Paper trail leads to … airline goof

Just now, my daughter-in-law is dealing with a problem.

She’d made plans to fly home to Japan to attend a family gathering.

She’d scheduled time off, booked the flight, paid for the ticket, and, then, ran headlong into the snowstorms that recently hit the Northeast.

The problem began when her flight — along with hundreds of others — was cancelled. She called the airline and they got her onto a flight departing two days later. Enter another storm and a second round of cancellations.

By now, she knew that the gathering would be over before she could get there and her remaining time off was such that, even if she did get a flight, she’d have to almost immediately fly back.

Now beginneth the saga.

She called the airline for the third time, explained her situation, and asked that a refund (she’d paid for traveller’s insurance) be issued since she could no longer make the trip. Finishing the call, the stars seemed aligned and all was well in the universe.


Somehow, after the call, “refund” morphed into “request” and a third flight was booked. Being unaware of this, she missed the flight she didn’t know had been scheduled, and the full fare was now on her credit card.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the airline, one imagines that, following those storms, every ticket agent between here and Timbuktu was trying to get thousands of stranded travelers to their destinations.

One might also wager that, during those attempts, there might have been some confusion, frayed nerves and just all-around scrambling to get everything back to normal.

Might the agent who handled my daughter-in-law’s call have made a simple mistake? Seeing that she’d been cancelled twice, could the agent — while trying to schedule who knows how many other flights — have missed the fact that my daughter-in-law no longer wanted to fly but, instead, wanted a refund?

Don’t know.

Phone calls to the airline produced no results other than statements that she’d missed her flight, didn’t have insurance on the third ticket (Note: Why would she? She’d asked for a refund.), and the charge would remain in place.

Emails (to start a paper trail) produced no satisfaction as the airline maintained that a ticket had been asked for (by whom?), issued, and not used. Even after having been sent detailed and thorough explanations, their response was still a terse (form-letter like) email which, basically, indicated that no one had really paid attention to her explanation.

At which point, she called and we all put our heads together and started what, in the Navy, is referred to as a “(Stuff) storm.”

Emails were again sent to the airline explaining the trail of events. Copies of those e-mails with cover letters were also sent to the Better Business Bureaus in the city and state where she resides. Further copies with cover letters were sent to the Consumer Protection department of the Attorney General’s office of her state.

Taking another tack, she also complained to her credit card company which, after reading a detailed summary of the matter, notified the airline that they were canceling the charge until the airline could prove that they’d rendered the service (a flight) that had been charged to my daughter-in-law’s account.

It’s been several weeks now, the charge has been removed from her statement, and nothing more has been heard from the airline. My daughter-in-law is hopeful that someone there might have finally sat down, actually read all of the e-mails, and decided that everything was now settled.

One can hope.

Nothing earth-shaking here. In the realm of problems, this one’s a minor matter unless, of course, you’re the one holding the bill for a round trip, trans-Pacific flight.

The lesson to be taken away from all of this, though, is that to get such things settled — especially with corporations — you have to get someone’s attention.

In other words, the old saying regarding “The squeaky wheel getting the grease” is still valid.

And never forget that paper trail. It’s a real burr under their saddle.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to:

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