To the unavoidable death and taxes, add airline fees
Q.My stepfather purchased tickets several months ago for a trip to Florida and then took ill and passed away. I’ve been trying to get a refund from Continental Airlines for his ticket, but haven’t been able to reach a real person or get any answer about when, or if, a refund will be issued. I e-mailed all of the required information including death certificate, original itinerary, and also the last four numbers of his credit card on multiple occasions. Can you help?
A. Airlines have figured out lots of ways to make money beyond just charging for seats on their planes. While many have earned poor reputations for how they deal with customers, it is pretty standard in the industry to issue a refund when someone who bought a ticket dies.
That said, airlines are not exactly a friendly neighborhood business when it comes to these sorts of things. A lot of businesses, the airlines certainly among them, are much better at taking money than giving it back.
And they’ve certainly mastered the art of charging fees for everything from checking bags to changing reservations. Continental, now part of United Continental, charges a $50 service fee to refund a deceased passenger’s ticket - the airline version of the restocking fee charged by some electronics stores.
United Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark said anyone in this situation should get in touch with the airline refunds department to make the request, which should include a copy of the death certificate. She said normal procedures were followed in this case, and she acknowledged that the request for a refund had been properly made. It just didn’t get processed very quickly.
“We regret the delay in completing this request,’’ Clark said.
To try to expedite resolution of a problem like this, it’s important to try to connect with a real person and escape the automated system. If you can’t get a helpful person - or are unable to reach a supervisor when you’re stuck - try visiting a website such as Boston-based GetHuman.com, where consumers can find phone numbers and e-mail addresses that other consumers have used to reach people who can help.
Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. He can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.