This Awesome Letter to Customer Service Got American Airlines to Waive a Change Fee

An American Airlines passenger successfully got the airline to waive a change fee when he offered the most human of pleas.

The New Zealand man wrote a letter with his “own hand” and mailed it in, rather than sending an email. He included a doctor’s note explaining he was advised not to fly to visit his niece in the US. And he included photos.

I usually tell people that customer service letters should be short and to the point and stick only to relevant facts. This man took the opposite approach. Instead, he meandered and he ‘laid it on thick’:

Dear most kind and benevolent American Airlines customer service staff member,

I write to you with the hopes that you may take mercy on me and afford a little sympathy for this flyer who was taken quite ill and had to postpone his trip to see his beloved niece.

Picture it. No, not Sicily 1922 (But I appreciate you are a Golden Girls fan, much like myself! And in case you didn’t get that reference, no worries; read on!), but February 29, 2016. It was a Monday night and I was getting so excited for my upcoming trip to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and niece who was about to turn six-months-old that Thursday! I started to feel a little sinus pressure that night, nothing major but enough to give me pause. As I woke up that next day on Tuesday, March 1st, I felt OK, but things quickly went downhill. It was a cold, I thought; nothing major.

By Wednesday, March 2nd, things were escalating. My cold symptoms had intensified. I consulted with a virtual doctor-on-call using my computer (very fancy!), and she recommended I head right in and see an actual physician. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought. ‘That’s not a great sign.’

I visited the doctor that evening and he was sufficiently concerned with my symptoms that he suggested I cancel my planned trip to Kansas City the following day. “WHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY,’ I wondered silently to myself. It seemed like a little cold, but alas, he concluded travel was unreasonable and issued me the enclosed note. Always a rule follower, I abided by his advice.

And BOY am I glad I did! You’ll see the doctor’s note references an infectious disease. It was just two days later on March 4th, that I learned this infectious disease was not a household cold or flu: it was a Haemophilus Influenzae bacterial infection. Yes, the same infection that can cause conditions such as epiglottitis (a fatal respiratory disease), pneumonia, and notably, meningitis in children under five. Remember when I mentioned I was going to visit my six-month-old niece?! Thank heavens I didn’t!

Suffice to say, after two long weeks of illness, which prompted a formal medical leave from work, I didn’t suffer any of the severe complications (though I did have a sinus infection, ear infection including a ruptured eardrum, pink eye, throat infection, full-body rash, among others). But most of all, cancelling my trip to visit my infant niece was the best thing that could have happened; had I visited her and she gotten sick, it literally could have killed her.

All that said, I’m hoping you may be able, or at least willing, to take pity on me and this woeful tale (as pitiful as it is), and forgo the $200 change fee normally imposed on tickets such as this. I know, I know, I purchased a nonrefundable ticket and that I took the risk that my I may face this fee if my trip were cancelled. But I’m hoping you can see that this trip was cancelled for very significant reasons, and that in addition to the pain and suffering I endured as a result of my illness, I was even more so upset that I couldn’t see my family members whom I hadn’t visited since November! A niece needs her uncle (that’s a saying, right?)!

Now, I don’t know if this will be problematic or not, but I just recently recooked my trip and I’ve already paid the $200 change fee. So I now realise there may be 356 reasons you can’t refund this to me, but I figure it’s always worth a shot! If it’s possible in any way to recoup this $200 I’d be forever grateful.

I know you must deal with testy and ornery travellers all the time, and I assure you I am not one of those. If I’m not able to recoup this cost, I’m most understanding. I thank you for all you do to make the travel dreams of flyers such as myself a reality.

And in case this letter was too long or unclear, I’ve also included a photo-story of the whole (story) attached. Thank you again for your kind consideration. I look forward to hearing from you and also to my next flight!

With gratitude, Alex Hamberger. Frequent Flyer. Brother. Uncle. Formerly sick person. Currently healthy person. Grateful flyer.

Too often customer service contacts get generic replies. A n outsourced staffer picks from what seems like the closest pre-written response that matches the issue. Sometimes the customer service agent forgets to even fill in the blanks, Mad Lib-style like in this United customer service response from two years ago:

As a matter of policy, American will refund or provide a voucher (depending on international or domestic) for nonrefundable tickets in the event of death of a family member, but not illness with a doctor’s note (in fact the standard response to illness is, “that’s what travel insurance is for…”).

However, official policy aside, it’s quite common for airlines to waive change fees with a doctor’s note. So whether it was the wit or the note, the man received no such generic reply here, instead this was American’s wonderful response:

Dear Mr Hamberger:

Thank you for your letter to Customer Relations. I enjoyed reading it and your photo-story to match! Still, it is unfortunate that you were so ill that you had to cancel your trip in March. I’m glad you are ‘formerly sick’ and ‘currently healthy’ to make plans to see your precious niece. She sure is a lucky little girl to have such a loving Uncle Al!

I noticed that the ticket for your future reservation, has not been issued. This is where the ‘magic’ actually is able to happen and none of the 356 reasons are needed! I have authorised a waiver of the $200 change charge. However, in order for the ticket to be issued, there is an additional fare of $96.22 that needs to be paid. Therefore, if you will please contact our reservations office at 800-433-7300, a professional and kind American Airlines’s reservation agent will be able to complete ticketing for you on this booking.

I sure don’t want your niece to be disappointed if you don’t show up! Mr Hamberger, I know you will have a lovely time visiting family. On behalf of all of us at American, thank you for flying with us! We look forward to welcoming you aboard!


That’s a great response, although honestly I probably would have just started with a tweet.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Maybe it’s a marketing campaign. Who takes so long to go through correspondence with a stranger.

    Even job applicants don’t get this much consideration with their application.

  2. But think what this really shows: Airlines do not view us as “customers” but as subjects; supplicants who must humble themselves and bow and scrape for their mercy.

  3. But they still made sure to collect the $96.22 fare difference! Greedy bastards. But then again, AA is now run by Doug Parker – the same guy who “experimented” with charging for water when he ran USScareways.

  4. Don’t feel one once of sympathy for this guy. So u don’t pay for travel insurance but want the benefit that comes with travel insurance? WTF. Hate guys like this using his niece as a prop to get a refund is disgusting. Man up take ur lumps for not being responsible and have some self dignity instead of groveling on the floor for $200. My pride is worth more than $200 but guess his was not

  5. This prolly nevee happened. I had to deal with a similar situation and the man I got from their Guest Relations was one of the biggest ahole Ive ever dealt with.

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