“Finally, if all the above fails …”

By | February 1st, 2016

If Charles Friedman had gone anywhere else, he would have received a flat-out rejection. After all, he was asking Southwest Airlines for a full refund of his plane tickets from Hartford to Orlando because he wasn’t “up to” traveling during the holidays.

But then I saw the paper trail and what others were saying and I thought: Maybe he needs to get a “no” straight from the horse’s mouth.

Friedman’s case is a good example of why we reject consumers so infrequently. If one of our advocates says, “You don’t have a case,” they come off sounding like industry apologists. But it also illustrates why the industry continues to work with this site in a good-faith effort to resolve customer grievances.

“I am an 87-year-old man, with a wife and a 51-year-old mentally challenged son,” explained Friedman. “I purchased the tickets for a trip to my son in Palm Bay, Fla. I am now not up to the trip and requested a refund of $1,344.”

A Southwest representative told him by phone that he could reschedule his trip, but if he wants the airline to consider a refund, he’ll need a doctor’s note.

“I am not medically sick,” he says, “It’s just that mentally and emotionally I am not up to traveling during the holidays because of the crowds, the long distances I would have to walk in the airports.”

He adds, “At my age and situation I cannot afford to lose $1,344. Can you please help me to get Southwest to refund my money so I can get on with enjoying Christmas?”

I wasn’t his first stop on the refund tour. He’d already contacted Consumer Action, an organization that often helps consumers in need. He sent me the email correspondence between himself and one of their advocates.

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The advocate informed him there was nothing that could be done, since he had three nonrefundable tickets. She made several suggestions, including an appeal to one of Southwest’s executives.

And then:

Finally, if all the above fails, you might try contacting Christopher Elliott, the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine, who has had success resolving travel problems. You can e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, www.elliott.org or contact him using his twitter page at https://twitter.com/elliottdotorg

Um, thanks.

I reviewed the request and the Consumer Action response again. Was I missing something?

The only thing I didn’t see was a definitive, written rejection by Southwest.

So I forwarded the case to my contact at the airline. I knew what she was going to say, but someone had to give it to Friedman straight. Better Southwest than me. Defending airline policy is not in my job description (although apparently, it is in the job description of some of our commenters).

Sure enough, here’s what the airline said:

He purchased a nonrefundable ticket for him and his family. Without a doctor’s note we can’t refund but we have cancelled his trip and will hold his funds to be reused anytime before Oct. 2016 (date will be 12 months from original date of purchase).

We are following up directly with the customer with details. As you know, we have no change fees, so the full value will be available to rebook at a time when it is less hectic for him to travel or he can use the funds to book travel for someone else.

That’s as good a resolution as I could have hoped for. Southwest will give Friedman a final answer. Case closed.

Now, about that “If all the above fails … ” part.

I can’t force a company to do anything — and I don’t want to.

I want it to do the right thing.

This site respects a company’s right to create reasonable policies and to enforce them in an evenhanded, compassionate way. Every member of our advocacy team understands that and agrees with it. That’s why we’re credible and effective.

Should I have advocated for Charles Friedman?

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Update (10 a.m.): I just heard from Friedman with the following update.

Southwest did award me a full refund. In a phone conversation with an exec they were very understanding and felt I deserved a full refund under the circumstances. I love Southwest and will always use them in the future when I am able to fly again.

I don’t know what to say.

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