My wife is in intensive care — what about her airline ticket?

Oleg Ivanov/Shutterstock

Thomas Hinrichs’ anniversary plans are derailed by a medical emergency. Can he change the name on his wife’s ticket and take his son to Paris and London, instead?

Question: Earlier this year, I booked flights with Expedia on Icelandair for a trip to Paris and London for my wife and me. It was to be in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary. Since the day I bought the tickets, our lives have changed in a dramatic way.

My wife was stricken with a very serious bacterial infection and has been struggling for her life in the intensive care unit at the hospital. If she can recover, she will be in rehabilitation for several months and will not be able to go on the trip.

I am writing to you today to see if you would consider helping me. Since my wife cannot go, I would like to take our son, who is 19 years old and is a college student. I have called both Expedia and Icelandair to ask if this was possible, but both times I was told it was not. Each of these companies told me to call the other. I have since sent a letter via email to Icelandair but have not yet received a response.

I would be willing to pay the difference between the original ticket and today’s price but can’t afford another full-price ticket. It would seem reasonable to me that if I only need two seats, then I shouldn’t need to pay for three seats. The airline has very little if any risk in this situation and could gain a loyal traveling customer for life as well as good PR for themselves.

I have heard of airlines that have special fares for families in crisis and I hope that they would have some compassion for my situation. I did not buy trip insurance and now wish I had, so this may be a dead end but I thought it was worth a try. Thank you for any advice or help you could provide. — Thomas Hinrichs, White Bear Lake, Minn.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s illness. Under those circumstances, you could have requested a refund or a ticket credit for your wife. Icelandair would have offered her a credit for the full amount, as long as the flight hadn’t left. Refunds are handled on a case-by-case basis.

What led to some confusion is that you asked to use the same ticket and change the name on the reservation. Name changes are generally not allowed on a ticket (airlines cite “security” concerns, but it’s mostly a money thing). If you’d requested a refund and bought a new ticket for your son, I think this would have gone a lot smoother.

Let’s be clear about this, though: Under the terms of your ticket, you were not entitled to a refund of any kind in the event of an illness. You could have received a refund if your flight had been canceled by the airline, but otherwise, your money belonged to Icelandair.

Still, I thought you were getting the runaround from Expedia and the airline, and given your situation, I wanted to help. Had your written request not worked, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t’ have, then you might have also appealed to an Icelandair executive. Email addresses at Icelandair are the person’s first name Here are a list of a few executives.

By the way, I love this airline. It publishes its executives’ email addresses online for the world to see. How awesome is that?

I contacted Expedia on your behalf, and it worked with the airline to secure a 50 percent refund for your wife’s ticket, and helped you book a new ticket for your son. You were happy with that resolution.

Should airlines publish the names and email addresses of their executives?

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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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  • Gary Moll

    I wonder if Tom is going to get any hate mail…. She’s in the hospital but I still want to go on vacation – without her. I don’t think the trip would be too enjoyable for me if I pulled off this stunt.

  • LadySiren

    Well, given Tom’s timeline, it sounds like she might be in rehab at that point. If it were me and I was past the point of my life being in peril, I’d want my husband and son to go, too. If I can’t enjoy the trip and the money would be wasted, I’d say go. Go and enjoy, and bring me back photos.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Travel insurance would have covered a refund here.

  • ccassara

    Well, let me be the 2nd to comment on how weird it is that she is fighting for her life but he wants to take his son on vacation in her place. Sniffing the air and getting a fishy smell.

  • Naoma Foreman

    I agree with the letter below! His wife is sick in the hospital and he wants to go to Paris with
    his son!!! Not hate mail — but just unbelievable mail from me. I live in Paris every year for 3 months and I know that even if it is an annual trip, if I were in the hospital my husband would not be “jaunting off to gay Paree!” INSURANCE. INSURANCE. The answer!!! Never travel
    without having it!

  • frostysnowman

    Maybe the wife suggested he take the son instead? That’s what I’m going with.

  • frostysnowman

    I think Expedia did the right thing by trying to help the OP go on this trip without too much extra expense (even though Chris had to be involved for it to happen). Yes, they did not have to do anything. But this is an example of when doing the right thing can pay off big time with good feelings and good publicity.
    PS – I like the new logo.

  • Blackadar

    Or maybe his wife knows this is a lifelong dream trip for him and wants him to go and enjoy it rather than being selfish (like some posters here) and demanding that he dote on her every moment of every day while she goes through the lengthy recovery from the infection.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes :) Although I am sure they have staff who reads all of the CEOs e-mails. They probably get hundreds of complaints a day by people who go right to the top without even bothering to contact customer service first.

    Good for the OP for trying to make the mot of the situation by taking his son rather than cancelling entirely and wanting a refund like most people seem to do. Sadly, this is another example of why I always book directly with the airline or use a real live TA. With these travel vending machines, and two sets of terms and conditions, no one will help.

  • emanon256

    If it were me in the hospital, I wouldn’t want my wife to be miserable with me. I would feel horrible if she didn’t go on the trip. Just because one of us is miserable doesn’t mean both of us need to be.

  • commentfromme

    I am appalled that you are helping this guy.

  • commentfromme

    He says she is still in hospital. He says “I” want to take my son. He says since “the day” they bought the tickets life changed. He says uses the word “reasonable” as though airlines are reasonable. I dont understand at all why Chris stepped in. This guy should be home with his wife.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    But remember, anyone who thinks that customers should actually have to adhere to the terms they agreed to has no heart and compassion and is an evil human being.

  • Lisa Skier

    OK – pay attention – it didn’t say the trip was “right now” while his wife was in intensive care – it clearly said she would probably be in rehab at the time the trip was to take place – completely different situation.

  • AJPeabody

    OP was asking politely if Chris could help. No sign that he ever demanded anything, and he says he regreted not buying travel insurance. He knew what was up and should not be berated for this situation.

  • Mark Cuban

    No travel insurance, non-refundable tickets. Next.

  • Mark Cuban

    Or maybe you should read the article.

    “If she can recover, she will be in rehabilitation for several months and will not be able to go on the trip.”

    She will be in recovery at the time of the trip if she survives the infection.

  • Mel LeCompte Jr.

    People who stay in ICU for longer than a week rarely make it out. I will be under the assumption that she is either in a rehab unit or home health care and just not able to travel.

    FWIW, several years ago, I was in a very similar situation. I had a pancreas blowout, spent a week in ICU/ on a vent. After that, several weeks in a regular bed followed by several months of therapy and home health. (Insurance shoo-shoo long stays in a regular bed.

    During that time, once I was somewhat out the woods but still unable to travel, I encouraged my family to do things without me. I did not want them stuck with me and my misery, and I had two young girls that needed to enjoy life.

    Now if I’m misreading this and the woman is still severely ill, I can see how she’d want to take the trip vicariously through her son, where she knows her family would still get a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and can share photos, souvenirs, and stories with her while she is well enough to enjoy those as her keepsakes.

  • Mark Cuban

    Selfish. Thankfully his wife is not.

  • $16635417

    Poll question alternative answer:

    C. It’s up to the individual companies to decide and should not be mandated one way or the other.

  • MarkKelling

    OK. If this was me in this situation (wife in hospital possibly dying), I would not be taking a vacation anywhere. I would not be camping out at her bedside after the initial couple days because I do have a job I have to go to to earn my paycheck, but I wouldn’t want to be half a world away. But then that’s just me.

    The better approach with the airline would have been to ask for a refund because of the illness and provide supporting documentation. The airline might have been willing to budge on the non-refunablility. BA did for me when my mom recently got very ill had to have surgery and needed someone to help her in the first weeks after she was released from the hospital. They gave me a full refund minus their $400 change fee (which insurance covered). It appears that the OP did eventually do that.

  • Dutchess

    The title of this article could just as well been:

    My wife is in intensive care — where is her travel insurance?

    Seriously though, cancel the tickets and rebook within a year and take the honeymoon you planned. Leaving while your wife is in rehab, at least from the outside, seems kind of heartless.

  • bodega3

    FI’s fares from the US allow for a 50% refund if the reservation is cancelled prior to departure. So while this article sounds like something special was handled for the OP, it actually is their policy and how they handled it is strictly by the rule of the fare. Expedia can only do what the rules of the fare state. Expedia is a vending machine, not an advocate for you, so know the rules of your fare BEFORE purchasing your ticket.

  • bodega3

    While is might seem heartless, if his wife is like my mom or MIL, they wouldn’t want the trip canceled.

  • bodega3

    Having been in a similar situation with family members, they didn’t want us to cancel.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Okay, I read the article and was pretty upset about the situation, but thought maybe I was over-reacting, So I asked my husband for his reaction, because he’s far less judgmental than I am. Here’s his response:

    Reaction 1. 30 year anniversaries and Paris go together [Jeanne’s note – that’s what we did]
    Reaction 2. I really think airlines ought to be able to accommodate a substitute in this situation, and I’m glad someone did something.
    Reaction 3. “If” she pulls through? This is serious! Why isn’t he trying to figure out what to do with two tickets instead of just one???? It might be that recovery will be mundane and his wife really wants him to go, etc., but you asked for my reaction. Of course it would prudent not to judge until I knew all the facts. Actually it would be prudent not to judge at all, but that would be less interesting.

  • bodega3

    Regarding reaction #2, the OP got exactly what the fare rules allowed. No special treatment was given to him.

  • lvswhippets

    Agree with Reaction 3 . I am not in their skin but if I was the one in the hospital I would encourage my family to go. No one know what tomorrow will bring in any given situation. And having worked in the medical field all my life I have been witness to many unknowns. But the question is can they enjoy the trip ? Personally I think that is the bottom line. They are the ones who will have to live with the consequences and themselves.

  • Annie M

    Another case of not buying insurance that would have covered this. When will people get it that this is what insurance is for?

  • lvswhippets

    P.S. I hope the wife improves to go on a trip for their 50th.

  • bodega3

    Insurance would not have helped him getting the name changed on the ticket so that needs to be noted. If they took insurance out right away, then her medical condition would probably have allowed for a full refund on not only her ticket but his. It also should be noted, that had he checked fare rules with other carriers, he might have found that even without insurance, a full refund would have been allowed in the rules, even of a nonrefundable fare. Reading the rules is important!

  • Miami510

    The story of this fellow going on vacation while his wife is recuperating from a serious, life-threatening infection is appalling and made me think of the story (probably apocryphal) of a woman who was seeing a popular Broadway show for which tickets had to be purchased almost a year in advance.

    During intermission, she noticed the seat empty next to hers and commented to the person in the next seat that a no-show was amazing considering the difficulty of getting tickets.

    The man in the adjacent seat said, “That seat belonged to my wife who died.”

    The woman said, “I’m sorry to hear that, couldn’t you give the ticket to a friend?”

    The man replied, “They’re all at the funeral.”

  • Fishplate

    I am appalled that you commented without reading the article, or knowing the people involved.

  • bodega3

    Please note that nothing special was done. It was all mandated by the rules of the fare as to the 50% refund. Expedia couldn’t do a name change without the airline’s permission, which isn’t allowed with the rules of the fare.

  • Naoma Foreman

    Glad I am not married to you — but wait — maybe she is better off not having you around — so you would not be MISERABLE AROUND HER.

  • Naoma Foreman

    Life long dream trips can be re-done — re-scheduled — and your “loved one” would be there to enjoy it with you. Maybe he could take some pictures. Glad I don’t have anyone like that in my life!!!

  • kimber

    The letter was written very politely and nothing was demanded. I try very hard not to judge people in terrible situations – everyone responds in different ways. I’m a blathering mess. Other people look for what needs to be done and take care of whatever it is because it helps them to feel useful or have something else to focus on. I am very thankful for those people when I need to rely on them.

  • emanon256

    I don’t think you understood what I said. If I were the one in the hospital, I would want my loved ones to live full lives and enjoy themselves, rather than sit around in the hospital waiting and worrying about something they have no control over.

    I am sorry you feel the need to insult me for wanting my loved ones to be happy.

  • dave3029

    Yeah, I’m sorry, but if my wife is in the condition he describes, including rehab, I’m not going anywhere on a vacation. I took her for better or worse and I’m not about to leave her side until she’s back 100%. (I suppose this is also what’s kept us together for 35+ years.)

  • kbiel

    You don’t know the timeline. All Mr. Hinrichs says is that he bought the tickets earlier this year. That could have been last week or last month but not more than four months ago. The flight could be scheduled for as late as December, eight months from now. He makes it known that his wife will be in rehabilitation for several months. So, it could be that he (and possibly his wife) expect she will be long dead or alive but still unable to travel when the flight occurs.

  • Helio

    You are able to live in Paris for 1/4 of year, but almost all of us aren’t. Paris may be for you what NYC is for me – a nice place to stay, but already with not so many new secrets to uncover.

    But if they have never been to Paris, this trip being a lifetime adventure, with no provision to repeat it in a near future, and having the wife’s blessing, why not?

    For me, it all depends on the wife / mother joyfully agreeing on it or not.

  • SoBeSparky

    Poll: anyone who is in an executive position knows that publishing executive email addresses just means they will all go to an executive assistant who will route them elsewhere most of the time, probably to customer relations. This just necessitates a new email address for the “insider” email between executives and with clients, so that the published-address communications are shunted aside and never seen by the executive.

    Publishing executive email addresses sounds good on paper, but simply impractical in the daily life of a busy executive. About 98% of my executive-addressed communications, by snail mail or email, when answered (about 80-90% of the time) come from someone else. Others obviously just get dumped in the round file or “ether” for the email.

  • Marco Martinez

    While spending time with his son on a vacation is laudable, leaving his wife in intensive care is not and I find it disturbing. I would not have helped as I think this guys priorities are wrong, just wrong.

  • Marco Martinez

    Bacterial infections can turn bad rather quickly even if it seems that a patient is recovering. My own mother had one that made her delirious and to the brink of death, while she seemed to recover, it went south quickly. Decision making on the part of me and my sisters allowed our doctors to do everything possible to save her. This would not be possible if he went on vacation with his son. Who is to make life saving decisions if something were to occur while she is trying to fight off this infection? Even if she insisted he went, he should have stood his “loving” ground for her. Maybe I am miss reading this post and I hope so, but so far this doesn’t feel right. Sadly.

  • Marco Martinez

    Sorry that I find this disturbingly funny, in a this guy made the right decision way! I know, it sound hypocritical but she IS dead, and they both always wanted to enjoy this show! So his way of living it for her is to go, keep her seat empty out of respect but go…

  • Naoma Foreman

    All opinions are valid. Mine is mine. Yours is yours. The world would be a terrible place if
    everyone thought ALIKE.

  • Miami510

    My apologies to Marco Martinez.

    1. It’s a joke

    2. In the joke, he didn’t keep the seat empty in any sense of respect.

    3. The main part of the joke is that everyone he knew to whom he might offer the seat was at his wife’s funeral.

    4. The macabre part is that all the friends were at the funeral while he chose to see the show rather than attend his wife’s funeral.

    Explaining a joke …. ruins the joke…. but I’m sorry if anyone was offended.

  • Marco Martinez

    I wasn’t offended. I understood it was a joke. My point was that this could easily not have been a joke! :-) After all, if my wife passes and before she passes she says “I want you to go to our fav show, we already got the tickets!, promise me on my deathbed you will” I would definitely do it! Thus the disturbing/macabre part…

  • DaffyMuck

    I wouldn’t be going anywhere except to the hospital to be beside my spouse, no way. As I wrote in my piece the day before yesterday about airline refunds. Starting at the top is generally where I begin.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    what has supposedly being in hospital got to do with anything.

    This site is becoming a site for people who whinge about everything when things don’t go their way. It’s called life. Live with it. Name changes are permitted for a fee for tickets from Australia to USA, even with the extremely dodgy USA TSA.

  • Travelnut

    I would have scheduled the funeral for the day after the show. (I kid.)

  • Alan Gore

    My yes, what gives this chump the right to expect compassion of any sort from a travel company? Just another one of your ‘whingers’ who deserve every indignity we can pile onto them. High fives in the boardroom with squab and cigars all around.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Yup. That about sums it up. But seriously, that’s not now contract law works. There are any number of reasons that will invalidate a contract. They may or may not appy in this case.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    LOL at the idea that a denied request to transfer a plane ticket to a different passenger qualifies as a family in crisis.

    I’m also disappointed to see Chris get involved in a case where the OP hangs potential good or bad PR over the airline in an attempt to get around their fare rules.

  • bodega3

    Which in the end, the airline kept to the rules of the fare. No special treatment.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    1. who said the wife was even sick ? Many people will say anything, if they think there’s a buck in it.

    If all airlines had all fares that were totally non-refundable, it would lead to cheaper fares.

    Most airlines are a horrible investment.

    They can’t afford to have a whole refund department.

    Look at Qantas, the largest majority owned Australian airline. They are laying off 5000 staff, freezing all wages & they can’t make ANY money at all.

  • Laura616

    Everyone should add comprehensive trip insurance to any trip – especially big expensive ones. I am now buying cancellation ‘for any reason’ insurance on overseas trips. Of course, it isn’t for ‘any’ reason, it doesn’t cover not wanting to go but in this case the trip would have been fully refundable.

  • Name

    Re the vote on publishing emails: if they do, the exec in charge will just switch to a new email address and nobody will ever check the published email address so what’s the point? More importantly, why is this troll going to Paris when his wife is in intensive care? Ugh, I’ll bet he gets alot of hate mail … White Bear Lake isn’t that big.