I have a detached retina, can American see a refund?

By | June 5th, 2016

Denise Morin has emergency surgery for a detached retina. Why can’t she get a refund for her plane ticket from American?

Question: I need your help. I booked a flight and car through Travelocity recently. A few days after that I found out I had to have major eye surgery. My retina was torn very badly. Surgery was a must; [otherwise] I could have been blind. I had to have a gas bubble put behind my eye to hold the retina in place and was told I could not fly for three months.

I asked for paperwork for medical information, and my ophthalmologist gave me a note explaining I had had retina surgery and a gas bubble and was not able to fly.

I called Travelocity and they refunded the rental car, but they said American Airlines wouldn’t budge on my flight. It wasn’t like I planned on having a torn retina.

I do not like to fly, and the only reason I planned this trip is because my granddaughter graduated from high school second in her class, and it was the only thing she has ever asked of me. She wanted me there.

American said I could use my ticket within a year, but this is not acceptable for me. I asked if I could use it for one of my sons to come here, and I was told no.

I reached out to American’s customer service department by certified mail and didn’t get a response either time. I think they should have at least responded as I gave them my phone number and address.

I am not good with computers and have a large problem finding my way around them. My daughter fixed me up with this connection.

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Will you please help me get my refund?–Denise Morin, Summerland Key, Fla.

Answer: Losing your sight must have been scary. It would be dangerous to fly with a gas bubble in your eye. Once you had medical treatment to reattach your retina, you deserved compassion from your airline and online travel agency. Instead, it seemed as though American ignored you.

Or did it? American actually promised to send you a refund, but the check never came.


So what’s going on? You admit that you are not computer-literate and were unable to post to our forums. You did find the American executive contacts on our website and sent several certified letters.

American’s website gives the following information about refunds:

Some tickets are non-refundable. If you have a refundable ticket, American will issue a refund as follows:

•If the ticket is totally unused, the full amount paid will be refunded.

•If the ticket is partially used, the refund will be the difference between the fare paid and the fare for the transportation actually used as determined by the applicable rules.

In addition, if the ticket to be refunded is no longer valid for transportation, an administrative service charge will be assessed upon refund of the ticket. This service charge will be collected by deducting the applicable service charge from the amount which otherwise would be refunded. Tickets will be refunded only to the person named on the ticket as passenger, except that:

1.Tickets purchased with a credit card will be refunded only as a credit to the credit card account,

2.Tickets issued against a prepaid ticket advice will be refunded only to the purchaser, and

3.Tickets issued against a government transportation request will be refunded only to the government agency which issued the transportation request

You emailed our advocates, and we got in touch with our contacts at American. They let us know that your refund was sent to your online travel agency, Travelocity. They stated that Travelocity paid American for your ticket and, as noted on their website (I think this is what point # 2 means), they refund to the purchaser.

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Travelocity’s website promises you can “Change plans with no change or cancellation fees from Travelocity.” With that guarantee, we would expect that your refund would have happened without our intervention.

We contacted Travelocity, and they refunded your money to you.

Travelocity should have seen that they were not entitled to keep your refund, but we were glad to open their eyes.



  • AJPeabody

    You had me with “booked through Travelocity.” Of course problems ensue if there is any glitch.

    By the way, if she can’t use a computer, how did she bookt?

  • AAGK

    Travelocity should have returned the $ promptly and waited for its own AA refund. The company is better positioned to carry that debt, as opposed to the consumer.

  • jim6555

    One more example of why one should not use an online travel agency. If needed, use the OTA site to find flights, but book the flights directly with the airline. The fare is almost always the same. The transaction will be much simpler when a third party is not involved.

  • Pegtoo

    I’m debating if I should purchase trip insurance anymore. Seems that insurance is not always necessary to receive a refund if something unexpected comes up.

    Hope her eyes heals well and she can visit her granddaughter on a later date.

  • Mel65

    I’m very glad that this worked out for the OP. I had complications after eye surgery a couple of years ago and was essentially blind for several days, and even though I knew it was temporary, it was terrifying! However, statements like “it’s not like I planned on having a torn retina,” make me crazy! Nobody plans to get sick, have surgery, or have someone they love die; that’s what insurance is for! We also don’t plan to have the house robbed or the car wrecked, or whatever and we all accept the need for home and auto insurance. It is precisely and explicitly for the things we don’t plan to have happen–not the things we do plan for.

  • cscasi

    She probably telephoned.

  • Alan Gore

    A classic example of why you never use an online “travel agent.” It’s like having plastic flowers at your wedding. Travelocity was obviously hoping that a passenger distracted by medical problems would let this one slip.

  • cscasi

    Why? Travelocity said American told it, it would not refund the money for her ticket. Therefore, at that point, Travelocity was under no obligation to refund the money she paid for her non refundable ticket. Later, when Chris advocated for her, American relented and only then sent the refund to Travelocity. When it got her refund, it should have immediately sent the refund to her. But, knowing some companies, it takes them some time to do so (weeks, billing period or two).
    I am glad she got her refund even though the process was cumbersome and slow.

  • cscasi

    Still, many people do not purchase travel insurance, even after seeing and hearing about cases like this (and even worse). They just seem to feel that whatever their circumstances come to be, the airline, cruise line, etc., should refund their money. And, the more people see cases get advocated for them and they receive a refund, the more other people will not purchase travel insurance.
    I still believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I hate paying for insurance I will probably never need, but things have happened to me twice so far in the past several years and the travel insurance covered me and my wife.

  • AAGK

    Once AA sent the refund, Travelocity should have made it available. You need a new credit card if your refunds take weeks. You are more patient than I am:). That 2 cycle thing is a throwback to the days when people didnt check online so if it missed the statement cut off, it would appear on the next one. Amex recommends 10 business days. I go by that.

  • gpx21dlr

    PITA for the consumer. Thanks, Elliott and staff.

  • Tricia K

    Of course the whole travel insurance issue comes into play because even though she had every intention of going to her granddaughter’s graduation, things happen, regardless of your age. I book most of my own travel and have used Expedia for years (although not as much lately as too many of their rooms are pre-paid and they haven’t always been clear about that). I don’t understand why people who aren’t computer savvy book their own travel through an online travel agent. She could have just as easily used a local travel agent, and probably even called them to make her life easier. I am glad she finally got her money refunded (most people either can’t afford or won’t spend the money for the seriously overpriced refund;e tickets the airlines love to cite)although it wouldn’t have taken much to protect herself in the first place.

  • Michael__K

    Don’t buy insurance for this scenario because Insurance almost certainly wouldn’t cover this anyway.

    She FOUND OUT that she needed major eye surgery a few days after booking. No mention of a new injury. Even pre-existing condition waivers require that you are fit for travel at the time of purchase. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know yet that you are not fit for travel.

  • Michael__K

    that’s what insurance is for!”

    No it isn’t!

    If you read the conditions for any Pre-existing Condition Exclusion Waiver carefully, you should not expect this passenger to be covered.

  • Michael__K

    Insurance coverage is not as robust as many proponents tout (as this passenger would have likely discovered if they purchased it and tried to file a claim).

    It depends on one’s circumstances, but for many people on many trips, travel insurance offers a particularly lousy value for the price.

    I’ve bought certain coverage for certain trips, particularly MedEvac coverage for travel to remote places (never needed to file a claim). If I had bought cancellation insurance religiously for every trip I ever took, I believe I would have spent well into 5 figures in premiums. Not once would I have had a basis to file a claim for more than relatively trivial amounts. The two times I’ve had to change my non-refundable plans and the change wasn’t reimbursable for business reasons, it wasn’t for Covered Reasons anyway.

  • Mel65

    I’m not sure what this has to do with my comment, since the OP didn’t purchase ANY insurance, so we don’t know *if* it would or would not have excluded her retinal issue. I didn’t get the impression it was an existing condition, but my entire point in the statement you pulled out of my paragraph was that insurance is for the unexpected/unplanned for, which I still believe to be true.

  • Michael__K

    Show me ANY insurance policy — including Cancel for Any Reason — that would cover an injury you **found out** made you unfit for travel after purchase, but which occurred before purchase.

  • Annie M

    Travel insurance would have made none of this necessary. She would have received a refund with a good policy.

  • Annie M

    If she had not seen a doctor before for this condition nor had she seen a doctor during the look back period for insurance, she most likely WOULD have been covered. A detached retina is a spontaneous condition that can develop suddenly without any warnings.

    Michael unless you have actually been involved in selling travel insurance and had experience with claims, you cannot make a blanket statement about what insurance will and won’t cover.

    A basic thing to remember when traveling is if you can’t afford to lose everything you have paid for your trip- even if it’s a $300 ticket, you need to consider buying insurance.

  • Fishplate

    Since it doesn’t say when the condition began, and a detached retina can be spontaneous, it’s impossible to say whether or not it’s a preexisting condition.

  • Michael__K

    If she can’t prove the injury occurred after the policy went into effect (e.g. because it’s “impossible to say”) then based on other cases covered in this space, we should not expect the insurer to willfully pay a claim.

  • Michael__K

    If, as a seller of travel insurance, you are aware of any policy that would cover someone who was not fit for travel on the date of purchase, please share the policy details.

    Every policy I’ve seen, the look back period is utterly irrelevant if you were not fit for travel at the time of purchase. It makes no difference if you were not aware you were not fit for travel. This is why my parent’s travel agent insisted they must get thorough physical exams immediately before purchasing their travel and insurance.

  • Tigger57

    Insurance! Insurance! The insurance we sell covers pre-existing conditions if purchased within so many days of travel purchase and before the condition makes it impossible to fly/sail etc. We advise clients considering insurance to purchase at the same time as purchasing travel.

  • joycexyz

    Anything can be a pre-existing condition! You don’t find out about it until the symptoms appear. Absolutely right about the unexpected/unplanned–who plans an illness, death, accident, etc.?

  • joycexyz

    Right! And I’ve had it up to here with the entitled, “special circumstances” people. I’m at a loss as to why Chris continues to advocate for them. As I said before, no one plans to have an illness, accident, death, whatever–that’s what you purchase insurance for.

  • Lindabator

    she should have called Travelocity for the refund – no way they would know why with the thousands of transactions they get — if they flag ahead of time, makes it easier

  • Michael__K

    Claim denied! Denied!

    Unless she can prove the injury occurred in the “few days after” her purchase, why would you expect that she satisfies any Pre-existing Condition Exclusion Waiver?

    If there’s a hard lesson here, it’s to have any ailments thoroughly examined and diagnosed before purchasing travel.

  • Lindabator

    WHY? They do not hold the funds – they process the payment with the airline directly, and the airline then can decide to refund a nonrefundable ticket, but Expedia has no control over that – once Expedia provides the refund, they send it along. HOWEVER – since she never bothered to inform Expedia that she was getting a refund, it will take them QUITE some time to figure out where the funds came/went.

  • Lindabator

    ONLY if it knows it is coming. They do not send them a check, but issue refunds thru an ARC report — and if you have nothing to apply to, like a refund agreement (which she never bothered to tell them was arranged) – just goes into general funds. With the THOUSANDS of transactions Travelocity does, NO way to find until time drops all tickets out, and it is still on the books

  • Lindabator

    Or let them know you are getting the refund – otherwise, they have no way to track it

  • Lindabator

    She WAS fit for travel when she purchased – this developed several days later, as shown in her story

  • Lindabator

    NO – actually she has to let Travelocity know the airlines is issuing a refund – since they only send messages/monies thru an ARC report, not on a check, Travelocity has no way of knowing which of their THOUSANDS of transactions it applies to, until it drops off their list

  • Michael__K

    No, she “found out” a “few days” later. No indication there was a new injury.

    When an insurance company denied a claim on the basis that the onset of illness MAY have occurred before travel was purchased, without the patient’s knowledge, you supported the insurer’s decision to deny the claim.

  • AAGK

    You are right. I meant more as a general matter, the merchant who charged the card should promptly process the refund. When I have used OTAs, the merchant is always the airline.

  • Tigger57

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying.

  • Michael__K

    The implication of your comment was that “Insurance!”, purchased at the same time as the travel purchase, is The Panacea for this passenger’s predicament.

  • Tigger57

    Yes it would have been. If this person had the detached retina before she purchased her ticket but was not giving her any problem then she would have been covered under preexisting. If the detached retina happened after her purchase and she bought insurance at the time of purchase then she would be covered.

  • Michael__K

    That’s terrible and irresponsible advice. If she already had a detached retina then, whether she knew it or not, she was not fit for travel and she would not satisfy a Pre-Existing Condition Exclusion Waiver.

    We’ve seen this come up before and insurers will deny these claims.

    Here is a recent sad example:

    http://forum.elliott.org/threads/problem-with-allianz-travel-insurance.3048/

  • Annie M

    You do not know she had any signs of this at the time she booked. You KNOW when you have a detached retina – you see black spots. You are reading into something that is not stated anywhere. When you do that you can come up with a million different scenarios. Unless she states in her letter she had symptoms before – you cannot assume that is the case. Since she did not indicate in her letter any problems on the day she booked, I am giving her the benefit of the doubt.

    Don’t read into the story.

  • Michael__K

    Per the terms and conditions of these contracts, the “signs” and “symptoms” don’t matter if she was not medically fit for travel, whether she knew it or not. (And FYI, the symptoms for her conditon can be subtle and go undiagnosed for a long time ).

    If she can’t prove the injury occurred after purchase, then we know how these types of claims have gone in other cases. And it’s irresponsible to ignore those denied claims and sell policies to customers with the false expectation that they will get “the benefit of the doubt.”

    http://forum.elliott.org/threads/problem-with-allianz-travel-insurance.3048/

    http://elliott.org/blog/why-doesnt-travel-insurance-cover-dads-illness/#comment-421808406

  • Michael__K

    That passenger was no longer having an issue with pain or swelling when they purchased travel, so they thought they were fine.

    The outcome completely contradicts Tigger57’s claim that “if this person had the detached retina before she purchased her ticket but was not giving her any problem then she would have been covered…”

    This is the most recent but not the only similar example (see for instance the case of the passenger whose father’s indigestion was later diagnosed as stomach cancer after she booked her travel).

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