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[Conventions, Travel]

[conventions|travel] The high cost of cancellation

As I mentioned yesterday, I am having issues with United Airlines. This first cropped up a while back, as discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

This all goes back to my troubles trying to get to this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. (I have discussed some of this previously here on the blog.) Last summer, I tried to book plane tickets for me and Lisa Costello to fly there. The $700 per person UK arrival fees for a free mileage award ticket were impossible for us to meet. At the time, I checked out simply paying for a fare, and even the cheapest was far higher, because those $700 fees were embedded in any trans-Atlantic airfare to London.

Unnamed Benefactors stepped forward and offered to fund our airfare if we would pay our own on-the-ground expenses. I very gratefully said yes, and proceeded to arrange a low-cost European vacation for myself by couch surfing in London and Paris, spending money only on the Eurostar train to get between the cities. Except for the convention hotel itself, my only expenses otherwise were going to be food and incidentals, as my Unnamed Benefactors provided tickets for the two of us on United Airlines. Lisa was planning to fly out the day before the convention and join me.

Three days before my scheduled departure, Lisa’s father suffered a massive stroke. Other relatives stepped forward to respond with immediate help, but Lisa needed to fly to Maryland at the end of that week to help with the necessary but difficult lifestyle transitions now underway.

That meant (and still means) that Lisa was now juggling my life-ending terminal illness and the life-changing illness of one of her parents. I could not leave her alone with this. So with great reluctance, we cancelled our trip to Europe. We also severely truncated a post-trip engagement with my agent, and cancelled the visit of another friend who was due after Orycon, both of these to great regret.

The financial aspects of this situation have turned into a severe mess.

In order to cover the expenses incurred by my Unnamed Benefactors, I also sought a compassionate medical emergency refund from @UnitedAirlines, which states on their Web site that they provide such consideration. Unfortunately, since our tickets were purchased as nonrefundable airfares, United Airlines also does not offer any refund. Their response to me did not even acknowledge the nature of my request, simply stating that my tickets were nonrefundable, but that I did retain an airfare credit. Which isn’t even my money, as the Unnamed Benefactors paid for it. And it’s not like I’m going back to Europe anytime in the rest of my drastically foreshortened life.

At the same time, my Unnamed Benefactors wrote me asking me to pay them £1,295.90 (approx. USD 2,073), as we would not be attending WFC.

This absolutely floored me. If I had $2,073 to spend on airfare, I would have bought the damned tickets myself in the first place. What I thought had been an act of kindness and charity towards me turned into me being expected to pay $2,000 for the privilege of not attending WFC so I could help Lisa care for her stricken father.

The books do in fact balance somewhat. Were I to directly pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, I would get to keep the airfare credit, less change fees and penalties. But I don’t have $2,000 sitting in a travel budget to give them. If I did, I would have bought my own tickets in the first place. If United were going to refund the tickets, the whole business would just be a wash.

But after multiple rounds of discussion, United has flatly refused to refund the airfare. Apparently a sudden life-threatening illness on the part of my partner’s father does not constitute a medical emergency in their eyes. Which makes me wonder what the hell does? I’m pretty damned irritated about this, most especially about the amount of time I have already spent focusing on this issue. My life is running out of time — between the shocking and insensitive demand from my Unnamed Benefactors and United Airlines’ refusal to honor their own compassionate exemption policy, I have been expending significant amounts of that finite time and energy on things I should never have had to deal with.

All to no avail thus far.

I’m honestly not sure what to do here. Had I known the original offer of tickets to WFC required a complete payback in the event of cancellation, I almost certainly would not have accepted it. My own health is too precarious, quite frankly, which is why all plane tickets I buy and pay for these days are purchased with trip insurance. While I have enough money sitting in my bank account to pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, that’s not what it is for. And I cannot spend a United Airlines airfare credit to pay my bills or help Lisa help her parents. The budget isn’t there, especially to pay for a trip I am not even able to take.

I’m feeling very pushed around right now, and looking at a lot of expense well beyond anything planned or budgeted at a time when our expenses have skyrocketed due to both my own illness the problems in Lisa’s family. I’m also much more wary of accepting offers of assistance in the future, as I never foresaw hidden strings like this and do not know how to foresee them going forward.

There’s a strong temptation to tell my Unnamed Benefactors to take a hike, but that’s hardly ethical as I’m apparently inheriting the airfare credit regardless, given the intransigence of United Airlines. I’m tempted to hold a small fundraiser to pay this off, but that also hardly seems fair to people who might want to support me. If United Airlines honored their own compassionate refund policy, the problem would essentially not exist, but that road has now been closed.

This situation frustrates me immensely. At this extremely difficult time in my life, I am left with yet another large, unbudgeted expense for which I have nothing to show but trouble and a waste of my precious, waning days.

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