Mercy! Airlines should refund tickets for cancellation, death, disease and other unfortunate circumstances

By | September 13th, 2010

When should airlines refund a nonrefundable ticket?

More often than they do. A lot more often.

About 9 in 10 respondents to a recent survey say they should get their money back when a flight is canceled for any reason. More than 88 percent of the respondents to the multiple-choice poll also said airlines should issue a refund with a death certificate, presumably to the next of kin.

Nearly 80 percent said airlines should let passengers off the hook and refund their money when they have a communicable disease.

Only one-third of the respondents said refunds should be given when a passenger can’t make it to the airport for reasons beyond his or her control, and less than 5 percent said money should never be returned on a nonrefundable ticket.

Your comments were equally interesting.

Reader Joseph Vaughan said above all, airlines should be flexible.

There can be a set of uniform rules for when refunds will always or never be made but there should also be leeway for specific cases where airline customer service supervisors have the authority to consider exceptional mitigating circumstances beyond the uniform rules that warrant either partial or full refunds or some other type of compensation.

Others, like Nancy Carter, thought the refunds were only fair.

Funny that when an airline has a problem they will refund the nonrefundable ticket. But shouldn’t it go both ways?

Sylvia Prast thought of a few more exceptions she’s like to see:

• If you hold a ticket to somewhere when you need to go to a bedside or funeral elsewhere.
• If you need to extend your trip due to family illness.
• If war-type events break out at or very near your destination, threatening your well-being should you take the trip.
• Hurricanes, fires, floods and such natural disasters (or man-made natural disasters such as the recent Gulf oil spill) that affect the entire region.
• If an announced threat to the airlines themselves (flight hijacking or bombing) for your flight time or route.
• If illness epidemic outbreak threatens your destination (such as H1N1 flu in Mexico last year).
• If weather closes the roads to the airport from your location (officially!).

Whoa. That’s too many to fit into a survey, but definitely worth contemplating.

I also heard from industry expert Richard Eastman, who said making exceptions is easier said than done.

A non-refundable ticket is a business-decision on the part of the airline.

It is saying to the buyer that we’ll sell you this ticket on the basis that you will fill the seat in that specific airplane. When enough of those are sold, it ensures that the airplane will meet its operating costs on that particular segment.

I’ll concede that airlines sometimes lose their perspective and use the tactic to move market-share; but not as often as the consumer would imagine. It costs a chunk of money to simply fly an airplane from Point A to Point B. Making sure you meet operating costs on each segment is critical to survival. Therefore, the only time an airline should refund a non-refundable ticket is when the flight is canceled.