No medical waivers on US Airways?

Old Jun 21, 04, 5:16 pm
  #1  
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Question No medical waivers on US Airways?

First of all let me state that Delta and AirTran (I don't know if it's official policy or not) have waived change fees and rebooked dates of travel for no charge for documented severe illness - my information for those is current as of last week.

My mom is stranded over in Europe, severely ill (and contageous- a particularly nasty strain of the stomach flu virus) and missed her return on US from AMS to TPA.

She was on a cheap 'S' fare ticket, which carries the restrictions 'non-refundable/non-changeable'.

When I called US Airways, I was told that they had 'no medical waivers'. The 1st agent suggested I 'buy another ticket for her', the second one kindly quoted me a $2293 one-way coach fare (thanks for your compassion) and the 3rd agent, perhaps in VIOLATION of the rules, offered to extend the validity of the ticket and charge me the fare differential and a $100 change fee... $555 to fly my mom back.

I was able to book her a flight home with British Airways, using my miles, resluting in a ticket that's about $100 less expensive in value (BA has good availability, no express ticketing fees and one-way saver awards at 1/2 of the roundtrip value).

My question is: should I pursue the matter further with US Airways or did they show their utmost leniency in this case? Should I try to ask them to calculate her return as a cheaper fare (or just charge the change fee) or will it be in vain?

Thanks!
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Old Jun 21, 04, 5:44 pm
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Red face My thoughts...

I'm sorry to hear that your mom is ill. I think you might have more luck if you went to the airport directly--if it means that much to you.

I don't agree with the crazy ticketing rules that US Airways uses. But, if it waived the rules on the account of a doctor's note, I think it would be a slippery slope. In the United States, it's easy to get a doctor to agree that you're ill. There is no way for the airline to verify the notes.

I say if you want to fight anything--fight the crazy fares and the rules that accompany them.
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Old Jun 21, 04, 11:31 pm
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Two questions: Did your mom call ahead and explain the situation? And, do you have the exact fare basis code? I don't believe I've ever seen a "non-changeable" ticket before, so I'm curious how the rules read.

That said, international travel carries with it different rules often dictated by foreign governments. For example, I believe all travel to/from India must be on fully refundable tickets, which is why flights to India are often booked well over the number of seats. Also, CO gave my brother a big headache several years back about how tariff rules prevented them from refunding a certain ticket -- they technically could have been fined by the foreign government if, during an audit, they found a violation of the rules (or so they claim). All of this is apparently in the fine print in open skies agreements, foreign government approvals, etc.

So my point is ... on an international ticket where you probably bought a really cheap fare, I think this is one of the risks of doing so.

Just curious, just how much was the original ticket?
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Old Jun 22, 04, 12:11 am
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Unfortunately, it has now become the rule that very few, if any, carriers grant exceptions to their fare rules. US's rules state that the fare rules will only be waived for 2 reasons: death of passenger or death of a travelling companion.

Now it has certainly happended in the past that the rules have been broken, so there is no harm in trying to find someone sympathetic, they may be willing to make an exception for you.

One interesting point is the fact her illness is contageous. I believe that US would have denied her boarding in AMS if they had known she was contageous, in which case they would likely have allowed her to rebook. You may want to raise this issue with them, as obviously US would not want someone who was contageous on their flight.
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Old Jun 22, 04, 8:26 am
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Unfortunately, this is a sad but true fact about US Airways. No medical waivers, no favors. period. I was in a situation a little over 2 years ago where I came down with a weird stomach virus and was throwing up blood. This was 48 hours before departure to MSY. I couldn't get an appointment to see my gp so I went to an emergency room. I called US and offered to give the name of hospital/time I was there/name of dr seen, etc but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Fortunately, I did get better in time but it goes to show that they really have no compassion.
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Old Jun 22, 04, 8:48 am
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This is very sad on US' part. Would it really cost them that much money to allow mom to fly home a few days or a week later? I'm assuming there will be at least 1 open seat on a flight sometime within the next week.

Furthermore... several people have posted that most carriers don't violate their own fare rules. This is the part that gets me. I'm sure you are all correct - and the majors don't... BUT within the past 3 months - I have seen this happen twice on LCCs.

First it was AirTran. My mom was flying PHL-TPA to visit a family member. The family member got really sick & passed away only days before the trip. Since there was no point to fly ... I called AirTran and explained the situation. Within 10 minutes...I received a confirmation #...and the 800# to call to rebook flights. She was given a FULL credit. No change fees or anything! The credit was good for 1 year (although has already been used).

Second was Southwest. A group of us recently went to MCO/FLL. (Don't worry - I flew US - but everyone else didn't). One friend was sick (literally from partying too much the night before). He called Southwest and they offered to fly him down the next day. No change fee...No penalty (minus flying Stand-by).

It seems to me that the majors... the ones charging (typically) more for the same flights... should allow their customers more flexibility. I just don't get it.

In any event...hopefully your mom enjoyed the BA flight - and hopefully she feels 100% very soon!

Safe Travels,
Chris
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Old Jun 22, 04, 9:01 am
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Why Cockroaches are needed.

Issues like these and many many others are why the Cockroaches exist. This is why RoachFEST '04 is a MUST for those of us who are concerned consumers.

I have MANY concerns of the nature of what's been posted here on this thread. So mark your calender and get your wallet out and come to PHL and let US know your thoughts. They actually want to hear them.

www.us-cockroach.com
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Old Jun 22, 04, 10:02 am
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I encountered a similar problem on UA when my sister became ill and could not travel. However, I managed to get them to waive the change fee for her ^ , but not for her traveling companion (my 6 year old niece) .

Here's a link to the discussion:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=324625
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Old Jun 22, 04, 10:15 am
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Originally Posted by sfeinberg
Unfortunately, this is a sad but true fact about US Airways. No medical waivers, no favors. period. I was in a situation a little over 2 years ago where I came down with a weird stomach virus and was throwing up blood. This was 48 hours before departure to MSY. I couldn't get an appointment to see my gp so I went to an emergency room. I called US and offered to give the name of hospital/time I was there/name of dr seen, etc but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Fortunately, I did get better in time but it goes to show that they really have no compassion.

In defense of the policy, it should be noted that when medical waivers of change fees and other restrictions were offered, fake doctor's notes were a dime dozen. As with so many things in life, the abusers ruined thrings for everyone.

Last edited by Dont call me Shirley; Jun 22, 04 at 10:18 am
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Old Jun 22, 04, 12:19 pm
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Airports Waive Fees Not Res

If you approach telephone reservations regarding a waiver you have a nearly 0% probability of success. Res agents 99.9% of time apply rules to exacting specifications. I don't know even if res agents have the technical ability in the Sabre system to waive a fee. Although I know they must reissue/revalidate tickets due to weather, but I don't know if US IT is slcik enough to somehow lock and unlock the waiver button It is my sense that res agents fear their calls being monitored or recorded.

In contrast if you make your case at the airport you do have some chance. Its certainly no guarantee, but your chance is not like 0%. The biggest variables are both the personality of the station (how the management operates), the personality of the agent you happen to get, and whether the agent likes or sympathizes with you. These are indeed very random criteria, but this is really how I think it is.

I don't know how easy or difficult it is for US management to quickly pull a report to see for example how many $100 change fees agent John Doe waived in May? Can this be queried by a simple online tool, or would it take a major and lengthy manual painstaking review of each record the agent worked with? I did have one station employee once tell me that each day the station manager receives an email from corporate headquarters telling them exactly who waived what on the day before. I have no idea how this works and again it was based on only one persons iwitness account?

Also it probably really depends on the personality of the station manager. Station Manager X might not care if their agents waived 50 fees the day before and they got the email from corporate, and station manager Y might go crazy if their agents waived 5 fees. I believe US has upwards of 40,000 employees, and it is impossible for them to control evreything from Crystal City. In any large organization you are going to have some managers who feel it is important to strictly follow corporate guidelines, and you will have other managers who will more or less run their ship the way they want to run it regardless of these dictates from Crystal City.

Also if e-tickets are printed to paper it strikes me that it would be very difficult (more time spent than return on investment) to track down the changes made.

Also all sorts of changes are made for CEO's, cellebrities, and other VIP's. I would imagine that US sales reps have pretty broad discretion on changing records.

I have worked in the travel biz several years ago so I have a bit of insider information as well as frequent travel from which I base these comments on. But again, most important rule#1, is deal with an airport not res for your waiver requests. I have a feeling in fact this is why Delta Airlines is installing those Phone Banks at airport ticket counter to handle ticket transactions that previously were done face to face with agents. I think it is because they know they can control waivers much better at the res level, and they know that in phone calls as opposed to 1 on 1 face to face interactions waivers are much less likely to happen. It is a lot easier for a phone res agent to deny you that waiver you make from your death bed, than it would be for an airport agent to do that face to face in person with you.
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Old Jun 22, 04, 1:50 pm
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Originally Posted by Dont call me Shirley
In defense of the policy, it should be noted that when medical waivers of change fees and other restrictions were offered, fake doctor's notes were a dime dozen. As with so many things in life, the abusers ruined thrings for everyone.
True enough that there has been abuse, but the fact remains that the policy puts contagious people in the close confines of an aircraft cabin where they can spread their germs to others. From a public health standpoint, this is bad. If there are seats available on subsequent flights, there is no harm at all to the airline in allowing people to delay their travel if they are ill. There is also an air safety component to this; forcing ill people to travel could cause problems if an aircraft needed to be evacuated. Moreover, at some point the airlines with these kinds of policies are going to get sued by someone with a chronic illness who is unfairly penalized by these ridiculous rules. Air travel today, with the long lines and poor inflight service, is no place for the ill or infirm. Not allowing the truly ill to delay a trip without incurring a significant financial penalty is callous, cruel and cold-hearted. And the airlines wonder why people hate them so much...
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Old Jun 22, 04, 3:12 pm
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Random Thoughts

Yes, the airline executives should not have to think very hard on why consumers hate the rigidity of their operations. I think I read somewhere that heart attacks were only more likely in a jail and second place was at an airport. It makes no sense, other than price gouging, that the change fee was at one point $25 in an era of paper tickets and that it inexplicably is $100 when tickets are merely software code.

Also in reading some of the US Airways employee communications (like the Transformation Update newsletter or the David S web cast) it sounds like at least at the highest level exec management knows and has said that they understand consumers hate the change fees and complex fare rules. I swear I think Dave S on one of his weekly phone messages said "we gouge people with change fees," and then someone editted that quote out of the voice recording. I would be curious if change fees are almost a more important proffit center for big six airlines as opposed to just fares? I wonder how much big six companies collect in change fees each year?
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Old Jun 22, 04, 5:33 pm
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Post Here is the whole story...

My mom was on a really cheap fare, TPA-PHL-AMS-PHL-TPA on US, fare code SKS199E. This was a promotional fare to celebrate LH's CLT-MUC service and covered departures from MCO/TPA/CLT to all US&LH European destinations. The roundtrip fare was $365 w/tax. It does indeed carry the 'NO RFND/NO CHGS' restriction.

She was also using a UA intra-Europe award on LH, AMS-MUC-SOF-FRA-AMS. By UA StarAlliance award terms and conditions, that award is non-changeable once travel commences. LH in SOF offered to change that ticket for 40EUR when my grandmother called them.

Per US Airways' offer, I could have flown her back for $455+$100 from AMS to TPA on THU, however LH couldn't get her to AMS before THU evening. The US flight on Fri must be very full because the res agent didn't even bother to give me a price quote.

I am now flying her on a BA one-way award: SOF-LHR-IAD, overnighting at friends of ours in DC, then going AA BWI-DFW-TPA. That was worth $550 in miles+tax spent. I preferred that over US's similar offer because it was quicker and I avoided the additional expense of the AMS overnight and LH change fee. Oh, and she is flying in Premium Economy.

I think US lost a customer and some revenue (not $555, but I would have paid a more reasonable sum) because of the poor 'revenue-protecting' policies they have instituted. I sofar thought that US Airways's draconian stand-by and change policies were fine for people with a schedule set well in advance (ticket was bought on Dec 15 and my mom would've stuck to the original itin) but the current situation has proved me wrong.

I think this is the end of my family's love and hate relationship with US. I will be sure to tell my best friend (at UPenn) to switch to WN for his regular hops down to TPA.

I guess maybe I've gotten to spolied by low fares... on the other hand, a roundtrip from AMS to TPA is $500+tax in June, so US was not being overly generous at a time of need.
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Old Jun 22, 04, 5:36 pm
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One more thing...

US wanted me to reschedule my mom's return on Monday by midnight (day of her original return trip). As my mom was not yet feeling better, she did not know when she would be able to travel.

US refused to let me change the ticket after Monday even given the extraordinary circumstances. So flying US back was not really an option, as they wanted me to commit to another non-refundable/changeable flight without even knowing if my mom would be fit enough to travel on it.
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Old Jun 22, 04, 5:54 pm
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Originally Posted by BackOfTheBus
US wanted me to reschedule my mom's return on Monday by midnight (day of her original return trip). As my mom was not yet feeling better, she did not know when she would be able to travel.
Ah, this changes the story a bit. Some of the LCCs also have a "change by midnight on day of departure" rule as well, so this is not just specific to US. For what you wanted to do -- mainly, having an open return -- is definitely not available on very cheap tickets; it's not available with very cheap tickets on LCCs either.
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