San Leandro woman stuck with airline fee after mother's funeral

7 On Your Side investigated after a Bay Area woman was stuck with an airline fee after rescheduling a flight for her mother?s funeral.
March 27, 2014 7:15:08 PM PDT
Are you a frequent flier who dreads all those airline fees? One Bay Area woman was especially upset when her mother died suddenly and she had to reschedule her flight.

Oftentimes airlines will give you a break on change fees if there is a medical emergency or death. In this case the airline did promise to waive the fee. But somehow, it didn't happen. That's when she came to 7 On Your Side for help.

Bernadette Buchanan of San Leandro was looking forward to seeing her 93-year-old mom back in England.

"I was all set to have a wonderful visit, it was to be a family reunion of sorts," she said.

However, the happy event never happened.

"It came as a terrible shock when I got a phone call to say that she had very suddenly passed away," Buchanan said.

Her mom died weeks before their reunion. Buchanan had to get to England right away so she called Virgin Atlantic Airways to reschedule her flight.

"They said there would be absolutely no problem with changing the dates, but there would be a fee, a $275 fee," she said.

However, Virgin said it would refund the fee after she submitted a bereavement form.

"Which I did upon my return," Buchanan said. "And that's when my problems began."

Problems that she said went on for months. First, she mailed in the form with the death certificate. However, Virgin did not refund the money. When she asked why, the airline said it needed more documents.

"They required not just the death certificate, but a birth certificate, and a marriage certificate to prove I was related to my mother," Buchanan said.

So she mailed in those too. Still, no refund.

"Another month went by," Buchanan said. "I tried to get hold of someone to speak to and I was told I can no longer help you."

So she copied all the documents again and sent them all in again. Virgin said it didn't receive them

"I must have sent that death certificate in five times," she said. "And the marriage certificates and all the other certificates."

Next time she used certified mail, but still no luck.

"It was the same story over and over again," Buchanan said. "We need more documents, we haven't received the original ones. "

She didn't give up. Buchanan says it wasn't about the money. It was because the airline had promised no penalty for a daughter saying goodbye to her mom.

"If it had been something else I wouldn't have, you know, felt it so deeply," she said. "But I just wanted to have it done right, have them honor their policy."

She contacted 7 On Your Side. We called Virgin Atlantic. And it acted fast. The airline found the documents, determined they were in order, and refunded her money.

In a statement they told us, "Unfortunately, there was a delay in the refund as the correct documentation was not received at first. Virgin Atlantic worked closely with Mrs. Buchanan to ensure that the correct paperwork was filed and a refund was expedited."

"And I am very grateful," Buchanan said.

Virgin Atlantic tells us it requires more documents when family members have different last names, like Buchanan and her mother. The airline needed the marriage and birth records to show they really are mother and daughter. The strict policies seem harsh but they are meant to prevent abuse.

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