Know Your Fare Rules, Because The Airlines Don’t (Tales from the Field)

When you buy a ticket, it’s not always easy to find out all the fare rules that apply, but it’s really important you do. We had a Cranky Concierge client recently who had an emergency,Air Canada Tales From the Field and Air Canada didn’t want to honor its own rules. Worse than that, not one person with whom we interacted even KNEW what the rules were.

This all started a few weeks ago when we received a note from a client who was supposed to depart on a trip to Europe in two days’ time. He had a heart attack and they were preparing him for open heart surgery. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who couldn’t believe he was able to compose that email.) Obviously, he wouldn’t be able to go to Europe, let alone get out of the hospital. He asked what his options were.

The ticket he had bought was on Lufthansa going out and Air Canada coming back. It was a ticket we issued on Air Canada’s ticket stock, so Air Canada was the one we had to deal with. Since the two are joint venture-partners over the Atlantic, the fares were identical in each direction including the fare rule wording. Could he get a refund? Right there under Cancellations in Section C, it said this.

C. EMERGENCY PROVISION
— TICKET MAY BE REFUNDED OR USED TOWARD THE
PURCHASE OF ANOTHER TICKET IF DUE TO ILLNESS
OF PASSENGER OR TRAVELING COMPANION OR DEATH
OF PASSENGER/IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER/
TRAVELING COMPANION. A VALID DEATH OR
HOSPITAL/MEDICAL CERTIFICATE IS REQUIRED.

Perfect. We would be able to refund his ticket using this provision. But a “hospital/medical certificate” wasn’t exactly clear, and we didn’t know if we had to send it to Air Canada or just hold on to it ourselves. In cases like this, we always contact the airline’s agent desk to make sure the process is clearly understood.

When I called, they immediately transferred me to the medical desk. Who knew Air Canada even had one of those? The agent I spoke with, Diego, was very nice, but he said that Air Canada doesn’t allow refunds due to illness. I asked him to look at the fare rules, since that clearly said the opposite.

He looked, and then he paused, and then he put me on hold. It probably took 20 minutes (though I wasn’t counting) before he came back to me stumped. He said this was incredibly rare and they hadn’t seen it at the medical desk. They couldn’t do anything, so he asked me to send the reservation over to Air Canada’s queue via our booking system and they would be able to handle. Great, so I did. And the response?

30.H-ATTN AGENCY
31.H-AIR CANADAS POLICY IS WE DO NOT REFUND TICKETS DUE TO
32.H-ILLNESS. THE FARE IS NON REFUNDABLE
33.H-GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES I RECOMMEND THAT YOU SEND YOUR
34.H-REQUEST FOR A REFUND TO AIR CANDADAS [sic] CUSTOMER RELATIONS
35.H-DESK WITH A COPY OF A MEDICAL CERIFICATION [sic] EXPLAINING
36.H-THE SITUATION AND THEY WILL CONSIDER THE CASE.

Um, no. You can’t just make up a policy that contradicts the fare rules you’ve filed. I tried again but was again told that we could not refund it because the fare was non-refundable. Great.

At this point, I planned to go to Air Canada’s customer relations desk, but first I went to Twitter. I’ve generally found Air Canada’s Twitter team to be helpful, and they were responsive this time as well.

It seemed they too didn’t know how to handle this. In fact, it took them two full days before they could get me a response. That’s when I finally received the good news.

Hello Brett,

I apologize for the delay in response. We will refund the ticket as soon as we receive a medical note from the passenger. Would you have that available? I invite you to send it to: acmedical@aircanada.ca. Thank you.

I didn’t have the medical note yet since I was still just trying to get clarity on the policy. Now that I knew what I had to do, I sent a note off to the client to get the note, ready to move forward. Then, Air Canada changed its mind. This came in on Twitter.

Hi Brett, we’ve just been advised by our Finance team that it is not required for you to send us the letter. They suggested that you process the refund in Sabre (as you would for a death exception) and keep the doctor’s letter in your files in case there ever there was an audit, then we would request the letter from you.

We realize that you’ve been provided with different instructions but we feel that this would be the easiest process for you to follow in order to have this issue taken care of as quickly as possible.

Please let us know if you have any further questions regarding this ticket.

Have a great day!

Ok then. First, kudos to Air Canada’s Twitter team for working on getting the right answer here. But as you can see, it wasn’t easy to get.

We received the doctor’s note from the client, saved it in our files, and processed the refund in our system. It’s a good outcome for our client, but what about all the other travelers who find themselves stuck in a situation like this?

Always get those fare rules when you book a ticket. Then keep pushing if the airline fails to honor those rules. In this case, my guess is that Air Canada just copied-and-pasted Lufthansa’s rules without paying attention. (The rules are still the same, by the way.) But that’s not an excuse. Airlines have to abide by the rules they file, and it would be nice if they all made that easy.

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