I can’t walk, so how can I fly?

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Catherine Brubaker won’t be able to fly from Wichita, Kan., to Fort Myers, Fla., after breaking her ankle. Her ticket is nonrefundable and the airline wants to charge a change fee and fare differential to use the ticket next year. Isn’t there a better way?

Question: I need your help with a ticket on Delta Air Lines from Wichita, Kan., to Fort Myers, Fla., that I won’t be able to use. A few months ago, I fell and broke my ankle in two places. I’m still under my orthopedic doctor’s care. I have a doctor’s note that I can’t travel until further notice.

I’m also a polio victim and I’m confined to a wheelchair. In the house, I’m just now starting to use a walker and a safety belt, and with the aid of someone, I’m taking very small steps. I’m very weak. It will take me a lot longer to gain back my strength than the average person because of the polio.

I called Delta to see if we could postpone our flight until next year, hoping that by then I could walk on my own. They told me it would cost us another $180 each to change the tickets. I’m 79 and my husband is 81 and we can’t afford another $360. Can you help me? — Catherine Brubaker, Port Charlotte, Fla.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your fall, and wish you a speedy recovery. Unfortunately, the tickets you booked on Delta are discounted and highly restrictive. They’re nonrefundable and changes would incur a fee plus any fare differential. These rules sometimes mean that the tickets are completely unusable.

What about travel insurance? The kind of policy sold through an airline website probably wouldn’t cover a situation like yours. The insurance may be even more restrictive than the tickets they protect, and your claim would probably have been denied because your polio was a pre-existing condition.

A “cancel for any reason” policy might have helped, but you don’t get a full refund under many of those policies, just a percentage of your trip or a voucher for a new trip.

Let me be absolutely clear about this: You had no rights, under the terms of your purchase, to a full refund or for Delta to waive your change fee. But it can’t hurt to ask.

At this point, some of you, dear readers, are probably saying to yourself: “Oh no, you didn’t.”

I know you think rules are rules, and you think I have no business asking an airline to bend its refund policies for anyone, even a 79-year-old polio victim in a wheelchair.

I disagree. I think that’s exactly what I should be doing. Airlines routinely waive their own rules when it suits them. I can’t think of a better time to ask one to do the same thing for a needy customer.

I sent your case to Delta and asked it to review your request. I added that they were well within their rights to deny your request.

Delta offered you a full refund.

Should Delta have refunded Catherine Brubaker's ticket?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • emanon256

    What I did was way more complicated. I basically made two planes in excel and took the difference and divided it by the number of seats. Maybe something was off in there. Or I didn’t count the number of seats correctly. So I got $63 per seg, which if I counted the seats incorrectly was $31.50 per seg, which is closer to your $25 and I don’t remember the number I used and didn’t feel like looking it up again, so that could be why they are slightly different.

    This is why I just stick to addition and subtraction :) Ive been out of accounting for quite a few years now and use really smart people to design the accounting software for me now. And I pretty much just work in A/R related accounting. Not figuring out what to charge, though I did do that a long time ago, but not for anything as complex as an airline.

    I wish I knew how many people really did cancel, no-show, and pay the change fee.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Well, if you did have less restricted tickets, a LOT more people would take advantage of the relaxation of rules. So, the increase in fares would have to take that into account, as well. Rather than 5 cancellations, then you’d have 10. 20 people changing their times or dates, rather than 10. So, my equation would have to change as well, meaning yet more money per segment needed in order to achieve the same revenue stream.

  • Lindabator

    Because she said she CALLED Delta, which means she went through a res agent – they are NOT authorized to refund nonrefundable tickets for ANY reason – if she would have gone directly to customer relations, then THEY have the authority to do so.

  • Lindabator

    NEVER laughed so hard! :)

  • Lindabator

    But why should the company assume the risks? You want risk free, YOU pay for it — if I am willing to assume the risk, I should not be forced to pay for your poor choices. Which is why there are options available for either end of the spectrum.

  • Lindabator

    And if an act of God, why should they?

  • Lindabator

    Not on this site – :)

  • Lindabator

    $20???? They have to sell ALL the cheap inventory and 80% of the unrestricted fares in order to just break even — you folks just don’t get how costly it truly is for the airlines — if you can only afford greyhound, take greyhound. Or learn to take the risks, or insure against them. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Michael Lockard

    I think Chris did the compassionate (and correct) thing and asked for Delta to consider a special review of the situation. We all know that the big airline carriers are inflexible, rigid, and downright cold and mean on a regular basis, but you have to give kudos to Delta for having a heart and taking care of this couple. I hope like the dickens that when I get to be 80 years old that I am still alive, let alone trying to fly somewhere for a visit. Thank You to Chris for a quickie resolution episode and Thank You to Delta for considering the situation and showing good old customer service for this elderly couple, and I sincerely hope that next year that their health still allows them to travel, and that their trip will be successful. Don’t you wish that cases like this were resolved with a little empathy more often? Bravo!

  • TonyA_says

    How do I request a refund over the telephone or via mail?

    To request a refund for an refundable or unrestricted eTicket
    purchased with a credit card, call Delta Reservation Sales at
    800-221-1212 within the U.S. or Canada. For all other countries, see Worldwide Reservations Numbers to locate a number in your area.

    Hmm, the ole lady was right the first time :-)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    It factors into the carriers decision to exercise its discretion in granting compassionate consideration.

  • http://cruising101.blogspot.com/ Mary Dillon McTevia

    It WAS the right thing to do. Thank you Delta!

  • backprop

    That says for a refund on a refundable or unrestricted ticket, though, right? Am I missing something?

  • TonyA_says

    Unless you consider this more accurate …
    Customer Care

    For comments or complaints regarding your past travel experience, please email us or contact us at 800-455-2720

  • TonyA_says

    I made a simple search for penalty rules on a NYC to LON ticket.
    While international rules differ from domestic ones, one still has to wonder why airlines have different compassion levels. You can see the good (e.g. KLM / Lufthansa / United / Virgin Atlantic / Iberia / BrusselsAir / Alitalia), the bad and the ugly.

    The good means the airline writes down illness as a reason to waive penalties

    KLM:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL.
    WAIVED FOR ILLNESS OR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.
    ILLNESS/DEATH WAIVER MUST BE SUBSTANTIATED BY A VALID MEDICAL/DEATH CERTIFICATE.

    LH:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.
    EMERGENCY PROVISION
    — TICKET MAY BE REFUNDED OR USED TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF ANOTHER TICKET IF DUE TO ILLNESS OF PASSENGER OR TRAVELING COMPANION OR DEATH OF PASSENGER/IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER/ TRAVELING COMPANION. A VALID DEATH OR HOSPITAL/MEDICAL CERTIFICATE IS REQUIRED.

    UA:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW/ REFUND.
    WAIVED FOR SCHEDULE CHANGE.
    B. EMERGENCY PROVISION
    TICKET MAY BE USED TOWARD PURCHASE OF ANOTHER TICKET DUE TO AN EMERGENCY OF
    PASSENGER / IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER OR TRAVELING COMPANION.
    DOCUMENTATION REQUIRED CONTACT CARRIER.

    VS:
    CANCELLATIONS
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER AS EVIDENCED BY A DEATH CERTIFICATE
    CHANGES ANY TIME CHARGE USD 300.00
    WAIVED FOR ILLNESS OR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.

    IB:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW/ REFUND.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF A PASSENGER AND PASSENGER-S IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER /1ST DEGREE RELATIONS ONLY/ OR FOR PASSENGER-S HOSPITAL ADMISSION.

    SN:
    B. EMERGENCY PROVISION
    TICKET MAY BE REFUNDED OR USED TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF ANOTHER TICKET IF DUE TO ILLNESS OF PASSENGER OR TRAVELING COMPANION OR DEATH OF PASSENGER/IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER TRAVELING COMPANION. A VALID DEATH OR HOSPITAL/MEDICAL CERTIFICATE IS REQUIRED

    AZ:
    NOTE – WAIVED FOR ILLNESS OR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.
    ILLNESS/DEATH MUST BE SUBSTANTIATED BY A VALID HOSPITAL/DEATH CERTIFICATE.

    ————————————————

    AA:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW/ REFUND.
    WAIVED FOR SCHEDULE CHANGE/DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.
    WAIVER ALSO APPLIES FOR TRAVELING COMPANION.

    US:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER.
    CHANGES ANY TIME CHARGE USD 300.00 FOR REISSUE.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER.
    NOTE – ALSO WAIVED FOR DEATH OF TRAVELING COMPANION.
    WAIVERS MUST BE EVIDENCED BY DEATH CERTIFICATE.

    BA:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF A PASSENGER AND PASSENGERS TRAVELLING COMPANIONS.

    DL:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.
    DEATH WAIVER MUST BE SUBSTANTIATED BY A VALID MEDICAL/DEATH CERTIFICATE.

    TP:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.

    AC:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.
    CHANGES
    CHARGE USD 300.00 FOR REISSUE/REVALIDATION.
    WAIVED FOR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.

    AY:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW/ REFUND.
    WAIVED FOR SCHEDULE CHANGE/DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER.
    NOTE – WAIVER ALSO APPLIES FOR TRAVELING COMPANION.

    —————————————————
    TK:
    CANCELLATIONS
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF NO-SHOW.
    NOTE – NOT PERMITTED EVEN FOR MEDICAL REASON FOR NON REFUNDABLE TICKETS THE -YR- SURCHARGE WILL NOT BE REFUNDED.

    AF:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE IN CASE OF CANCEL.

    LX:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE

    FI:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.

    DY:
    TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.

  • TonyA_says

    By the way, what ever happened to all those SENIOR fares?
    Maybe airlines can create a senior fare with a kindler and gentler penalty clause.
    PS. check your email, please.

  • TonyA_says

    Probably easier if other airlines follow something like AA’s choice plus.
    Essentially offer the passenger different packages, some including a built-in change fee, etc.

  • Alan Gore

    I second!

  • Alan Gore

    How do you buy a less restricted fare? Go Southwest, of course, if there is a possibility you may need to make changes. Despite all those baleful warnings we keep hearing in commentary here about them needing to go heartless if they’re going to survive, they seem to be doing just fine. If you’re nice to your customers, they come back. That’s the kind of loyalty you can’t buy with a “loyalty program.”

  • TonyA_says

    Ah, how about stories here where folks just buy a new ticket from another airline and expect the original airline will reimburse them?

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    At a certain point in your life, you must realize that buying non-refundable anything is pretty much a crap shoot.
    My airline tickets are always non-refundable…

  • Nathan Witt

    Sure they are, because they’re one sided. Let’s try this on for size: If you are denied boarding, or if your flight is late, or if your flight is cancelled, the airline owes you a refund, plus a $300 change fee, regardless of the reason and even if they’re able to reaccomodate you later. Does that sound rediculous? It’s because it is. Things happen sometimes, like weather, or broken ankles. And I’m aware that there are tickets without restrictions, but they aren’t reasonably priced.

  • LFH0

    Well, there are the provisions related to refusal to transport (in the case of Delta Air Lines, rule 35), which then results in a full involuntary refund. Among the reasons for refusal are, inter alia, having a contagious disease that may be transmissible to other passengers during the normal course of the flight, unable to sit in a seat with the seatbelt fastened, requiring an onboard stretcher kit, being seriously ill and failing to provide a physician’s written permission to fly. If Ms. Brubaker satisfied one of the conditions for being refused transportation, and Delta Air Lines did so refuse to transport her, then she would have been entitled to a full refund. Perhaps this was one of the considerations used by Delta Air Lines to issue a refund here. But I suspect most people who should not be flying because they have one of these conditions (especially contagious diseases) are acquiescing to whatever they are told over the telephone as to cancellations rather than having themselves denied transportation and receiving full refunds.

  • TonyA_says

    Hopefully we don’t have to go that far.
    I am still hopeful Charlie and Chris can possibly work with senior citizen groups to get something through Congress.

  • TonyA_says

    Except that older and sickly people disproportionately suffer since they have a much higher risk of cancelling due to medical reasons.
    The problem is so many liars abused this policy and so we really can’t blame the airline for removing it.
    I wish we can get it back in every fare rule.

  • TonyA_says

    If the OP had polio affecting her limbs, then a broken ankle might make it harder to her to be mobile. It is relevant IMO.

  • Suzette

    Most third party travel insurance policies do cover pre-existing conditions, if purchased within a specified time window after travel is purchased. I almost always advise my clients to purchase a separate policy rather than the travel supplier’s policy to get more comprehensive coverage at a better price. If you have health concerns, it’s worthwhile to talk with a professional travel advisor before booking nonrefundable travel arrangements.

  • bodega3

    Yes, most policies/rules have come about due to past travelers abuses. I have mentioned it here before, but I have had doctors lie, county judges lie all to get out of their travel arrangements.

  • bodega3

    Yes, international fares often have this rule in their APEX fares. We haven’t insured out international airline tickets because we buy a fare that has this rule.

  • bodega3

    Senior fares still exist in some markets, just not all. Not sure why. WN’s senior fares are higher than their APEX fares, so not everyone who qualifies for them books them.
    I checked my email.

  • omgstfualready

    Free market must reign. Or we can go back to when air travel was restricted to the well off, while you are free to take the bus.

  • Crissy

    I voted no, it’s not because I’m cold and heartless, they seem like nice people with misfortune and that sucks.

    But you know what… A couple years ago my Mom was going to Hawaii. Then she had a hip replacement and got MRSA, had two wash outs was stuck in a hospital for 8 weeks, rehab for 5 more and by the time the trip to Hawaii came up she was just getting her hip put in 6 months after the initial replacement.

    I was actually able to get her money back based on them changing her flight times by over 2 hours. If that wasn’t the case I would have asked United if they could refund the money or offer a credit or something. If that didn’t work, well then my Mom would have been out the money. It was a good deal on a non-refundable ticket – we took a risk and probably would have lost.

    My lack of sympathy comes from a place where I know the frustration, but I also know that when I booked the ticket for my Mom that if something happened she was entitled to NOTHING

  • Annie M

    Third party travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions if booked within 2 weeks of deposit would have covered her. Again, no excuse. But as others have said, at least she was nice but for GODS SAKE – PLEASE EDUCATE READERS ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE! And if she had used a good travel agent, they would have recommended it too.