British Airways won't re-book San Francisco woman stranded by hurricane

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you miss your flight because of a natural disaster, will the airline refund your ticket?

Maybe not.

"They had no sympathy, no 'I'm sorry you're going through that,''' said Barbara Lewis of San Francisco. She was recalling her ordeal last fall when she and a friend set out on what was supposed to be a dream vacation.

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"We saved up all our money for a long time for this trip, and it was ruined,'' she said. "Totally ruined."

The trip was especially important as they'd planned to cap it with a trip to Europe, to follow the Rolling Stones on their "No Filter" tour .

And Lewis was no ordinary Rolling Stones fan. She's been following the band since 1964. "I just love the Rolling Stones,'' she said. "I know every nuance of every song and I can tell if they do even the slightest thing differently."

Lewis is so familiar to the band, she gets prime tickets and backstage passes.

"It's a great party, that's all I can say, a great party,'' she said. "These guys are still young at heart. Even as long as they've been playing, they still love what they do."

Fans from around the world have become her friends as they see each other at the concerts every year. Lewis was to arrive with tickets and passes for many of them.

But getting there turned out to be a disaster. Literally.

Lewis and her friend started out their trip in the Caribbean. They arrived at the worst possible time -- just as Hurricane Maria was barreling toward the islands.

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"We were at a hotel on Guadeloupe and someone said there's a hurricane coming tomorrow,'' she recalls. "I thought they were kidding."

Then winds slammed the island. Lewis and her friend managed to get to Puerto Rico only to find the airport closed. No electricity, no flights out.

"There were lines of people waiting for clothes, waiting for food, waiting for help,'' she said. "People coming in on stretchers. Nobody was coming to help."

Lewis was supposed to fly from Puerto Rico to New York, then catch a flight on British Airways to Europe for the concert tour.

She knew she'd never make it out.

"I had to call British Airways to re-book my flight,'' she recalled. "There was no internet, no phone service."

Lewis managed to get a signal on a cheap cellphone, and reached a British Airways agent.

"It was a miracle I got to someone,'' she recalled. "I said 'I can't make it to New York. I can't make my connecting flight, I'm stranded in a hurricane.'''

She got no sympathy.

"The woman said, 'It's not my fault you went to the Caribbean,' ' she recalled. "'New York has nothing to do with the hurricane in Puerto Rico.'"

Lewis said British Airways refused to re-book her flight, even for a change fee. The airline also refused to hold her seat for the return flight from Europe to San Francisco.

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As the hurricane slammed the island, Lewis was desperate. "I said I'll go anywhere, we just gotta get out of here,'' she recalled.

The pair managed to catch the last flight out -- a plane to Madrid.

"It took all my money, all my frequent flyer miles," she said.

It also required her to re-book all the connecting flights through Europe, costing thousands of dollars.

"I was so stressed out, trying to hand off the concert tickets and passes to people who came from all over. I didn't even see much of the concerts,'' she recalled.

And after all that, British Airways charged her $1,000 for that unused flight. It refused her repeated requests to refund the money or provide a voucher.

Lewis contacted 7 On Your Side. Our team contacted British Airways and it agreed to refund her $500. It also gave her a $500 voucher for future travel.

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A spokesperson did not say why the British Airways agents refused to re-book her flight that day, or honor her return ticket. The airline issued a statement saying:

"The safety and welfare of our customers and colleagues is always our priority, and we did everything we could to accommodate our customers who had their travel plans disrupted due to the hurricanes last year. We updated the travel news section of our website,, with the latest information and advised customers to check for updates or to check with their travel agent before departing for the airport. While the customers' departing flights on British Airways were not impacted by the storms, we were pleased we were able to help the two customers with a credit for future travel."

Lewis was relieved.

"I can't believe all it took was one phone call from 7 On Your Side and it made all the difference in the world,'' she said. "Thank God for 7 On Your Side."

Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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