Illness doesn't get air tickets changed

Travel Q&A

October 26, 1997|By Jean Allen | Jean Allen,SUN SENTINEL

I am under a doctor's care for a serious treatment that will not end until after the date of my scheduled flight on United Airlines. I have a doctor's letter attesting to this fact. However, a United agent claims the airline is under no obligation to change the date of travel.

I thought there was a federal law that if a passenger is unable to travel, the airline must grant the request for a date change.

There is no federal law requiring airlines to change dates on restricted tickets like yours at no extra charge, even for people who can't fly on the original date for medical reasons. The copy of the ticket you sent me clearly states that it is both nonrefundable and nontransferable. It also states that the ticket is "subject to conditions of contract."

You could have bought travel insurance, or you could pay the $50 extra it would cost to change the reservation.

Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United, said that although the airline considers each case separately, it's likely that a change will be refused. "We always urge them to pay the extra $50, which is a lot better than losing the total value of the ticket," Hopkins said.

Airlines set their own policies on tickets that purchasers get for a bargain price in return for promising to fly on an agreed date. The passenger in effect is betting he will fly when scheduled, and if he doesn't, he loses. Major airlines usually will change tickets only with payment of an additional fee.

Depending on the plan, travel insurance covers purchasers for cancellation or interruption of a trip, emergency medical care away from home and a range of other options. Full coverage of all parts of the trip would add approximately 8 percent to the cost. Most travel agencies and tour operators offer travel insurance. Some credit-card companies offer travel accident insurance to those who charge the cost of transportation.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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