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Friendly skies? Even if you die, there's a fee

Posted by Mitch Lipka  October 17, 2011 10:08 AM

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Q. My stepfather purchased tickets several months ago for a trip to Florida and then took ill and passed away. I’ve been trying to get a refund from Continental Airlines for his ticket, but haven’t been able to reach a real person or get any answer about when, or if, a refund will be issued. I emailed all of the required information including death certificate, original itinerary, and also the last four of his credit card on multiple occasions. Can you help?

A. Airlines have figured out lots of ways to make money beyond just charging for seats on their planes. While many have earned poor reputations for how they deal with customers, it is pretty standard in the industry to issue a refund when someone who bought a ticket dies.

That said, airlines are not exactly a friendly neighborhood business when it comes to these sorts of things. A lot of businesses, the airlines certainly among them, are much better at taking money than giving it back.

And they’ve certainly mastered the art of charging fees for everything from checking bags to changing reservations. Continental, now part of United Continental, charges a $50 “service fee” to refund a deceased passenger’s ticket – the airline version of the restocking fee charged by some electronics stores.

United Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark said anyone in this situation should get in touch with the airline refunds department to make the request, which should include a copy of the death certificate. She said normal procedures were followed in this case and she acknowledged that the request for a refund had been properly made. It just didn’t get processed very quickly.

“We regret the delay in completing this request,” Clark said.

To try to expedite resolution of a problem like this, it’s important to try to connect with a real person and escape the automated system. If you can’t get a helpful person – or are unable to reach a supervisor when you’re stuck – try visiting a website such as Boston-based, where consumers can find phone numbers and email addresses that other consumers have used to reach people who can help.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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