I was recently diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm and my surgeon told me I wasn't fit to travel. I had a ticket on British Airways to attend my daughter's wedding. Because of this life-threatening condition, I couldn't use my tickets.
I've contacted British Airways numerous times by phone, fax and email, requesting a refund or a voucher. It's been almost six months, and I have not received an answer. Can you help me get a response from British Airways?
,– Gavin King, San Juan Bautista
I'm sorry to hear about your medical condition, and hope you're feeling better. I'm also sorry that you missed your daughter's wedding. British Airways should have answered your request for a refund or voucher, of course – even if it was to explain that it couldn't do either. I'm puzzled that it wouldn't even give you the time of day.
Here's what appears to have happened: You were flying on a nonrefundable ticket, you had to have surgery, and you missed your flight. Either British Airways didn't receive your voucher request before the flight, or it got the message after it left (at this point, it doesn't matter). You were listed as a "no show" and the airline kept your money. It's allowed to do that, by the way.
I reviewed your written correspondence, and while you're clear and concise about what happened, you're also borderline demanding. While I can understand your frustration, it's always best to approach a request like this with your politeness-meter turned all the way up. Not because they deserve to be treated with extra deference (they don't always) but because it's more effective.
There's no excuse, on the other hand, for British Airways' delayed response. Even if you were completely obnoxious, you're still a customer.
I'm not sure if travel insurance would have helped in this situation. Many policies have pre-existing conditions clauses, and a clever claims adjuster might deny your claim because the condition that caused the aneurysm existed before you purchased the policy. I'm no doctor, but I've seen things like that happen.
British Airways had four options: keep your money, offer a credit with a change fee, offer a credit but waive the change fee because of your circumstances, or give you a full refund. It probably could have kept your money, but that would seem heartless, given your circumstances.
British Airways offered you a ticket credit and waived the change fee.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or email him at email@example.com.