stripChrista Southworth’s husband spent part of last year embedded in Iraq as part of the Army’s Human Terrain System, a program that pairs anthropologists and other social scientists with combat brigades to help tacticians in the field understand local cultures. He booked a United Airlines flight home last spring for the birth of his second child.

Then his mission ended early, so he caught a military transport plane back to the States. And then, much to his surprise, he found himself holding a worthless ticket.

How so? Southworth explains:

After his return home, I called United Airlines to cancel the flight. We did not purchase refundable tickets, so I knew we would only be able to obtain a credit for future flights.

The person with whom I spoke stated that we would have an approximately $900 credit and that it had to be used no later than January 30, 2010, one year to the date after I booked the original ticket. He indicated that when calling to schedule flights using the credit, we only needed to give them the original flight confirmation number.

So far, so good. She shows a clear understanding of the rules, and United is handling this case by the book. But then …

Several weeks ago, my husband and I decided to schedule a flight to Las Vegas. I called United Airlines to schedule the flights and to use the credit and was told that they had no record of the credit.

I then began exchanging emails with United and was again informed that their records showed that the ticket had been used.

Since we were in a hospital in Alexandria, Va., delivering a baby the night of his flight, I can assure you that the tickets were not used.

I explained this to United in an email and they suggested we call the help line again. I have reached my limit in trying to deal with this company. We spent close to $1,000 for my husband to fly home from Iraq. He was gone for a long time while I worked, cared for our toddler, and carried another baby.

While we willingly sacrificed to help with the US war effort, this situation is just an intolerable insult.

Something was obviously wrong with United’s records, so I put Southworth in touch with the right people at the airline to see if this could be resolved. And today, it was.

I wanted to send you a quick note to let you know I followed your advice, contacted senior people at United, and was able to receive a refund. I don’t think I would have been able to do that without your assistance. Thank you very much for your help.

I’m happy that this could be fixed, but wonder what might have happened if she couldn’t reach anyone at a senior level at United? Would she have eventually have accepted a $1,000 loss?

As I pointed out in this morning’s post, which coincidentally also involved a United problem, there are other remedies at your disposal, including a credit card dispute. Southworth might have tried those before giving up.

But really, she shouldn’t have had to do anything at all — except cash in the ticket and have a good time in Vegas.

(Photo: Mr. Write On)