Q: My husband booked flights on Southwest Airlines for our 30th anniversary this summer, but we had to reschedule them because he had emergency surgery. We rescheduled the flights for April, but he had to have emergency surgery again. Now the doctor says he will be unable to fly for the rest of his life.
When the Southwest agent rescheduled our flight, she marked some of our payment as vouchers. We had paid for the tickets by credit card. I have the credit-card statement showing the full payment for the flights.
We were told that with a doctor’s note we would be able to get a full refund. We have made many calls to Southwest trying to get our money back. Finally, last week, we got a portion back, but we’re still missing $312. It appears that an agent made an error, but management refuses to refund our money and wants to give us vouchers that we can never use, due to my husband’s medical condition. He is disabled, and money is so tight. I really need the $312 back to use toward his medications. I hope you can help. – Kristin Long, Bel Air, Md.
A: I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s condition and hope he is well on his way to recovery. Most airline tickets are nonrefundable. If you cancel them, you can get a ticket credit valid for a year from the date of the initial reservation.
Strictly speaking, your method of payment didn’t matter. The tickets were not refundable unless Southwest said they were refundable.
By the way, Southwest’s policies are considerably more consumer-friendly than that of other airlines. It doesn’t charge change fees and includes the cost of the first and second checked bag in its ticket price.
Bottom line: Southwest was under no obligation to refund your tickets. But airlines sometimes bend their own rules when a passenger can show a hardship, in the interest of good customer service. Southwest appeared willing to offer a refund as a gesture of goodwill. But, as you note, a clerical error caused the airline to believe that you had paid for part of your ticket with a voucher.
This probably could have been easily resolved by escalating your case to a Southwest executive (I list the names, e-mail addresses and numbers on my consumer-advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/southwest). But instead, it appears that you repeatedly called Southwest in search of a resolution. Remember, paper trails work better than making phone calls. Next time, put your grievance in writing.
I contacted Southwest on your behalf. It credited you the remaining $312. The airline didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad it did.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.