Friday, February 29, 2008

A Good News Story on Airline Service

Meet Andrew Jamison, supervisor of airport operations in Omaha for United Airlines.

Feb. 19 I bought six plane tickets for my family to visit my brother and his wife in California Mar. 7-11. Disneyland, here we come. And it was going to be the first live broadcast of Check with Chip from the Left Coast courtesy of (drum roll) KOTK's Comrex Hotline.

Feb. 22 one of my children was diagnosed with a severe retina detachment in the right eye. I said we would have to get him in for surgery right after our trip. The surgeon (my cousin, Ed McGill) smiled and said the surgery had to be done ASAP. The condition was on the verge of damage that might not be correctable.

Also, there would be a gas bubble in my child's head behind the right eye, pushing the retina against the wall of the eye to help it reattach. No airplane rides for at least six weeks -- after the gas bubble dissipates.

This is our family's shot at a California trip. The rest of the family was not excited about going to California while one member was left behind with gook oozing out of his eyes -- during surgery, Ed found a smaller a detachment in the "good" eye and did a less-invasive procedure to correct it -- wondering whether his eyesight would be fully restored.

Trip postponed.

Expedia was going to charge a $30-per-ticket fee for changing the flights, and said the carrier (United) would charge $100/ticket.

Ouch. The trip was pushing the family budget to limit already without adding $780.

I asked about a waiver for a medical emergency. Expedia said United might allow it for the passenger with the emergency. I called United and was told I would have to get a letter from the surgeon and go to the local United counter and plead my case.

I did so and showed up at the United counter revved up to employ every ounce of politician/advocacy/lobbyist skill I could muster.

Enter Andrew Jamison. He heard the basic explanation, looked at the doctor's letter, and said: "Would you like a refund?"

Normally I'm not a loss for words, but I stammered for a few seconds while my brain signaled my mouth to stand down, he gets it.

In fact, Andrew suggested rebooking the flights right there at the counter so we could preserve the bargain fares. We still had to coordinate with my brother a new time to visit, so it turned out be simpler to just refund the price of the tickets.

United agreed to waive any penalty fees for the whole family because of the medical emergency that spoiled the trip, and Andrew was willing to try to help us rebook at the same fare at a later date.

That's class. From now on, when I find myself in conversations about shoddy airline service, I will stick up for United.

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