Maryland Woman Gets Refund for Non-Refundable Airline Ticket Under Illness Exception

After a Maryland woman became too ill to take a planned trip, she learned her ticket was non-refundable, but with some help from NBC4 Responds, she qualified for an exception.

Mary Donaldson of Damascus has suffered with Crohn’s disease for 25 years, and when she started to feel good, she and her husband decided to take a trip.

“I have never been to Denver,” she said. “It was on our bucket list of things to do.”

But then her health began to deteriorate.

“I got very sick,” she said. “I was hospitalized.”

The couple canceled their trip and asked United Airlines for a refund.

“I told them I’m in the hospital, I cannot fly.” Donaldson said.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to be in the hospital,” she told them. “I need a major surgery.”

Then she realized she had purchased non-refundable tickets, but she said the term “NONREF” wasn't clear to her.

“Why doesn’t it say ‘non-refundable’ on the tickets that you print out? So I had no idea,” she said.

United stuck to its policy: Non-refundable means just that, even with a hospital note.

As many airlines do, United issued Donaldson a credit to be used within one year instead of a refund.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fly within a year,” she said.

NBC4 Responds reached out to United.

“That evening I got a phone call from United Airlines, and they said that they had no idea my condition was as serious as it was, and they refunded our money 100 percent,” Donaldson said.

United said there are exceptions to the non-refundable rule, such as death of the traveler, traveling companion or immediate family member; jury duty; and certain illness situations, which made Donaldson eligible for her $976.80 refund.

“With the bills coming in now, it’s like thank God they refunded our money,” she said.

Airline industry advocacy group Airlines for America explained why airlines offer non-refundable tickets:

  • Non-refundable fares offer more affordable travel options,
  • Help reduce passenger no-shows
  • And avoid the cost of a seat when a reservation is canceled.

While non-refundable tickets often cost less, they come with more restrictions. More expensive refundable tickets give you more flexibility.

Airlines for America said there's no industry-wide policy when it comes to refunds and change fees it's up to each individual carrier.

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