. The travel agent refunded the taxes and seating fees, however.
Only four days after the departure date, Iamandi’s father died, so their travel agent contacted British Airways again, seeking a refund. The agent didn’t receive the proper authorization code from British Airways to process a refund of the ticket, so Iamandi called the airline again.
After she provided a death certificate, British Airways told Iamandi that her mother would receive a refund, so her mother returned to the travel agent. He still had not received a refund code from British Airways, and the British Airways representative for Romania was saying “no refund.”
Iamandi and her family were stranded between a British Airways office in the U.S. that said a refund was due, a separate British Airways office representing Romania that said a refund was not due, and a travel agent in Romania who couldn’t process a refund without an authorization from someone at British Airways. Stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, as they say.
Iamandi posted her story in our forums and received advice from fellow readers and our advocates.
Our advocates noted that when Iamandi called British Airways, she was told that she was due a refund. At the same time, the travel agent said he couldn’t process the refund without the proper authorization code from British Airways. Our advocates wondered if the travel agent had actually contacted British Airways for the refund. Additionally, they noted that the agent should have access to a travel agent portal to submit the paperwork and request the refund — this is his job as her travel agent. They also offered our company contacts for British Airways, suggesting she escalate her case and see if its customer service or the executives would help her.
In her next contact with British Airways, Iamandi was told that there was no record that her travel agent had requested a refund, so for a moment, it seemed that our advocates’ suspicion was correct. Iamandi, however, still thought British Airways was being dishonest since it also denied having received any information from her regarding her father’s condition.
Our advocates also referenced a very similar case from a few years ago, in which British Airways initially refunded the taxes, the passenger subsequently died, and his son requested a refund.
She took our advocates’ advice for her next step and started contacting the British Airways executives whose information we publish on our site. After several weeks, she received an email from customer relations confirming that the travel agent had contacted British Airways about her father’s hospitalization, but claimed the agent requested cancellation of the tickets. Since there was no death at that point, it refunded the taxes and fees, but not the ticket cost. Since the ticket had already been canceled, British Airways would not offer anything further. In fact, the representative said, “our answer won’t change,” and Iamandi was told she would be wasting her time to continue writing.
There is no provision for refunding a ticket under these conditions in British Airways’ conditions of carriage. However, it is standard policy in the industry to provide a refund to a passenger’s next of kin in case of death.
I suspect some of you have been thinking (and preparing to comment) that “they should have bought insurance.” Iamandi’s parents live in Romania, so they’re not eligible for the relatively inexpensive travel insurance policies to which we have access in the U.S. and Canada. In Romania, such a policy could cost thousands of euros — more than the ticket itself. It’s not only impossible; it’s unreasonable.
British Airways should do the right thing. Out of compassion for this family, it should provide the authorization for a refund and allow the travel agent to give Iamandi’s mother her money back. Iamandi would be more than happy to take a voucher for use on a future flight, but issuing a voucher in a name other than that of the original ticketed passenger is another thing airlines really don’t want to do.
We’ve taken up Iamandi’s case because we firmly believe that this is one case where an exception and a compassionate heart are needed. When we hear back, we’ll update the story.