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,
- Last month Delta let me cancel and redeposit miles from an award ticket less than 24 hours prior to travel without a fee.
- When I needed to get home to be with my dog before he passed in January American Airlines waived change fees.
- And when my grandmother passed earlier this year American reduced my change fee so that there was no additional fare required as I downgraded from a paid first class ticket down to coach.
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.)
Our 3-year-old’s appendix ruptured, yet @AmericanAir will not even rescind $400 in change fees for our rescheduled trip because his appendix didn’t rupture “the day of the flight.”
Honestly, this is why airlines are becoming so hated. pic.twitter.com/3SccDvjvXg
— Ryan Austin Dean (@RyanAustinDean) October 2, 2018
American’s Twitter team wasn’t exactly helpful either, reminding him that his fare has change fees.
— Ryan Austin Dean (@RyanAustinDean) October 3, 2018
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.