Father: American Airlines Wouldn’t Waive Change Fees When 3 Year Old’s Appendix Ruptured (And The Reason He Gives is Shocking)

Airlines have fares with significant change fees so that they can ‘gate’ their fares. They want to make cheap tickets available to price-sensitive leisure flyers, while preventing people who would pay more for flexibility from getting these good deals.

Without change fees a business traveler might buy cheap advance purchase tickets and just keep changing their plans, rather than buying more potentially more expensive last minute travel.

Southwest Airlines doesn’t have change fees, and earlier this year American Airlines CEO Doug Parker explained why he’ll never be as generous as Southwest. It’s because change fees are one way they try to get more money from business travelers.

There was a brief media kerfuffle when Parker said if the government tried to regulate these fees, he’d make all tickets completely non-changeable, but I reported exactly those same comments back in March. Parker said if you want Southwest’s kind of flexibility, “go fly the cattle car.”

Airlines do waive change fees. Just this year it’s been done for me several times,

Elite status with American helps. However I have not had any sort of status with Delta since I status matched to Northwest Worldperks in the last year of that program.

One customer reports though that American Airlines was unwilling to waive a change fee when his 3 year old’s appendix ruptured — because the appendix did not rupture on day of travel. (HT: David W.)

American’s Twitter team wasn’t exactly helpful either, reminding him that his fare has change fees.

Now waivers are at American’s discretion, however it seems to me that this is a situation worth ‘hanging up and calling back’ because as far as I am aware the emergency illness does not have to occur on the day of travel to be considered for a waiver. If the child traveling was in the hospital that should be enough.

Here’s American’s policy for bereavement and critical illness exceptions updated May 2018 (.pdf). Here’s what’s involved requesting a waiver of change fees for critical illness:

In the event of critical illness of an immediate family member or traveling companion, a ticket change fee waiver may be reviewed for consideration of refund with the appropriate documentation and justification. The travel agency or the customer may submit for review using the resources below:

 Submit via Passenger Refunds at www.refunds.aa.com.
 Email to refunds@aa.com with the following required information:
 E-ticket number (13 digit number starting with 001)
 Customer’s name on e-ticket
 Customer’s relationship to the ill party
 A copy of Hospital or medical documentation

We don’t know the full timeline here that could explain the existing denial (e.g. that the photo and incident are months old) but assuming that the incident occurred recently and the child was in the hospital unable to travel as the tweet seems to apply I would follow the procedure suggested here.

Update: American has taken care of the passenger. As I say, when you don’t get a first answer that seems correct (or plausible) don’t just assume that’s the end of the story, hang up, call back.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Latest update is that AA did make an exception and waive some fees. In the same situation I think I would have asked AA to waive the fees but also accepted the answer regardless if YES or NO (knowing I had willingly purchased a non-refundable, restricted ticket with change fees associated). I’m also 100% certain I would not have gone on Twitter and posted a pic of my kid in the hospital bed…

  2. It would definitely be better to HUCA than make your case in social media. Just yesterday, I wanted to make a completely permissible and free change to an AA award ticket I have. The first agent was giving me all sorts of reasons why I couldn’t do this. After a minute-and-a-half, I thanked the agent for her time, hung up, and called again. The next agent made the change in about a minute with no difficulties. It would be nice if all agents knew the rules and wanted to be helpful, but that’s not the world we live in. I guess the problem is most people don’t fly enough to know this.

  3. I will confess my family too has been on the short end of this stick with injured and dying close relatives — British Airways, BUT…..
    Why does an individual’s problem or misfortune automatically become someone else’s problem? Isn’t that why there’s travel insurance? If we don’t take the insurance, we self insure and endure the consequences.
    Doesn’t mean simple decency shouldn’t be employed but this is not the one-sided argument it initially appears — unless we just want to beat on AA some more…

  4. BTW, the single best way to fly AA domestically is to get an award ticket on Avios (admittedly, you have to find award space, but that’s usually possible again these days if you’re not flying at absolutely peak times). If you need to cancel your flight for any reason, your cost is only the $5 PFC. And you can even re-book (if space is available) with no last minute ticket fees or anything. So a dog can be sick, a kid’s appendix can rupture, you’ve just gotten tickets for a game, you want to go to a party, whatever. No drama. And AMEX Rewards is even giving a 40% bonus right now to transfer to Avios.

  5. This wouldn’t be hard for AA to manage since they issue refunds vs price reductions. If AA can resell the seat then it should give a larger refund. If not the pax should be on the hook. While not required it would be so much more appealing if they were kind about refunds and change fees in situations like these. Seems like a play the marketing dept should be involved in, they could really earn a lot of goodwill just by being flexible…

    Not to mention that hotels and car rental companies have survived with much more generous cancellation policies.

  6. I’ve moved from being an AA Exec Plat, to a Mosaic on JetBlue and an A Lister (soon to be an A Lister Preferred) on WN; in both cases there are no change or cancellation fees. There are few things that bother me more about the state of the big three airlines than change fees. Alaska also waives fees for elites, possibly also Frontier.

    Parker’s comment is rediculous, what is it supposed to mean, I mean AA isn’t exactly a luxury liner especially in coach. Maybe he was trying to dodge the question.

    I would like to know from Doug or Gary why mainly Southwest (and also on a more limited basis with elites JetBlue, Alaska, and others) are able to maintain a sustainable business without change fees?

    Also the public is naive to just keep accepting and paying these. I always think its ironic how much play in the media bag fees get, bag fees are nothing when you look at $200 change fees.

    The flexibility and peace of mind and ability to be spontaneous that Southwest and JetBlue gives me are priceless. I highly value this flexibility and ability to be spontaneous, and not stuck to rigid planned dates and times. There is no more important element of #paxex or an elite program to me than no change fees!

  7. Its also ridiculous that the big three airlines claim they offer flexible fares, when these fares are astronomically priced hundreds or thousands of dollars more. If they had a flexible travel option pass (like VX had) for $25 that would make sense and be a valid claim that they offer reasonable prices for flexibility. But its not reasonable for them to claim they offer flexible fares when those fares are only avaialble to the top 1%.
    I wish the government would elliminate all change fees tomorrow! Let the airlines raise each ticket price $1 to compensate. And the big three would cry, but they would find a way to adapt to it and they would keep flying and likely stay profitable.
    Why can’t they offer a “change fee pass,” for say $500 a year that exempts you from all change fees.
    It would save them a lot of time from HUCA or haggling with them at the airport over a change fee waiver.
    In May I tied up a UA agent for about an hour at the airportg because they wouldn’t waive a change fee, and that agent could have been doing better things if UA had a practical program and attainable program or service for someone like me who values the flexibility and spontaneity but who can’t pay $100,000. AGain, I’m thinking a $500 or 50,000 mile “change fee pass,” for the year. Maybe 1K’s get it for free to push you to 1K
    Maybe you have a $2,500 “change fee and fare difference passs,” that waives the change fee and lets you travel with in 7 days of the original flight if lets say E is available on UA.

    I don’t feel sorry at all and I feel a great deal of disgust with the big three on change fees, and they aren’t doing anything at all creative to work on the issue and make it better for customers. Charging $200 isn’t a creative solution. And again, how is it that JetBlue and Alaska offer creative solutions? And WN offers a real creative solution not only for elite but all flyers!

  8. @ Gary — Sadly, I am not surprised. As a 10+ year EXP, I expect about the same treatment.

  9. Will never fly American again. We had nightmare travel with them in Maine this summer. Horrendous delays and they don’t give a dime (or a damn) towards a hotel room or food. Always fly Southwest if you are able! they are the best!

  10. One thing that clearly helps is press coverage or having a well known twitter personality tweet about your situation. I’ve done a bit of a test via twitter with a few airlines when I’ve needed some assistance with a reservation. My wife has a blue check and a decent size following on twitter (over 25k followers). I do not.

    I’ve found that having her contact the airline via twitter generates a fairly quick (and helpful) response. When I’ve messaged about the exact same issue (also via twitter and nearly simultaneously)…crickets.

    This shouldn’t be a surprise. It makes sense they would help someone in the public eye more than someone who isn’t. Just makes it tougher for the rest of us. Squeaky wheel syndrome.

  11. Companies can’t start trying to judge every sob story and make exceptions. It would be a complete flea market. This guy should stop worrying about the fee and take care of the son, if truly urgent.

  12. Isn’t that why all airlines pester us to buy their overpriced insurance when buying a ticket? I never buy insurance, but I also know that I’m taking risk b/c if something happens and I can’t make the flight, I’m screwed. But it’s my decision to roll the dice. So, gotta side with AA on this one.

  13. If the main story is updated, why is the headline not updated?
    If I had not read to the very last line, I would have been left with the impression that the airline had not caved/waived.

  14. My Dr a well renowned one is Concierge Key member and he hates American too from what he shares.I never went higher than Exec Plat and will vow never again with Parker in office who had disgraced and ruined a once decent airline
    I have been giving him advice how to divorce from AA and go elsewhere even if it means a variety of programs and less loyalty

  15. As opposed to several other commenters, I am fine with the family going on social media to get this resolved. Why were AA such jerks about this? I am sure the family explained the situation to the AA rep, the father probably had more important things to do than screw around trying to find a more sympathetic agent. I suggest that AA do some retraining.

  16. Though I’m a frequent critic of Doug Parker and AA, I’m withholding judgement on this one. As Gary says, we don’t know the full timeline. It is reasonable for the airline to expect the passenger to complete a process for evaluation of the request. Otherwise everyone could come up with a good story about why their fee should be waived. Did he complete the process and get turned down, or did he just go to Twitter when they wouldn’t waive it on the spot? I don’t know.

  17. Joug Farker and his nasty travesty of capitalism are ultimately very bad for the free enterprise system.
    American’s economy is a far more squaled cattle car than Southwest could ever dream of being in it’s worst nightmare.

  18. In the minority here but zero sympathy on the change fee. This whole discussion could have easily been avoided by (1) Using one of the many credit cards that include travel insurance when tickets are purchased, such as CSR or (2) purchasing insurance when you buy the ticket. In the old days maybe fee waivers made sense as insurance products did not exist or were difficult to obtain. Now there is no excuse unless you have an event that can’t be insured.

    Went through a similar situation with a hotel when my son tore his ACL. Hotel was nice enough to cancel the non-ref reservation without penalty but I did not have any expectations and would have been fine with submitting a claim with my card issuer.

  19. I would have asked for a supervisor. My mom suffered near heart failure a few years back when they were visiting us in PHX. The AA team was very helpful in rebooking, getting assistance at both airports and waiving fees and even giving me a deal to fly with them.

    Be calm and if you don’t the help you need, ask to speak to a supervisor. In most cases the airlines have a heart and kids, parents, family’s too.

  20. Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve — Over and over on these websites we hear what someone SHOULD have done, when even the gods cannot change the past.
    At the same time the super-gigantic corporation is essentially given a pass for having anti-customer policies OR poorly trained frontline staff, or both.
    Now, the staff have great sympathy from me. I think those are horrendous jobs. BUT, we have set up a society where the only people who benefit are the very top managers and shareholders.
    In the midst of a life crisis, it is desperately difficult to consider all the made-up, self-created corporate regulations imposed on customers.
    It is completely reasonable to expect some assistance from American Airlines, not blocking, stonewalling and further complications.
    These are not laws we can ultimately accept the blame for by having elected dreadful legislators. These are created requirements by companies which used to be considered in some way public services. These are requirements instituted with the aid of armies of attorneys.
    Whaddaya do when you’d rather own the stock of a company than use their services?
    And don’t kid yourselves folks; these companies are perverting our society for the gain, while governments flounder.
    Bring on the social media full force. The gloves are off.
    I long ago lost any respect for American Airlines. United passed into perdition, the first time someone slammed their seatback into my knees on their “new” planes. I’m down to JetBlue and Southwest.
    I would fly any decent foreign airline I could if they were allowed to fly US routes.

  21. “…a ticket change fee waiver may be reviewed for consideration of refund ….”

    Well that does state that American may review the change fee for refund.
    And they even give out instructions how to do it and what is required in the refund request.

    In this case customer did not want to pay the change fee and later request the refund but get tickets changed without paying any change fee.

    Not an American problem. Just an ‘american’ problem.

  22. Still remember calling AA literally from the ICU after having a heart attack, and having an agent refusing to budge on the fees.

  23. As an EXP AA member (and lifetime PLT w/almost 6 million miles on AA), they lost my loyalty last year when I had to make a change to a ticket and add a destination. Two of us were traveling and our original tickets were LAX to SGN. I had to take a trip to FCO the week before so needed to change the itinerary. The cost of the original tic was a little less that $4,000 per person, bsns class and because of the change, the cost of each ticket went up to almost $18,000. AA refused to waive the $450/ticket change fee, notwithstanding the fact that they were receiving an add’l $28,000 in revenue. My travel agent appealed to them, I sent a letter requesting them to waive the fee and received a computer generated BS letter. This for someone who spends $50,000 a year +/- on airfare. Not that any of the other domestic airlines are much better, but as far as greedy AA, with this lack of customer service, my $$s will be spent on competitors unless I absolutely am forced to fly AA

  24. When my father passed away last month AA waived change fees on both my flight home and a business trip I was to take the following week. I even received a condolence card from the agent. They went above and beyond. Yes, all of this is at the discretion of the agent, but I have to believe the father acted a little jerky to them to not get this waived immediately. I was truly appreciative. And for those who go on and on about the lack of change fees at SW, they instead make you pay the new fare amounts which are through the roof day of travel. It may be good for something like this, but a $75 standby fee is usually a better deal.

  25. A few months ago, my adult son was hospitalized two days before a flight I has booked months before. The American Airlines agent (toll free customer service number) explained to me about my ticket being non-rundable & about the change fee. However, she did waive the change fee for me & credited me with price of ticket against a future flight to be used within a one year period. I did have to scan in a form along with my son’s birth certificate, proof of hospitalization dates, & a note from his doctor stating why he was hospitalized. Well worth this legwork to get this. American did not have to do this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *