Q: I had a ticket to fly home from San Francisco to New York on American Airlines this summer. A day before my flight, I learned that my father had a stroke. Because I have macular degeneration, I had to call American Airlines to change my flight. I spoke with three different representatives. They were unhelpful and gave me misleading information.
But after a lot of back and forth, I changed my ticket for an additional fee of $1,149. Between the chaos of my father’s condition and the rude agent, I realized I had booked the wrong flight. I was flying back from the wrong airport -- San Jose instead of San Francisco. It was much too far from where I was, and I wouldn’t be able to get there on time. I immediately called American Airlines to explain my mistake and advised the agent I would not be on the San Jose flight.
The representative indicated that the airline could not refund me at that time, but that I should follow up with the customer service department for a refund. I saw a seat online from San Francisco to New York and asked him to book it. He did, but it cost an extra $1,648.
Because of these events and my disability, I paid $2,797 in change fees to move up my flight one day. I want a refund for these charges. -- Linda Brucia, New York
A: I’m so sorry to hear about your father. I hope he is well on his way to recovery. There’s so much that went wrong with this case that it’s hard to know where to start.
Airlines strongly prefer that you make your flight changes online. But American Airlines should have been accommodating because of your disability and your state of mind, having just learned of your father’s stroke.
I don’t know if American believed your story. For example, you said you had to call the airline because of your macular degeneration, but you later checked the flights online. That might have made the representatives question your narrative. (And, for the record, I believe you.)
You asked for a ticket change, but I think the representative misunderstood you and put in for a refund. American should have changed your ticket from San Jose to San Francisco. But it looks like you purchased an entirely new ticket. That should have left you with a ticket credit for your original flight from San Jose to New York.
But, more to the point, you had a complicated interaction with the reservation agents. And that’s understandable. You were under a lot of stress at the time. When you’re trying to solve a consumer problem, it helps to remember the three P’s -- patience, persistence and politeness. I have more strategies on how to fix any airline problem in my free guide to booking an airline ticket, which you can access at www.elliott.org/airline-problems/best-way-buy-airline-tickets-guide/. I also publish the names, numbers and emails of American Airlines’ executives on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/american-airlines/.
I contacted American Airlines on your behalf to see if we could get this sorted out. It looks like you already disputed the charges for your first ticket on your credit card. American said that it would not fight the dispute as a goodwill gesture, so you will get your money back.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or firstname.lastname@example.org.