‘Ask & You Shall Receive:' The Pastor, the Plane Ticket and NBC 5 Responds

A retired minister sums up his struggle to get a refund from an airline, after a critical illness

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Last summer, retired LaGrange Park Pastor Bob Hempel and his wife Elaine thought everything was set for their long-planned trip to a professional conference in North Carolina.

"My bags were packed and they were ready to go, like the song says, we were leaving on a jet plane,” Pastor Bob, as his parishioners call him, told NBC 5 Responds.

The 82-year-old retired minister planned to speak at a conference workshop on his favorite topic--finding joy in everyday life.

But life, and more specifically, health complications, intervened the day before the scheduled flight. His doctor delivered the less-than-joyful news.

“He said, ‘Bob, you’re going to the E.R., not O’Hare,” Hempel shared.

Indeed, instead of the flight to Raleigh, North Carolina, Hempel said he then underwent emergency surgery on his large intestine. The couple cancelled the trip, and their doctor wrote what everyone thought would be a bulletproof letter to American Airlines, outlining the pastor's hospitalization for a "potentially life-threatening problem." The doctor wrote that Pastor Bob was "required to stay in the immediate vicinity of our hospital" and "absolutely unable to travel" on the dates in question.

Hempel told NBC 5 Responds he was surprised to hear "a big fat no."

For one, American Airlines' own website leaves open the possibility for refunds: 'extenuating exceptions may be considered due to critical illness of customer,' with qualifying documentation submitted directly to the airline.

"They refused to give my money back, even though we bought El Cheapo fares."

El Cheapo or no--AA denied Pastor Bob’s request for a refund. A joyless answer he said he wasn’t going to take sitting down.

After a 50-year career spanning churches across the country, Pastor Bob gave help to many, but said he also knows when it is time to ask for it.

"I appreciate your reporting,” he said in an interview with NBC 5 Responds. “I decided I would go for it."

So why didn’t his case rise to American Airlines’ stated level for a refund?

NBC 5 Responds asked the airline to take a second look, and re-submitted the doctor’s letter and related documents.

A spokesperson for AA told NBC 5 Responds:

“Our customer relations team obtained additional information regarding Mr. Hempel‘s request. We are glad we were able to work with him directly to resolve his issue and apologize for the delay. “

Intervention- decidedly not divine-- that prompted the approximately $300 resolution. One perhaps easiest for the now-retired Pastor to sum up:

 "Ask and you shall receive," he said.

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