US Air’s attempt to end Bankruptcy, $419.80 at a time.

When is a refundable airline ticket not refundable? I am not sure how many answers there are for this question in reality, but one answer is when purchased through US Air.

At 6:30 PM on May 15th I bought a refundable ticket for the 8:00 Boston-La Guardia shuttle one way… for the low, low price of only $419.80. Before the 8:00 PM flight left Logan I decided not to take the trip and left the gate at the security area. I looked to refund my ticket at the counter, but by 8:00 the counter was closed and there were no US Air employees to be found. So I went on line that evening and requested the refund on the website. This is where the story should end.

On June 8th I received an email from US Air Refunds denying me the credit due, claiming that I took the flight in question. Since I was holding the E-ticket and the actual unused boarding pass in my hands at the time I got the email I was pretty sure they were wrong. Contacting an airline is like trying to reach the White House to leave the latest knock-knock joke with the VP. The US Air website actually lists a phone number for refunds, but the 800 number connects you to sales. The guy who answered the phone actually said “how may I have the luxury of serving you today?” in a tone that was dripping false sincerity.

When told of my plight he poorly and (as I eventually learned) incorrectly explained US Air had no record at all of my purchase of the ticket and no record of me in the system at all, so he could not issue a credit. The confirmation code identifying my ticket was apparently already in re-use for another customer for a flight two weeks in the future.

I then went to Logan Airport (always a pleasant little drive with traffic, a $3.50 tunnel toll and $9.00 parking fee) and spoke with the shift supervisor at the US Air counter. Holding my unused boarding pass, the manager explained that US Air keeps their records for about two days before they archive them to an area she could not access, and thus she could not issue a refund for a charge since they had no record of it in their system. She also said the refund should be requested within two hours of the flight time, which is an interesting policy to have since it is not stated anywhere on the ticket, mentioned at the time of purchase, and does not take into account the counter is closed nearly 50% of the time.

With nowhere to turn, I went back to the people at US Air refunds and sent them a copy of the unused boarding pass. They said the scanners at the gate no longer keep the boarding pass and they give it back to flyers (since when?) and that my pass had been scanned into the system to show I had boarded, and that someone was sitting in my assigned seat (shocker! someone moving to an open seat), and that the manifest did not show a missing passenger (shocker deux; an incorrect count). They have provided me with no proof from the records that my boarding pass was scanned at the gate. If there is a security camera at the gate (which would prove I did not board) they are not admitting it’s existence.

So it is apparently up to me to prove to them I was not on the flight rather than the other way around. I have presented them what I think is a pretty good case.

1) What idiot buys a $420.00 refundable one way ticket at the airport 90 minutes before the flight unless they were never planning on using the ticket?

2) I have a history of buying this ticket nearly once a month for the past two years and having it refunded every time. US Air admits the records indicate that I do this. They asked why, but I told them the answer is not pertinent to the issue. And it is not…

3) I have a credit card receipt from a Logan restaurant with me cashing out at 8:06 PM.

4) I have a credit card receipt from Logan parking showing me using my credit card to pay my parking ticket and leave the airport in Boston at 8:28 PM (remember the flight left at 8:00).

5) I have cell phone records showing me making a call on my cell at 8:20 PM on the evening in question. The calls can be traced by GPS to their origin. This will show they were not made from an airline somewhere over Connecticut.

6) My refund request, made on line, was likely made while the plane was still in the air, and originated from my home computer. US Air could verify this.

US Air’s reaction from their refund rep to all of this: “I will pass the information on to customer relations and someone will get back to you. As far as the refund department is concerned, we have no reason to refund the ticket”.

The promised call from Customer Service did not come on Tuesday as promised, or on Wednesday, and on Thursday I called again and was told they will contact me when they are through “reviewing” the documents. There is no way for me to contact customer relations by phone. You have to email them begging for a phone call, then watch your hair grow.

Late Friday I got a phone call from Mark Wells in Customer Relations, who admitted there were some “discrepancies” in their records, and he would be reviewing them over the weekend and would call me on Monday. True to form, Mark failed to call and instead emailed me late Monday that the refund request would be re-entered. No phone call. No apology. No admittance of error on their part. This turned out to be not all that surprising, because five days later Deana Worth, the “lead” representative for customer service emailed that they were still denying the refund and I should take up the issue with the Refund Department (who had twice denied the claim and told me only Customer Relations could only help me now). Catch 22. Then it came to me as clear as it did to Del Griffith: “While you were calling the airlines, I was calling the Brentwood Inn”. I was wasting my time trying get Discover or US Air to see reason and respond to it… so I called the FAA. After all, if US Air has no idea who is actually on their flights it is a serious security issue for everyone.

The US Department of Transportation’s Jessica Ilich returned my phone call in an hour, took all my info and proof via email, and said they tend to get quicker results than most. Six days later US Air emailed yet again (another faceless name who had not been involved before) and said the refund was not only approved but the money was already credited to my Discover account.

No apology from US Air. No admittance of any error. Nothing done in any manner to smooth over taking a simple refund procedure and turning it into a 7 week nightmare. This airline cannot go out of business soon enough for me.

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