By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 4/8/2008 10:40:38 AM ET 2008-04-08T14:40:38
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I need your help getting a voucher that US Airways promised us, but hasn’t sent. While we were on a Mediterranean cruise last year, my wife fell and was severely injured. As a result, we couldn’t make our return flight from Venice to Philadelphia.

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I called US Airways and told them what happened and requested a refund for the return flight. The agent promised us a $960 voucher.

We were able to use part of the credit on a flight to Miami several months later, but only after explaining everything to a US Airways representative again — I had to give him the names of the hospital and doctors who treated my wife.

Our tickets cost $124 per person each way, which should have left us a credit of about $400. It’s been several months, and there’s no sign of the voucher. We are getting ready to book another trip and would like to use our credit, but we need the voucher. Is there anything you can do? — Myron Sigal, Marlton, N.J.

A: If US Airways said it would give you a voucher, it should have sent it to you quickly. It never ceases to amaze me that an airline — or any travel company, for that matter — can take your money within seconds, but then force you to wait months before giving you a refund or a credit.

Here’s the thing, though. As I read US Airways’ terms of transportation — the legal agreement between you and the airline — it’s clear that you weren’t owed a refund and possibly not even a credit. Section eight of the contract says that no refunds will be made for nonrefundable tickets, and that special rules apply to international tickets.

As I review your correspondence, I think it’s possible US Airways made an exception for you and your wife, because of her medical condition. I think that’s commendable. Making you wait months for the voucher — that’s not so commendable.

I think you might have avoided this by starting a paper trail. Some grievances are best handled by phone, but others should be done electronically. Calling US Airways initially was a good idea, because you needed to let the airline know about your circumstances right away. If you had waited until after your flight, US Airways might have offered you nothing.

After that, you should have begun e-mailing the carrier, which allows both sides to keep track of what was said, and more importantly, what was not said. You needed some kind of confirmation that the airline was going to offer a $960 — and later, a $400 — voucher. Verbal assurances aren’t enough.

Having that documentation would have prevented you from needing to recount the painful memories of your wife’s accident, and it might have (maybe) speeded up the processing of your second voucher.

You shouldn’t have had to wait months for your voucher. When you think you’re being stonewalled by an airline, try escalating your complaint to a supervisor. I list their names on my Web site.

I contacted US Airways on your behalf, and the airline sent you the promised vouchers and an apology.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations” on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2007 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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