Heart Transplant Patient Fights for Airline Refund

The summer travel season is here, so keep the following fact in mind when you buy an airline ticket: Non-refundable means non-refundable.

Jim Robinson learned that the hard way.

Robinson had planned three trips last year with his wife of 45 years. They were flying three different airlines - United, Delta and American. The flights were booked and the tickets were bought when Jim became critically ill.

"Last year, I just seemed to fall apart," he said. "I was in the hospital eight times in the first eight plus months of the year."

His heart stopped pumping effectively, and doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device to keep him alive as he waited for a heart transplant. Doctors gave him a letter saying he could not travel at this time. Jim sent the letter to all three airlines.

United and Delta refunded the cost of the airfare, but American did not. The airline sent him an email saying the tickets are non-refundable and don't meet the airlines exception requirements.

"I say a rule is a rule to some degree, but when something is extraordinary - out of the box so to speak - I think the airlines ought to be flexible and also think a bit out of the box," Robinson said.

The airline offered a compromise, agreeing to waive the $400 change fee so Jim could use the funds "for one year". But Robinson knew his recovery would be far longer than a year, so he contacted NBC 5 Responds.

"I had nothing to lose, and hopefully with your track record I had something to gain," he said. "And low and behold, yes I did!"

After NBC 5 Responds contacted American, the airline gave Robinson his money back. While he's thankful, he has something even better to celebrate.

"I got a call the Thursday of Valentine's weekend and they told me they had a new heart for me," said Robinson smiling.

His heart transplant was a success, and doctors say he can travel next year.

"I already have a cruise lined up for next March!" said Robinson.

He plans to celebrate his second chance at life while making more memories with his family.

American apologized for the delay in processing the refund. A spokesman wrote:

"When initially submitted to American, the letter from the doctor stated that he would be eligible to fly again in the future. At that time, the ticket was still valid for five additional months. We waived any change fees, which would enable him to make changes to his flight without any additional charge. Now that the tickets have reached the point of expiration, and he is unable to travel, we have processed a full refund. Again, we apologize for the confusion that occurred in processing this specific refund."

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