Here’s a receipt for your airline ticket (PS, you don’t have a ticket)

tranDoris Weller booked a set of roundtrip tickets from Wichita, Kan., to Houston on AirTran recently. Her husband, Lawrence, needed to be in Houston for an important medical treatment. The airline sent her a confirmation.

But it wasn’t the kind of confirmation she expected. On closer examination — which, unfortunately, didn’t happen until the couple arrived at the airport — it became clear that AirTran had sent her a notice that her credit card had been declined.

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Result: the Wellers had to buy another set of tickets for $1,588.

Should AirTran refund the difference between the original tickets and the higher, walk-up fare?

Weller explains how this happened:

We did not look at the form closely. On Oct. 12, when we went to the Wichita Airport with our “confirmation” number, we were surprised to learn we did not have a reservation and if we wanted to board the plane we needed to pay $1,588.

Well, my husband has been a patient at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and medical test were scheduled for him the following morning. Since he is followed for his cancer in Houston and Discover has never declined payment on his Discover Card before, we decided we had to go.

We returned two days later to Wichita and contacted both Discover and Air Tran to ask if they could assist us.

Discover initially said, “no” we couldn’t dispute the credit charge and Air Tran said, they had not billed us $637 for the [original tickets for]. They said we should have read the reservation form they sent us, where payment status, said, “declined”.

Hang on. If AirTran sent the couple a form that looked like a confirmation, then we have a problem. If, however, Weller simply didn’t read the email from AirTran — well, that’s another issue.

This week we will get my husband’s Discover bill that includes the $1,588 charge. For two decades we have used our Discover credit cards, and never before had this kind of issue. Plus, when AirTran placed our flight status on “hold”, why did we get a receipt and itinerary form?

AirTran is well within its rights to charge the Wellers a walk-up fare of $1,588. But those expensive last-minute fares were designed for business travelers who are on an expense account — not for couples who are on their way to Houston for cancer treatments.

I thought AirTran should have another opportunity to review this case, so I suggested the Wellers send a brief, polite email to one of its executives. They did.

A few weeks later, they reported back:

I just got a call from Andrew Carlsen, a customer supervisor who offered us a courtesy round trip in Feb. from Airtran Airways for my husband and myself. I was concerned, since on this visit, the oncologist said, we needed to stay longer, about a return flight.

Mr. Carlsen gave us a confirmation number, spoke of the two black-out dates in February, and suggested we call and arrange [our return flight]. And… when in Houston, as soon as we know when we can return to Wichita, as long as seats are available, we can get a courtesy flight back.

Again, we so much appreciated your hearing our concern and providing a concrete suggestion that worked. Hopefully when we follow through with making the courtesy flight arrangements, they go as smoothly as Mr. Carlsen indicated.

So AirTran kept the Wellers money, but offered a free flight from Wichita to Houston, which they would have had to book anyway. They’re happy with the resolution. And if they’re happy, I’m happy.

What could they have done to prevent this? Apart from reading their “confirmation”? At the ticket counter, they might have been able to negotiate a lower fare on compassionate grounds.

(Photo: Kevin Boydston/Flickr Creative Commons)

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