Does a major airline ignore its own policies when it comes to handling the refund requests of passengers whose family members have died?
An NBC5 Investigates report last month prompted a flurry of complaints from our viewers that raise questions about American Airlines and how it treats the sensitive issues surrounding death and previously purchased airline tickets.
Sharon Parcell said American Airlines ignored her repeated attempts to get a refund after her father-in-law Donald Parcell died last fall. The Des Plaines family had planned to go to Puerto Rico later this month – a trip meticulously planned by "Grandpa" Donald Parcell. When he passed away, Sharon said she sent the required death certificate. Months later, she said American Airlines continued to disregard her repeated requests for the refund outlined in its guidelines.
"I’ve mailed it at least three times and faxed it once," Sharon Parcell said. "I think I’ve called probably nine or 10 times, and I even asked [if there was] someone else I can talk to."
It’s a timeline that is familiar to Cliff Boggs.
"You can’t talk to a live person when you need a refund," Boggs complained.
His dad, Walter, died last November, right before a trip Cliff Boggs had booked to go see him in Tennessee. It's a situation outlined on the American Airlines website as a permissible reason for a refund, but Boggs said he continues to wait for a refund months after submitting the death certificate.
"I can't believe that for the thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars that I've spent over the years flying American, that you know, the one time that I need sympathy, empathy and action, I can't get anything," Boggs said.
Parcell and Boggs are among the viewers who reached out to NBC 5 Investigates after a report about the Cantrell family of St. Charles.
The Cantrells contacted American Airlines and after the sudden death of 9-year-old ”Scout." After submitting a copy of Scout’s death certificate and obituary, the family was told it could not get a refund for her unused ticket. In a letter, American Airlines said it could not "offer a refund, issue a travel voucher or transfer the ticket to another person."
But after our report aired on television and was widely shared on the Internet, the airline acknowledged it should have handled the request with more sensitivity and reached out to the family via telephone to apologize and complete the refund.
Five months after first privately asking for the refund, the Cantrells said they are satisfied with the final outcome, but remain hopeful no other family has to endure the same treatment by American.
Is there a pattern here? By Monday evening, a spokesperson for American had not responded to a request for comment.
Boggs ultimately received an email indicating his long-awaited refund had been processed after NBC 5 Investigates posed questions. Parcell was still waiting for hers as of Monday evening.