Southwest Airlines responds to needy passenger with compassion – why won’t US Airways?

By | May 1st, 2012

Can you be right -- and wrong? / Photo by Tipek US Airways - Flickr
When you’re in my line of work, you hear your share of sob stories. Few are as tragic as Charley Price’s, and few have as frustrating an outcome.

His story starts with the death of his wife’s father last summer, only two months after Price’s mother-in-law had passed away.

“We were initially led to believe from family that a delay in scheduling a family funeral for both parents was going to happen at a later date, but with less than two weeks notice we were informed that the funeral service was being scheduled for both parents on July 14.”

Because of scheduling difficulties, Price and his wife had to book two sets of one-way tickets from Minneapolis to El Paso, Texas: one on Southwest Airlines, the other on US Airways.

“Unfortunately, my wife became severely ill the evening before we were to travel which required hospitalization and we were forced to cancel our air travel plans and miss the funeral service.”

I can’t imagine the grief of losing two parents, followed by the hardship of a severe illness.

You would expect an airline to be sympathetic to the Prices, particularly if they could show a death certificate and a doctor’s note.

Price explains what happened next:

I immediately called US Airways to cancel our scheduled trip and explained what happened.

The agent dutifully cancelled our travel plans, and was quick to state we had one year to use the tickets from date of issue, plus any additional airfare and a minimum $150 per person reissue fee.

I explained the unforeseen medical emergency and asked that the reissue fee be waived.

I was informed that US Airways does not allow refunds for non-refundable tickets and would enforce the reissue fee. The combined reissue fee of $150 per person ($300 total for my wife and I) nearly matched our original one-way airfare of $440.

It was quite the contrast with Southwest.

When I called Southwest to cancel and stated what happened, the person on the phone could not have been more gracious and expressed concern for my wife.

The agent stated that I had one year from date of issue to use our non-refundable tickets and any additional airfare.

Expecting the worst, I asked if there were any additional fees and was told no. To make sure I specifically asked if there was a reissue fee and again I was told no.

OK, we could get into a debate about US Airways and Southwest and fees, but I think there are two noteworthy takeaways here.

First, the US Airways representative could have expressed some sympathy for Price, which costs nothing.

Second, both US Airways and Southwest should have had a notation in Price’s reservation that he was flying on a bereavement fare. Combined with his other personal circumstances, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to offer a full refund.

(Passengers cut airlines a break when circumstances “beyond their control” force them to cancel a flight. If ever there was a time for a little quid pro quo, this would be it, don’t you think?)

Price appealed to a supervisor and then put his request in writing. Unfortunately, it came back with the same response.

Dear Mr. Price:

Though I understand your situation, I must adhere to established policies which do not allow for refunds of non-refundable tickets, even due to medical circumstances.

You have one year from the date of issue to complete travel.

I thought Price’s case was worth a second look. After all, he wasn’t flying to El Paso on vacation, and he missed the flight because of circumstances beyond his control.

US Airways didn’t respond to my request.

No question about it, US Airways did what it had to, contractually speaking. It isn’t required to do any more. But was this an appropriate response to a passenger in need?

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