Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Trip I Didn't Take

About a week ago, just as I was preparing to fly from Raleigh to Madison, Wisconsin to visit dear friends, our 13 year old son was came down out of the blue with severe pains in his stomach and abdomen.  He'd gone to bed with no precursor symptoms that anything was wrong, and we were baffled.  We rushed him to our pediatrician, who in turn sent us to the ER. 

After spending all day in a tiny, claustrophobic, windowless room in our hospital's pediatric ER unit going through a number of tests, a surgeon surmised his appendix had gone wonky.  By 4:00 PM our son was having an emergency appendectomy.  Just in time, too, since it was on the verge of rupturing.  But since it had not burst, the procedure was performed laparoscopically with just three small incisions. 

Our son spent one night in the hospital before we took him home.  The morning we checked him out was the morning I was to have flown to Madison.  

During the agonizing anxiety of uncertainty while my son writhed in pain in the ER the day before, I discovered on an emotional level what every parent knows intellectually: that there can be no worse experience than watching helplessly when one's child is in pain, not knowing what is the matter, and feeling helpless to make it better.  While in this state of dread, I had of course called American Airlines and cancelled my reservation to fly to Madison.

My ticket was, as almost all are these days, in a nonrefundable fare class.  After I explained my reason for cancelling, the American reservation agent complimented me for canceling in advance.  She said that if I had not phoned, and simply not showed up, that I would have lost my entire $318.80 round trip fare.  But as I had let them know beforehand, AA would penalize me only the requisite $150 change fee. 

Though drained physically and spiritually, I asked AA about their policy for medical emergencies.  The rez agent, even though reached through the AA Executive Platinum line, was quick (and polite) to point out that she had no authority to make an exception and suggested I write to AA Customer Service.  At my request she notated the record to show we'd had the conversation and why I was cancelling.  

I spent the next few days tending to our son's well-being.  As he bounced back to health (as only the young can), however, I decided to call American Airlines again about the change fee.  It bothered me that any airline would not forgive such an unexpected event.  As far as I can recall, this is the only time in my life that I have asked for a pass due to a medical emergency.   

Once again I phoned the AA Executive Platinum lines, and again I got a polite agent who demurred to Customer Service.  Luckily, he offered to patch me through to speak to a CS person by phone rather than by email or letter.  

After waiting 42 minutes on hold, I spoke to a very kind and efficient American Airlines Customer Service agent who compared my record locator to the notes in it and my verbal explanation.  No doubt he also took into account my Million Miler status and the fact that I'd been an AAdvantage member since the program was launched in 1981.  He put me through to a supervisor within two minutes of our being connected.  

The Supervisor spent less than one minute on the phone.  She apparently looked over the record notes and decided to give me a voucher for the full $318.80 based on the circumstances.  I offered to email a scanned copy of the hospital paperwork, but she said she trusted me and that wouldn't be necessary.  She was polite and warm-hearted.  I was impressed with the sincere timbre of her voice.    She was well-chosen for the difficult role she plays at the airline.

I was even more impressed with her action to forgive the $150 penalty on the strength of my word.  42 minutes of waiting plus two minutes with the first CS agent and one minute with the CS supervisor yielded a fair result.   

Within five minutes AA had generated an email documenting my credit.  It must be used on another AA flight within 12 months, but that won't be a problem.  I intend to reschedule my reservation to Madison for January or February.  Meantime, I am very grateful to American Airlines for doing the right thing, especially during their bankruptcy and reorganization.  Their action reinforces my loyalty.

Our son is already back to normal with no aftereffects other than having a friend (and his parents) help him carry his heavy backpack full of books to and from school.  He can't lift anything heavy for a few weeks, but we are amazed at how fast he has recovered.  American will also benefit from his business, since he has had his own AAdvantage account since he was a baby, and he, too, will be flying on American again soon.  He knows what AA did for me, so the good will generated by American in forgiving the change fee will be generational.


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