Lonely Planet Writer

New Yorker's witty letter to American Airlines sees them drop his $200 flight re-booking charge

If you think the age-old art of letter-writing is dead, you’d better think again because one man has used the form to great effect in securing a refund from a corporation.

Alex Hamberger had booked a non-refundable tickets on an American Airlines flight from Buffalo, New York to see his nine-month old niece in Kansas City, but before he flew out, he fell ill. Because he had to change his flight, he was stuck with a $200 change fee. And stunned by the charge, Alex decided to do something about it.

Customer takes on American Airlines by letter and wins!
Customer takes on American Airlines by letter and wins! Image by American Airlines

He wrote a long and detailed letter explaining his personal situation and enclosing photographs of himself and his niece, as well as a note from his doctor “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.” Upon learning that he actually had an infectious disease, he was thrilled he hadn’t put the little girl at risk.

However, he was hoping to appeal to the kindness of strangers. “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 canceled. But I’m hoping you can see that this trip was canceled 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… I now realize 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.”

It was a long shot, but it worked. American Airlines sent him a letter in response, saying “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!” The airline ended up waiving the charge. Alex later told CNN that he chose to write a letter because he felt an email would get lost in the millieu and he wanted to actually reach a human. In a world of automation, it’s nice to see a story where the little guy wins!