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

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grichard
Guest

Got it: get the fare rules. But… how do I do that?

Since that was the inarguable bottom line of the column, it might be helpful to include a little bit about where those rules can be obtained.

Alex Hill
Member

There is always an option to view the detailed fare rules during the booking process. The place and name of the link varies airline to airline. At least with American Airlines, it is not (as far as I know) possible to view the fare rules of your ticket after booking (which is totally ridiculous and ought to be illegal, a phrase I don’t use lightly).

GringoLoco
Member

Two words: Debit memo

(smile)

IO
Member

CF
generally speaking, do you think north american airlines are more responsive to a public social media question/request/comment than to its airline desk (non-public), for example?

SEAN
Guest

My parents some years ago were going to take a trip to Canada, but needed to cancel do to medical reasons. Needless to say, getting a refund or rebooking was next to impossible, but luckily the ticket was refunded after enough pressure was applied.

Thanks a lot Air Canada. EH?

Rclynch
Member

I’m a doctor and our team has gotten many refunds, or at least flexible changes for patients with unexpected illness, even without a fare rule. Usually takes effort but it’s a bad PR hit to not do so.

matt weber
Member
In my career there are few things that have made me more money on a per hour basis than reading airline tariffs. The Tariff is the contract for carriage, and like any other contract, it is legally enforceable. The problem is keeping the tariffs current isn’t viewed as a money making exercise, so is often relegated to the ‘not important’ pile. I have found tariffs referring to things that the airline had ceased to do more than a decade earlier. The tariff clearly defines your rights and obligations,as well as the carriers rights and obligations. There are two things that… Read more »
Dan
Guest

Matt,

Just for clarity, is the 14 CFR Part 221 cite a typo? I know that commercial air carrier operations are governed under 14 CFR Part 121. (Part 221 does seem to be “Tariffs”, but just want to make sure you’re directing us to the right spot.)

matt weber
Member
The important parts are 14 CFR 221.1, 221.3, 221.10 and 221.170 through 221.177. For Example 14 CFR 221.1 lays out the requirement for tariffs to exist, be on file, and be available for public inspection. 14CFR221.3 requires all carriers to file and observe the tariffs 14CFR221.10 is who is authorized to file and issue tariffs. 14CFR221.170 through 177 define the locations where tariffs must be available, and the access for the public to the tariffs and the carrier’s obligations to assist the public in accessing the tariffs and/or providing copies of the relevant tariff. (I have yet to run into… Read more »
mike
Member

Matt, are you an attorney? How can I contact you?

Kilroy
Guest

> (I have yet to run into a carrier however that actually obeys the letter of 221.171.)

If this is really the case, I am surprised that an attorney hasn’t started a lawsuit against the airlines. Seems like it might be a nice little money grab for the right lawyer.

matt weber
Member

The problem is there is no attorney general clause anywhere. 14CFR222.171 is a Federal Regulation, and absent the AG clause, only the FED’s can do anything about it. They obviously cannot be bothered. If you have any doubts about my comment, the next time you check in for a flight at the counter, ask to inspect the tariffs and see what happens. Finding anyone actually capable of complying with 14CFR221.172 at the airport is virtually impossible.

And for the record I am not an attorney,

gbarrett
Member

It is not that easy to “be informed” about fares. I tried to read the rules for a United fare…they are no longer on their site, a web search did not find them, I called the help desk and was told I could read them after I purchased the ticket…I finally found them on Expert flyer, but that is a paid site that most people would not be able to use.

austinflyguy

TimH
Member

It may be hidden somewhere in a tiny, tiny link, but they have to give the fare rule to you when you pay for your ticket. Look for the term “Contract of Carriage.”

The Contract you get when you bought your tickets is the one that’s valid, not whatever’s posted at the website at a given point of time (that’s handy, because unless there are legal changes that mandate that an airline does something, changes to the Contract are unlikely to be in the customer’s favor).

USBT
Guest

United’s fare rules are available, at least when booking direct. But you have to go through a capcha to view them and they’re all in UPPER CASE which makes it difficult to read.

David SF eastbay
Guest

Shows how stupid the person who transferred you to the medical desk was. That’s for passengers flying with speical medical needs, not rules on fares. Unless that last person had some notation put in to refund that ticket, you will be dealing with this again when their accounting department dings you for refunding a nonrefundable ticket since it sounds like no one knows what they are doing.

Neil S.
Guest

The medical desk said medical questions about medical emergencies were extremely rare? THEN WHAT DO THEY DO ALL DAY?!?

grichard
Guest

I imagine that the answer is determine which people with what medical conditions can fly safely, and what accommodations they need to do so. Not in an emergency situation–more like “can this quadriplegic with this wheelchair and this ventilator fly in this jet?”

Ileana
Guest

It happens all too often, and it is great when you have someone that cares enough to go to bat for you – Kudos for a great job!

TimH
Member

I wish that with services like Apple Wallet or Google Now (or Google’s in-beta Trips application) that it’d download the contract when it learns about your trip (if possible – but I think some airlines still put a link to the Contract of Carriage in the receipt email so it should be).

Otherwise keeping tabs on the rules is pretty difficult, especially for people who do multiple trips on multiple airlines.

drybean
Member

so how is your client? Did he survive the heart surgery?

smallmj
Guest

So where do you see this? I looked under my conditions of carriage for my last AC flight and couldn’t find this clause. It only had a section on death, not medical emergency.

jaybru
Member
Fare rules: Written by lawyers, for lawyers, and you consumers…well, where did you ever get the idea that any of this stuff was written for you? And, then to get into what a doctor may or may not write about some misfortune you may have encountered, and like airline lawyers and doctors would agree on what anything means? (Fortunately, none of this type of stuff ever comes up in a Presidential election!) Anyway! My recent UA RT to LAS, I actually printed out the rule(s) for the ticket I was about to purchase. 11 pages. I noticed that there was… Read more »
matt weber
Member

Actually the airline are STILL required to post the notice of tariff availability for inspection at essentially each location they sell tickets or freight Services. It is covered in great detail in 14CFR221.173. As I suggested in a previously reply, nobody at DOT can be bothered to enforce most of 14CFR221.

SomeGuy
Guest

I cannot seem to match this up with any of Air Canada’s publically available tariff information, located here: http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/before/gcc_tariffs.html

Is there some special thing only travel agents have access to?

Dan
Guest

CF,

One thing that nobody mentioned earlier… what significance does the word “may” have? I don’t know of any legal context where “may” is compulsory, as it sure seems to just provide the “option”, not to actually require a refund or rebooking.

Second, since this is all about legalese and Matt’s assertion that airlines rarely bother to clean these up, how easy is it for the airline to claim that the provision is an error in the contract and therefore shouldn’t be enforceable?

Hbeach
Member
Brett, I was interested in this post because I too had a medical situation arise that required me to be hospitalized overnight while living in Shanghai in January of last year. I was supposed to fly on Air Canada PVG-YYZ-DTW later that month but I ended up flying the same itinerary 2 weeks earlier than scheduled so I could get checked out by American doctors. I had booked this trip via the AC website. The local (China) AC phone CSR didn’t know if I could rebook (and pay only the change fee) because this change was to be for medical… Read more »
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