Look up the word “heartless” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a United Airlines plane. At least in Danny Chou’s book.
Chou recently experienced a family tragedy. Just two weeks before his wedding day, his father died unexpectedly. He had to postpone his wedding and honeymoon in order to take care of the funeral arrangements.
At a time like that, you would expect an airline to show some compassion — particularly if you can show it a death certificate. Wrong.
Here’s what happened next, according to Chou:
For our honeymoon, we had booked nonrefundable tickets to Japan leaving on August 10. We also splurged and purchased an upgrade to economy plus seats for $436.
United refused to offer a refund. Instead, the customer service representative told us we could apply for a refund of the $250 service charge by showing a death certificate when we rebooked our flight. The representative also said we would lose the $436 we spent to upgrade to Economy Plus!
That is heartless.
But is United breaking any rules? Well, no. Its terms are clear — though not always clearly disclosed. The Chous would have had to pay a change fee and lost the upgrade if they’d decided to change their plans for any other reason.
But airlines typically waive their rules when you show a death certificate. That’s an unwritten policy but it’s common to the domestic airline industry. It makes sense, too. When their loved ones die, you don’t want to throw the book in your customers’ faces.
I contacted United on Chou’s behalf.
Yesterday evening, I heard back from him.
I just wanted to let you know that I got a call from United Airlines. The representative was very kind and understanding and handled the situation very well. She offered a full refund.
I also wanted to thank you for all your help in dealing with this issue.
I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to resolve issues with my dad’s estate and trying to comfort my mom, who has been devastated by his death, that I did not have the time or energy to deal with United as well. I’m so glad that there is someone like you who is watching the airline industry and doing what you can to help people in their interactions with the airline industry.
I think it’s possible that the United representative to whom Chou spoke didn’t fully understand the circumstances of his cancellation. When a phone call fails to yield the desired result, I always recommend a brief, polite letter to one of the following contacts at United.
In other words, I’m sure United would have done the right thing. Eventually.
(Photo: Dr. Jaus/Flickr Creative Commons)