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American Airlines refused refund for grieving parents

Losing a child is inarguably the worst thing that can happen to a family. One Illinois family learned the hard way that not everyone is sympathetic to the grieving process. After applying for a refund on a plane ticket just five months after their young daughter’s death, American Airlines gave the Cantrells their condolences — but refused the refund.

The Cantrells lost their young, beautiful and vibrant fourth-grader Madison “Scout” Cantrell after a sudden asthma attack caused cardiac arrest last fall. The family had been planning a spring break getaway to a beloved beach in North Carolina, but Scout’s sister, 13-year-old Katie, believed they should change their vacation plans.

Katie told NBC Chicago, “Emotionally, I couldn’t go back there this year without her. It would never be as much fun without her.”

As the grieving parents went through the red tape to refund the ticket purchased in Scout’s name, they seemed to do everything right. When they applied for a refund for the non-refundable ticket through the American Airlines online system, they received the following canned response:

“On behalf of American Airlines, please accept our sincere condolences. After reviewing the documentation submitted, it has been determined the request does not meet our exception requirements. The ticket purchased is non-refundable so we cannot offer a refund, issue a travel voucher, or transfer this ticket to another person.”

“The ticket will remain valid in our system for one year from the original date of issue, at which time it will expire and all value will be lost. The unused non-refundable ticket may be applied to future travel within that year as long as all travel is completed prior to the expiration date. As a one-time courtesy, authorization was documented in your reservation to waive the change fee assessed when a non-refundable ticket is changed.”

Wow. Way to rub salt in the wound, American Airlines. As NBC Chicago pointed out, American Airlines’ response, stating that it could not “offer a refund, issue a travel voucher, or transfer this ticket to another person” contradicts the non-refundable policy on the official website, which allows for the review of domestic non-refundable tickets related to death or illness.

For Scout’s mother Felicity Cantrell, it wasn’t about the money. It was about one family’s insensitive treatment by an airline during the worst time of their life. Cantrell said, “We can’t be the only family this has happened to.”

Cantrell posted her frustration to Facebook and eventually received a response from American Airlines on Twitter. After the social media pressure was on, American Airlines issued an apology and refunded Scout’s ticket.

Cantrell’s most recent Facebook status stated, “Just got off the phone with Senior Management at American Airlines. Very genuine conversation. As a father, he was thoroughly embarrassed and horrified by this whole situation. Very apologetic. Changes will be implemented in their corporate training, and how they handle situations like these to reflect empathy in the future which is what is most important in this whole situation. And Scout’s ticket has in fact been refunded.”

Cantrell goes on to say that she is “getting backlash on different news outlets for this story,” being accused of angling for money or a free trip. For everyone who has criticized this mother, shame on you. She stood up for her family and hundreds of other families who may find themselves in the same situation. If you have never lost a child, don’t question how this family grieves.

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