NBC 5 Helps Cancer-Striken Grandma Get a Refund on a Non-Refundable Airline Ticket

Debra Schanbaum is one cool grandma. Whether donning a spidey suit or zip-lining gear, this active, vibrant 59-year-old is always up for an adventure with her fun-loving family. This summer was no exception.

"Trip of a lifetime," said Schanbaum. "Just so excited."

Schanbaum planned a scuba diving trip to Cancun's underwater museum with her husband, daughter and granddaughters.

Debra's husband, Mark Schanbaum, said, "Booked the tickets in January and this happened."

The healthy mother of six was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

"It just was bad," said Mark. "It was bad because we knew pancreatic cancer was a death sentence."

With a poor prognosis, Debra hoped doctors would still let her go on what could be one last trip with her family.

"I was looking forward to it and if you're going to be given a terminal illness, (you think) let's go do something wonderful before you get to that point," Debra said.

Doctors said no. Debra had to have surgery to remove two-thirds of her pancreas. In May, almost two months before the scheduled trip, the couple called to cancel. They were able to cancel the hotel but not the airline tickets.

That's because the tickets from Sun country Airline were non-refundable.

"Airlines are pretty strict about the rules," said Catherine Banks, with Legacy Travel. "Typically they'll refund it if the actual passenger died, but that's pretty much it."

That goes for all airlines, Banks added.

Banks recommends travel insurance and tells her clients without it they could lose the money they spent on their trip.

"If the amount of money you just paid for this trip would hurt your stomach if you lost it, then you should get insurance," said Banks.

Not all travel insurance is good insurance. Before buying, carefully read your trip's cancellation policy. Look for exclusions. Does the policy cover baggage? Does it cover illness or injury while on vacation? That's especially important if you're traveling out of country. To pick a product, experts recommend checking travelinsurance.com where travelers can get quotes from several reputable insurers.

That advice comes too late for the Schanbaums, who are now facing daunting medical bills. They are out of pocket $7,000 so far. Debra Schaunbaum told NBC 5 Investigates' Consumer Unit that, "It would be wonderful" for Sun Country to refund the money for their unused plane tickets.

Consumer Specialist Deanna Dewberry contacted Eric Curry, vice president of sales and customer experience. Curry told NBC 5 that they'd issue the Schaunbaum's a full refund.

"I'm going to fully refund this money. The good thing about being a smaller company is we can react to these things.  It's the right thing to do," said Curry.

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