Oh, for the last time – nonrefundable means nonrefundable (except when it doesn’t)

Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com

Pamela Mason knew her US Airways ticket to California was nonrefundable. But she thought her circumstances — she became seriously ill after “contracting something nasty in Mexico” that landed her in the emergency room — was reason for it to bend a rule.

Oh, and she read a story about another passenger who I’d helped with a refund on a nonrefundable ticket.

The request went to our busy resolutions department, where Will Leeper, our volunteer coordinator, reviewed the specifics of her request.

“I called my travel agent the day prior to the flight to cancel for all four of us,” explains Mason. “After being bed-ridden for two weeks, I finally contacted US Airways for refunds via the website and conferred with your site to see what other recourse may be possible. I got emails denying all four refunds.”

Mason had sent US Airways doctor’s notes that verified her medical condition, but it didn’t seem to matter.

I wonder about her “agent.” A competent travel adviser would have told Mason’s family that, absent any trip insurance, their best bet would be to ask for a ticket credit, which could be used up to a year from the date of the original reservation.

Instead, she apparently just canceled the flights, which were totally nonrefundable. That’s like telling the airline: Hey, we’re going to give you all the money for the tickets and offer you the opportunity to resell the seats.

US Airways should be grateful.

But it wasn’t.

Leeper saw no way out, except perhaps an appeal to someone higher up at the airline for a one-time exception to its rules.

“Unfortunately, nonrefundable almost always means exactly what it says — it can’t be refunded,” he wrote.

He added,

There are often provisions in fare rules that allow changes to be made in the event of a medical emergency (or vouchers issuable for the amount of the tickets, without a deduction of the applicable change fees), but generally speaking, the fare rules (which are agreed to when you purchase the ticket) do not allow nonrefundable tickets to suddenly become refundable in the event of a medical condition.

I’m sorry I couldn’t have better news.

That was the right answer. To which she replied:

So who are you exactly? Would the doctor’s letter, medical records and CT scan from the hospital be helpful? My doctor is ready to provide all documents.

Leeper explained that he was one of several volunteers who help answer questions from readers. He continued,

While I am terribly sorry to hear about your medical condition, and I wish you a full and speedy recovery, if you didn’t purchase travel insurance, the most the airline will usually offer are travel vouchers for the amount you paid which can be used within one year of the date you originally booked your travel.

Mason was unhappy with that answer.

So the “stories” I read on the website, blogs, facebook are bunk? Not trying to be pejorative, but I see a lot of similarities between my situation and the story of the lady who couldn’t fly to her cruise due to hospitalization just recently posted.

Is it all just a shell game to boost readership and garner contributions?

At that point, I jumped in.

Ms. Mason, I’m going to ask the airline about your case, but I’m fairly confident that Will is correct. They will also tell us “no.” But I’m more than willing to check on your behalf.

Please bear in mind, we can’t force a travel company to do anything.

And yes, I asked. And the answer was a fast and hard “no.” My contact said she should have bought insurance on her ticket.

Case closed.

As I’ve explained to my resolutions team time and again, the best way to avoid becoming the target of a passenger’s anger is to allow the airline to say “no.” That may be a cop-out, but it’s true that if I had my way, airline policies would be far more customer-friendly than they are.

There’s no reason a fully refundable airline ticket can’t be affordable, or that airline rules can’t be a little more flexible. After all, the airline industry is sinking its teeth into record-setting ancillary revenues — and profits.

US Airways apparently had second thoughts about its “no.” After initially rejecting her request, it sent her a follow-up email that said “based on the circumstances you have described and as a one time courtesy, I have documented your reservation to waive the change fee.”

“We are thrilled and thankful for the blessing,” Mason told me.

Should US Airways have waived Pamela Mason's change fee?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Charles Hines

    So I guess this confirms if you are a total bitch, you get your way? Once she started insulting you Chris you should have sent her on her way.

  • Benjamin Barnett

    She should have lost all her money for being a jerk. At that point, I would not have stepped in for her.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The answer is yes, and no. I think airlines should waive change fees for DOCUMENTED medical reasons. But I have no tolerance for the way she acted by sending those beligerant e-mails.

  • sdir

    So instead of requesting a ticket credit due to medical emergency, she demanded a full refund of not only her own ticket, but also the tickets of three other people? I guess Chris’s website not only educates would-be travelers, but it also teaches some people to act entitled and rude in order to get their way.

    Chris, I propose a new weekly segment, where you highlight a letter from an entitled traveler. Such letters are entertainment fodder for the masses. :)

  • BillCCC

    It appears that the entitled have found a new way to get what they want. Threaten Chris with bad publicity so that he will take their case.

  • TonyA_says

    Next time please read the penalty category provisions of the fare you purchased. They specifically address cancellations, refunds, and changes.
    The term non ref is usually placed on the endorsement line or box of the ticket to alert an agent not to refund it or exchange it like a normal fare without restrictions . Same thing with noend. It alerts an agent not to accept the ticket coupons on another airline automatically. NON REF and NOEND are simply tags on the ticket. It tells the agent to contact the issuing airline for a waiver of some sort.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    And we have yet ANOTHER traveler who thinks she is special and the rules don’t apply to her. She decided to be cheap and not buy travel insurance, probably knowing full well that if something happened, she could just throw a huge temper tantrum until she gets her way. Which is EXACTLY what happened.

    The entitlement attitude is absolutely disgusting. But after working in the travel industry I can’t say I’m surprised.

  • Chris_In_NC

    … and so the cycle continues
    Fast forward 3 months from now
    “But Mr. Elliott, you were able to bend the rules for Ms. Mason. I feel that my circumstances are at least if not more worthy. I have all the documentation”

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I seriously feel like a sucker, doing the proper homework and purchasing travel insurance to make sure I’m protected. Next time I’m not gonna buy travel insurance. Then when something happens, I’ll just stamp my feet and pout until I get my way.

  • TonyA_says

    Chris, did the LW have a travel agent or did she DIY the ticket purchases?

  • Kate Barbre Otter

    This annoys me. She acted like a petulant child and got her way. I don’t think you should continue to advocate for people like this, leaves a sour taste for your readers and you’re opening yourself up to have up continue doing things like this.

    Ps moral of the story is buy your insurance, folks!

  • Thoroughlyamused

    And the last time I replied to someone saying that would happen, everyone brushed me off. The people that advocate for “compassion”, ie giving someone else’s money away (Michael k, Carver, Joe Messina, etc.) said that it was ridiculous to expect that bending the rules for one person meant that more people would ask for it. This article proves otherwise…

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Sounds like the moral of THIS story is to not waste money on travel insurance., since you can probably get the same benefit by throwing a temper tantrum until you get your way.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I didn’t see it that way. She was disappointed, and wanted a final answer from the airline. My team and I believed the answer would be “no” and we tried to accommodate her.

    It’s true, her attitude was unhelpful during the resolutions process, but I don’t take that personally. After all, these passengers are usually in a stressful situation and may have forgotten some of the good manners their parents taught them.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I was a little annoyed too. I was surprised when US Airways changed its answer. I was expecting the “no” to stick on this one.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Considering that anyone can go to certain doctors in California and pay $100 to get a piece of paper that lets them smoke weed legally (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing), I have a feeling the same thing would probably happen WRT airline refunds/change fee waivers.

  • Nikki

    No, it was that entitled attitude of hers that kept her from reading anything that wasn’t the answer she wanted.

  • John Baker

    @Cybrsk8r:disqus … Many moons ago I worked for GM in one of their assembly plants as an engineer on the floor. Because of that, I worked pretty closely with the production team and sat in all of their production meetings. I know it will shock you but we had to stop accepting medical notes from one Urgent Care practice when we found out that they would write a sick note for $25 without ever seeing the patient.

    When I was selected to be on a launch team and spent a year working out of Warren, I found out the same thing went on there.

    So, in my experience, a medical note isn’t worth the paper its written on. Its different with a insurance claim where the company will pull medical records to verify the illness. An airline isn’t going to do that.

  • Andrew Bernal

    I’m one of those people who has gotten a refund from US Airways on a non-refundable flight. I cancelled in the morning on the day of my flight, which was at night. I believe the roundtrip cost was about $200. Originally they issued a credit for future travel which I would have had to pay a $150 fee to use. After explaining the circumstances in an e-mail to their refund department, they contacted me via phone and told me that after consideration they would issue me a full refund back to the card it was purchased on.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Don’t play the Russian Roulette. Buy Travel Insurance including trip cancellation before departure and have a peace of mind. Several unfortunate events can happen and a tout-risque travel insurance soften very much a bad luck : sickness, accident, delay, lost/delay of luggages, misconnection, etc… you don’t have even rely on Airlines for Hotels & Meal when delays or misconnection (trip interruption).

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I know employers that won’t accept sick notes from CVS Minute Clinic. Since CVS wants people to come back they hand out those notes like candy.

  • DChamp56

    But it does seem to suggest to her that Will was “just a volunteer”, and you were the one who really got it fixed. Makes me wish she hadn’t gotten the fix from the airline.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’d sure like to hear what the travel agent has to say, since we’ve only got the OP’s version of that conversation with her TA.

    I’m very proud of you and the resolutions team, @elliottc:disqus, for staying classy during the case and now in the comments section.

    Like @Chris_In_NC:disqus, I’m waiting for the next person to reference this article and demand satisfaction in their case. As we saw in last week’s case with the Costa cruise, your name is being touted as a person who will work for free (yes, I said FREE) to produce results, merited or otherwise.

  • Raven_Altosk

    The OP needs a kick in the face. She obviously doesn’t think the rules apply to her (non-refundable ticket) and then treats people who are there to help like garbage.

    Stamp her forehead with “IDIOT” and “RUDE” and move on.

    Seriously, after the first snotty email, I would’ve ignored her.

  • Stuart Murray

    I think some of it is the luck of the draw in who you talk to. A couple years ago, my mother had a serious stroke while visiting family in Minnesota. She had flown US Airways up there. Couldn’t take the return trip of course. I called them the day before she was supposed to leave, and got a sympathetic agent who waived any change fee as long as she used the ticket within a year. They sent an email with a voucher, which she later used on a different trip. I was quite surprised that they were at all accommodating.

  • Travelnut

    Firstly, greetings from Scotland!

    I’m going to defend the LW insofar as she felt her case was rejected when other similar cases were accepted. Speaking from personal experience. It is upsetting. She shouldn’t have been rude like that though. After all, it is a free service (“free”!) and Chris is under no obligation. It’s a public service but also for the reading entertainment of the masses so it needs to be different and intriguing. Anyway, lady my advice to you would be more flies caught with sugar than vinegar.

  • John Baker

    Where in Bonnie Scotland?

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    must be a slow news day if this crap gets published again.

  • Pegtoo

    Exactly. I hate buying any type of insurance. This is one less I’ll need!
    (Well, it felt good to type that anyway.)

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    If I became ill and could not travel, I would be the only person staying home.
    Why cancel all 4 tickets? Why not still have the other 3 people go on vacation?

  • jerryatric

    So next trip – no insurance. Instead cry to all concerned, including Chri
    s & get a refund on a non refundable ticket. What nonsense. We carefully plan our trips, ensure we have proper medical & travel insurance,& confirm all our details before leaving.
    Why bother, buy cheapest airfare (non refundable) forget insurance, & if something goes wrong, cry to everyone & especially Chris to make it right.
    ME generation, with entitlement !

  • Laura616

    Having been on the receiving end of this problem I have to say she should have bought insurance. And she certainly should not have been so rude to people who are trying to help her.

    Virgin kept a large chunk of my money on one occasion saying I needed to be ‘hospitalized on the day of travel’. Now I take ‘cancellation for any reason’ insurance and I don’t fly Virgin!

  • Alan Gore

    And furthermore, there would probably be a good job waiting for such a person at the airlines.

  • Cybrsk8r

    How did I know I’d be attacked for this?

    Well, guys, let me clarify this in a way even you’ll understand. I don’t consider a note from a CVS to be “documentation”. I’m talking about the person who needs a by-pass or other major medical procedure, who’s going to be laid up for a few weeks. I don’t think there are too many CVS Minute Clinics which do thorasic or abdominal surgury.

  • Christina Conte

    Can you say “entitled”? She didn’t seem to understand that it was her responsibility to a). have purchased a refundable ticket in the first place or b). have purchased travel insurance if she wanted her money back once she got sick in Mexico (something that happens often). I agree with everyone else: once she turned on your staff with that attitude, I was disappointed to see she got her money back.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Don’t give the insurance companies any ideas. Gallbladder surgeries and hysterectomies are now considered outpatient procedures.

  • Len Oxman

    I disagree. She wasn’t a total bitch. She was only a partial bitch. I do agree with your assessment, however.

  • TonyA_says

    This must be the post of the day, ROFL – partial bitch.

  • John Baker

    Sorry if you took it as an attack… Wasn’t meant that way. More of a statement of fact. Doc in a boxes have gotten to the point that they have made the old “doctor’s” note useless. Beyond that, I don’t see an airline spending the time or money to confirm an illness when they don’t have to pay you back.

    It would be nice if you could still trust doc notes. Make life a lot easier.

  • TonyA_says

    Thank goodness. I did not have to wait long to prove to Caver Esq. that we help the lowest kind of people here.

  • Christina Conte

    And you didn’t expect anyone to do it for you and weren’t nasty! What a concept. Glad they did this for you.

  • TonyA_says

    You are entitled to this under USAIrways Penalty rules. But depending on the kind of fare you purchased, you will pay a fee to change the ticket.




    NOTE –


  • TonyA_says

    USAirways is ahead of the game. There is no medical emergency exception in their penalty rules.

  • emanon256

    My though too. I actually voted “Yes”, but only because US Air says, or at least used to say they will waive the change fee in the event of a medical emergency.

  • emanon256

    I used to chair an appeals committee for a University. We had a policy that if someone was medically unable to complete a semester, they could get a 100% refund. Otherwise, no refund. We got plenty of Dr.s notes, however we got one note where many words were marked out with a sharpie. It was now worded in such a way that was very confusing, but sounded like the person was medially advised to drop out. Since it was confusing, I called the Dr.s office, and since the letter was written to my office they were able to fax the copy they kept on file to me. The actual letter stated that the person was medically able to continue with school, and should not drop out. I was tempted to bring disciplinary action against the student, but decided to let it go. Her appeal was denied, and she had already dropped out and it was too late to receive a refund.

  • emanon256


  • emanon256

    I went to the Wallgreens clinic and it turned out I had strep throat. They offered to write me a note to get out of work. I didn’t need a note, but at least Strep seemed valid. Not sure if they would write it if I didn’t.

  • Randy Culpepper

    “I called my travel agent the day prior to the flight to cancel for all four of us,”

    “That’s like telling the airline: Hey, we’re going to give you all the money for the tickets and offer you the opportunity to resell the seats.”

    Seriously? What a joke. These cases do nothing but contribute to the adversarial relationship between businesses and consumers as a whole.

  • Lindabator

    WOW – just keep stamping your feet to get your way, and they cave — Chris, be prepared — ALL the leeches will expect you to get that refund – because they’re special, and you did it the last time (and the time before…)

  • Kasiar001

    I am so sick and tired of stupid people and their sob stories. BUY INSURANCE!!! Chris, you and your team do a wonderful job helping people but your effort is cheapened when you waste your time on people like this one who have a hissy fit when they don’t get their way. Please stop!


    Me too Jeanne. The TA would not have had to do anything to get the credit as that is standard US Airways policy. My agent simply keeps a hold on my ticket number to exchange when I am ready. The issue was probably the exorbitant change fee. I would like to know if the agent tried to get the fee waived and US Airways turned her down. That info is vague to say the least. And I am not happy the airline caved in to the OP.

  • Lindabator

    AMEN! Worked for United, and got a call from a DR, travelling with a group of DRs to a MEDICAL seminar – wanted to know if we’d change his flight with a DRs note (wow – just wow!)

  • Lindabator

    They do not do so any longer

  • Lindabator

    But you didn’t pitch a fit, and did not EXPECT it – your mom was right – easier with honey than vinegar!

  • Lindabator

    And in how you behave — you were nice, didn’t make demands – they are more likely to WANT to help! (Believe me, heard it ALL when I worked for United)

  • emanon256

    That is just nuts. Wow! Well, good to know. Is AA the same?

  • emanon256

    My wife and I were on a US Airways flight when she got food poisoning the morning of the flight. We tried driving to the airport but she got so sick on the way we ended up just going to an airport hotel. I took the shuttle to the airport and asked them if I could change our tickets to the following day since my wife was in no shape to fly, the lady asks what happened and I said food poisoning and that we were just going to camp out at the hotel over night and see how she felt in the morning. The agent said sure, and found two seats the next day. I pulled out my credit card and she asked me what that was for, I said, “The change fee and fair difference”. She said she has never seen anyone so willing to pay the change fee that is just going to waive it for me, she waived the fare difference too. I thanked her profusely. I was shocked.

  • TonyA_says

    Buy insurance!

  • John Baker

    Disney did the same sort of thing for me two Christmases ago. We were staying the night at one of their hotels prior to a cruise and our flights got cancelled (over xmas … it was a mess). I called early in the day. Told them what had happened and that we wouldn’t be coming. The phone agent gave me the non-refundable speech. When I responded that I understood and that it was ok but I wanted to let them know so they could sprinkle some pixie dust on another family… They refunded the room. I even had Trip Insurance.

  • Kerr

    I guess US Airways made a fan out of you!

  • TonyA_says

    Didn’t I recommend that this site begins CHARGING a service fee for research :-)
    Just researching the rules of the fare the LW bought takes a lot of time and effort.
    Why can’t their TA advocate for them. The TA charged them money.
    If they DIYed, then definitely should DIY their complaining too unless they pay.

  • shannonfla

    That’s too bad for us good eggs because CVS is great when it’s after hours, your PCP can’t see you for a week, or, depending on employer, you’re part-time and it’s much less expensive to go to CVS

  • Cindy Kaebisch

    But … strep throat is not an emergency. Having an emergency appendectomy – a lot more important.

  • John Baker

    Not all are bad but the bad ones have ruined it for everyone else… As far as care, I’d use one in a heartbeat.

  • TonyA_says

    The irony is that my health insurance costs thousands and I have a hard time seeing a real doctor for my primary care physician. When I call, they always give me a nurse.

  • IGoEverywhere

    My kid’s tummy hurts, I have a bad ear ache, wah wah wah. These excuses are easily documented in today’s world of being exempt from “no means no”! There is always the death exception where compassion should be used in the full refund of a ticket and usually is. The rest of these refunds are bilking the airlines out of their just contracted fees. It really is the pure luck of which customer service agent that you talk too.
    I am supposed to have a better reason for getting a refund than everybody else? AIrlines, stand up for your rights and don’t give in to the whiners. They can purchase insurance for her “I got sick in Mexico” excuse.

  • bodega3

    Sadly this has become the behavior of a lot of travelers. You see and hear it at the airport all the time.

  • omgstfualready

    sigh, eye roll, heavy loud sigh.

  • $16635417

    If we are going to advocate “include” bags, preassigned seats, meals, more legroom and the such…why not just raise fares even a little more to include a mandatory “cancel for any reason” policy in each ticket?

  • Freehiker

    HaHa, as I was reading this story all I could think was…..man, what a bitch.

    Then I scroll down to the comments and see I’m not alone.

  • sirwired

    Hasn’t this woman ever heard the bit about flies, honey, and vinegar?
    I really wish USAir had stood their ground with this lady; when you ask for an exception to the rather clear rules, it’s a lot more likely to succeed if you bother to acknowledge that the rules exist and you are asking for something special.

  • LonnieC

    Sorry. I instinctively lean towards the passenger in matters like this, but here – no. As usual, the OP wanted something for nothing, and worse, she got ugly when she didn’t hear what she wanted from you. You were trying to do her a favor, and her response to your inability to get her something she wasn’t entitled to was to attack you. Enough. Nasty loses. Goodby.

  • pauletteb

    It’s less than $20 for ticket insurance; seems a bargain to me.

  • LonnieC

    No, Chris. It’s exactly when one is stressed that their character shows. The classy ones still behave properly under all circumstances. The others show their true character….

  • PolishKnightUSA

    “There’s no reason a fully refundable airline ticket can’t be affordable, or that airline rules can’t be a little more flexible.”

    I think there are several reasons otherwise the bean counters at the airlines would have implemented such a policy. Here’s a list of a few (which I’m sure Chris is well aware of, but are worth stating)

    1) Business or wealthy passengers essentially subsidize “steerage” or consumer and vacation travel. They tend to not care about traveling at the last minute and are willing to pay more. The airlines do have a heart and usually have “bereavment” fares for passengers who need to travel last minute because a relative died. Sometimes these discounts aren’t very good but still, the rules are in place to effectively help make air travel more affordable in light of recent fuel increases, taxes, and security expenses.

    2) As we see here, when one person gets an exception made then pretty soon an entitlement attitude settles in. The rules can be made more flexible, but they have to be cautious because they know they’ll get a lot of push from those taking advantage of them. There are entire websites dedicated to exploiting every loose rule or loophole.

    3) Advance, non-refundable fares have a value to the airline. They can plan their flight capacity effectively and fill them up to the brim with passengers crammed in like sardines. With refundable, last minute fares, a lot of people will be no-shows and the planes will take off half empty. Each seat is a lost fare and could easily pay for an additional FA’s salary (imagine how much nicer they’d be if there were more of them!)

    4) Another praise of advance fares (consider this 3a.) The airlines get the passengers’ money in advance. They have the money in hand to buy fuel and pay salaries. I’ve seen stories about some airlines running short on cash and asking passengers to pony up for fuel or remain stranded in a transfer city. It happens. Advance fares help airlines keep their bank accounts in the black.

    5) For those of us who book in advance, and the airline still lets us reserve seats for free, it’s a great way to score a great seat ahead of the poor business guys who don’t have elite status and buy a Y ticket and get stuck in the middle seat. However… these guys can often upgrade a Y ticket for a minimal fee to business class or qualify for elite status.

  • adrienne

    I am REALLY surprised 58% of the “voters felt that USAirlines “”should” have kept her money and should have NOT refunded her for reasons of compassion. Like Chris says…is there some reason airlines can not/ have more flexIble policies?

  • omgstfualready

    They do. You buy the ticket that gives the flexibility you want.

  • adrienne

    I was surprised but in reading through his thread I see that many people are reacting to her “attitude”instead of the medical circumstances. And me thinks are in effect wanting to punish her because of her seeming lack of ‘couth.’

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    I don’t see any insults here but I see a lot of understandable frustration. If someone is in the Emergency Room and can PROVE IT, the airline should offer vouchers for a future flight, even if that person does not go about the request properly. It’s difficult to comprehend the fraud that goes on every day in every way; I believe that this causes most of the annoyance, frustration and bitchiness trying to get problems resolved.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Insults? She was pretty damn rude to the volunteers who help Chris.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    That’s reasonable in that if you are in the wrong or vulnerable, then you have to ask nicely. Beggars cannot be choosers.

    She didn’t have a legal right to a refund. Period. She has to therefore beg not only the airlines, but Chris as well. Her attitude helps undermine the compassion of the airline in general. If the next person who is nice writes they have a problem, the airline ombudsman may be in a bad mood and decline it.

  • bodega3

    So who are you exactly?
    That you don’t find rude? She wrote, they responded and she then says that?

  • bodega3

    Yes, of course we would respond to her attitude. You draw more flies to honey than to vinegar, as the saying goes.

  • bodega3

    They offer fully refundable fares. So how much more flexible can they be on what they offer? You pick a NONREFUNDABLE ticket, then accept you might have some costs.

  • bodega3

    Not at all. First off, she did the right thing by calling as many nonrefundable domestic fares become totally unusable if you don’t cancel prior to departure time. Since she did, her fare is reusable with a fee, which she agreed to when she made the initial purchase. She went to Mexico and was traveling to CA, so could she not have reused this fare for another date? City pairs can be changed, but there is a deadline to reuse.

  • bodega3

    The TA may have been treated as poorly as Chris and his team were, so should the TA have had to deal with this? I won’t take abuse. I will assist in contacting the carrier on behalf of my clients but only if they are not attacking me for explaining the rules and what the possible outcome could be. I have had great success in getting refunds, but abuse me and you will not get help!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I just got an email from her. Turns out that was a fair question, because she was dealing with one of our volunteers. She was confused that someone else was writing back to her.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Every time I book an airfare, I am presented with the option(s) to purchase a nonrefundable ticket for one price or a refundable ticket for more money. Every time. If I’m booking myself online, the website suggests or offers me the opportunity to buy the airline’s crappy travel insurance policy. If I book with my agent, she offers me the opportunity to buy travel insurance. Travel insurance is far cheaper than buying a refundable ticket. So, if I don’t think I can afford to lose the value of my airline tickets if something, anything, comes up, I buy insurance.

    What I don’t do is decide to hold someone else responsible for my decisions and then to berate that someone else because another individual somewhere else in the world got something I didn’t. Accusing Christopher Elliott, his team, and his website of making up stories in order to generate attention and web traffic is an insult.

    Edited for clarity.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Actually, I got that sense of confusion from the way the article was written. I stand by the rest of my indignation (see my response to @judy_serie_nagy:disqus).

  • ploughmud

    I can not believe you even respond to these people that do not know the meaning of NO and think their situation is more important than other situations. Too cheap to get the insurance, so be it. If she was bedridden, there was no one from the 4 to deal w the airline tickets, hmmm.
    Then saying “Is it all just a shell game to boost readership and garner contributions?” was a slap in the face. Her whining like a baby…I wish they had not given in. I probably should not be so mouthy…but really. Grow up, be an adult.

  • Lindabator

    Probably will – any merger seems to adopt the more stringent policies of the other airline. SIGH.

  • Lindabator

    HAHA – was thinking the same thing!

  • Lindabator

    But you and I know the airlines can tell US no just as easily – and if she is such a pleasant little creature, they may not have been likely to bend over backwards for her, either.

  • Lindabator

    That’s the honey vs vinegar touch. :)

  • Lindabator

    NO – she just was never “entitled” to a refund, so when asking for something you don’t deserve, try being nice rather than nasty, and learn to deal with the fact that you MIGHT not get it!

  • Lindabator

    But that is why you are the type of client I would WANT to go to bat for. I think a lot of people forget that when asking for something they are NOT entitled to, they should actually try being nice! :)

  • omgstfualready

    No. I’m completely indifferent as to why she wants to be special. She was faced with a risk/reward situation and she chose to maximize her risk and be rewarded with a low fare. Her lack of couth is an outgrowth of Chris taking on these cases in the first place which bred entitlement.

  • TonyA_says

    Well we cannot promise an outcome. So our fee (which is cheap) is for the RESEARCH only. How else is this site gonna pay for its bills?

  • bodega3

    Their TA might have tried, we don’t know. If she treated Chris and his assistants so poorly, wanna bet how she treated the TA?

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Yah, bodega, it’s rude, but not an insult.

  • bodega3

    For years, the first thing I use to turn to, when the office copy of Conde Nast came in, was the Ombudsman column. The requests for assistance back then were reasonable and usually well handled. In fact, I learned a few things from those that helped me with client’s needs. These days, the requests to a travel Ombudsman are truly from those who feel entitled, don’t pay attention to rules because someone will cover them later if needed and basic whiners. For the most part, the articles on this site with requests for Chris’ help are often unnecessary.

  • backprop

    I think he may have been referring to Christopher’s statement, effectively that calling the airline was something only a fool would do.

  • TonyA_says

    Many people come here because they feel that they are entitled to an exception to a policy, something they agreed to when they bought a ticket. So, Elliott tries …

    What we need to do is separate the wheat from the chaff.
    There are cases where the OPs were truly victims.
    Those are the people we need to help.

  • bodega3

    I guess we don’t see those that are truly victims on this site.


    I was once on a flight that ended with an FAA incident report and a very late arrival to my destination city. I wrote to the carrier requesting reimbursement of the cost of a car and driver to my home as my ride could not pick me up when we arrived 9 hours late. I told the carrier everything they did right and complimented the crew and received reimbursement. My business colleague wrote an abusive letter and received a form letter back denying compensation for weather delay. (The issue started with bad weather and went haywire when we landed to re-fuel.) It does help if you slather them with kindness.

  • omgstfualready

    But he bears the responsibility of creating that atmosphere. He has said often that the rules ‘should’ be bent. My take on reading his opinions is that the business is starting out as wrong. I realize he is a consumer advocate but it is difficult to be a fan of someone who doesn’t appear to start from a position of impartiality.

  • bodega3

    I, too, have done the same. I received flight credit from a carrier on a free, nonrev ticket once from a letter I sent describing what had happened. I asked for nothing, just wanted them to know how poorly things had gone but also praised the ground crew and flight attendant who had to deal with a plane full of angry customers who were caught in a bad decision by corporate.

  • gracekelley

    Agreed, people get farther being nice and polite(basically treat service workers like the human beings they are) rather than the I’m the customer so I’m always right period(rules are for the plebeian not for me). Then they blast social media with the annoyingly laughable you suck your customer service sucks rantings. Yeah how far did it get them other than pissed off?
    I guarantee no airline ticket is worth reverting back to toddler like behaviors!

  • gracekelley

    Try saying please and thank you it may work rather than ranting about ridiculous policies from the get go. The customer is always right is probably the worst thing ever invented as far as sayings go. Treat others as you want to be treated is a good one though.
    Besides, is something in black and white that people check a box acknowledging said policies really fraudulent when something happens and policy is enforced? No, fraud is thinking that a companies policy applies to everyone but you.

  • gracekelley

    They do. Flexible refundable non restrictive fares and insurance among a few.

  • gracekelley

    If she gets an attitude with a volunteer trying to help her break the rules of her ticket I can only shudder to think what she said/how she acted towards the airline personnel.

  • gracekelley

    That is how things should always work. Entitlement attitudes will get people nowhere then when they get belligerent they got nothing but being pissed off. The crazy part is they will always think that they are in the right and they are just pitiful and have received”bad” customer service.

  • gracekelley

    How is it that in 2014 people who are traveling internationally at the very least don’t purchase insurance for the trip? Also, why is she coping an attitude with a volunteer for trying to help her break the rules of the fare? I imagine a Medusa like approach with airline personnel after her but the customer is always right argument didn’t work. :-/

  • gracekelley

    I was actually thinking about not purchasing insurance on a upcoming trip abroad but I think nah I’ll just be belligerent to all company employees that are doing their job and mimic my 5 year olds behavior when I don’t get my way if anything goes wrong! It should work right? I am special after all more so than everyone else. Yes, it’s my world, they just live in it.

    Kidding. I agree with you.

  • gracekelley

    I suspect that it may have had something to do with your maners, attitude and ability to treat an individual as a fellow human that won them over.

  • gracekelley

    Usairways may just be trying to keep their name out of the press lately is what a little bird told me. Basically, anyone who uses any type of common courtesy and isn’t portraying they lacked being disciplined as a child has the upper hand right now. Of course, this is purely hearsay.

  • gracekelley

    She probably would’ve gotten the same or similar results, as would most people with legit issues, if they simply treat people how they would like to be treated. I don’t care if it is via email, phone, hand written letters or in person but kindness goes a long way especially now when it is so rare. People who are using a service of any business tend to forget that human elements are involved in the undertaking and being a customer is no free pass to treat people like garbage. It’s simple really but almost always overlooked. Plain and simple don’t be an a$%hole.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I know. I dealt with that crap all day long at the rental counter. People who becAme instantly furious when I told them they would have to pay an upgrade fee when they realized booking an economy rental for their party of 5 people all with 2 large roller bags each was simply not going to work.

  • TonyA_says

    I just looked it up. For AA someone has to die :(


  • TonyA_says

    Can you now categorically state that USAirways has some compassion?

  • bodega3

    Potato, Potatoe, Depends on the receiving end. I found it insulting, rude and plain out of line to respond to someone like that who is responding to your request for help.

  • bodega3


  • bodega3

    You couldn’t pay me enough to do that kind of work!

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • jim6555

    I don’t think that she was entitled to a refund. It shocks me to learn that someone at US Airways actually has a compassionate, human side. That’s a first.

  • jim6555

    I’ve often wondered how a legacy carrier would handle a situation where a passenger has checked in for a flight and cleared security. While awaiting departure, the passenger suffers a heart attack and has to be hospitalized. I can see the airline offering a full refund or, in the other extreme, playing hardball and charging a penalty to reissue the ticket? Is anyone familiar with this sort of situation?

  • Annie M

    And this is EXACTLY why you should stop taking cases where people think they are exceptions to the rule. She sees you do it a few times and expects you can work miracles. The person to send all her doctors I to would have been HER TRAVEL INSURANCE company. Oh wait… She didn’t buy any. Wonder if the agent who screwed it up advised her to buy it.

    Chris, I hope you will stop taking these ridiculous cases where the right thing to tell people they should have bought insurance instead of trying to plead to suppliers to make exceptions. You ‘d probably get rid of 50% of complaints and your volunteers could work on people that really do need help. Maybe it finally took a demanding jerk like this to show you that too many people think they are above the rules.

  • Annie M

    That is what travel insurance is for. No need for the airlines to do anything different.

  • Annie M

    Which is exactly why Chris needs to stop taking these type of complaints.

  • JenniferFinger

    Well, it would have been a compassionate thing for the airline to do to refund her money in the first place, even for a nonrefundable ticket. But once she started getting snide, she threw away her credibility and standing and I wouldn’t have wanted to help her.

  • Mel65

    “Yes, of COURSE, I bought a non-refundable ticket. I didn’t expect to get sick!” Sigh. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ad.Nauseum.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Very well said.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    It wasn’t an attack, it was a disagreement. If you can’t handle being disagreed with don’t post in a public forum.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Are you seriously suggesting that had she never read an Elliott article she would have never asked for a refund? The LW is obviously entitled and acts accordingly.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Lol. Sorry bud.

    The challenge was that Chris never helps someone whom he knows is **lying**. I still maintain that he doesn’t. Still waiting….


  • Thoroughlyamused

    That is neither here nor there. My point a few articles back is that when you start breaking rules for a few people, everyone notices and then believes THEY are the exception to the rule. And the OP did exactly that. She referenced past articles in an attempt to show CE that she was, in fact, the exception to the rule.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    First job out of undergrad. If you piece together all the clues you can probably guess which company :) And believe it or not that job helped me land a much more satisfying one later, both personally and financially. You gotta start somewhere…

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, that’s exactly the point. In your own words

    when you start breaking rules for a few people, everyone notices and then believes THEY are the exception to the rule

    This lady obviously believed she was the exception to the rule long before she ever heard of Chris. Her behavior towards Leper shows that.

  • Helio

    What i disliked in this case was when Chris overstepped Will Leeper and asked again to airline bending the rules. And he got the bending.

    It weaken his associates – from now on, everybody who don’t get his/her demands fulfilled by some volunteer, will ask, will require, will demand, for Chris intervention, because he seems to be more effective than the others. And, in this case, he was.

  • William_Leeper

    Will is “just a volunteer” and usually I don’t get involved in advocating anymore, but when they are backed up, I jump in an help where I can.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I stepped in because I wanted to defend Will’s actions, which were appropriate. He’s an integral part of our resolutions team, and my intent wasn’t to second guess anything he did.

  • flutiefan

    that’s a nasty thing to say. maybe you’re just a bad customer.

  • Crissy

    Here is how I view flights and flight insurance. If I can’t afford to lose the money the the flight cost or there is something unusual about the trip where I suspect I might have to cancel and the flight wasn’t cheap – then I buy insurance for my flight.

    Just because something happens to me and I can’t take a flight, I don’t expect the airline to do anything for me. Sure, I’ll politely ask, but I have no expectation of getting something. The fact that sending snotty emails works just encourages others to also be rude to get something. The more people behave like this, the less likely anyone will get anything. If this is the way people behave because they didn’t get an exemption that someone else got. Then why bother offering an exemption to anyone?

  • The Original Joe S

    Nasty, but rather valid IMHO…..

  • Thoroughlyamused

    “This lady obviously believed she was the exception to the rule long before she ever heard of Chris.”

    That’s an assumption that may or may not be correct. The fact of the matter is that this lady saw that exceptions were made in the past, and rather than accepting the fact she entered into an agreement and needed to hold up her end, decided to throw a huge temper tantrum so she could get her way.

  • Guest

    You should have upgraded them to this:

  • The Original Joe S
  • Mel65

    I just for fun took an “online assessment of my bitch factor” that a friend sent through Facebook. Turns out I’m 67% bitch!