American Airlines refused to refund the cost of a ticket to a grieving mother whose son had just died in tragic circumstances because an automated customer service system didn’t work as intended.
The airline only changed its stance once the distraught mom took to TikTok earlier this week to share her story in a video which quickly went viral.
Identified only as Jackie, the woman explains how she had to send her deceased son’s death certificate to the airline to request a refund, only for American Airlines to respond with a generic email which didn’t even address her loss.
“I’m a mom grieving the loss of our son,” Jackie says in the TikTok video. “I just opened up this email from American Airlines, who I fly all the time”.
Jackie had purchased tickets for her son and his soon-to-be five-year-old daughter to fly from Tampa to Philadelphia on Christmas Eve to visit them for the Holidays. Sadly, tragedy struck the family a few weeks ago.
“My son took his life earlier this month. I’m devastated,” Jackie, who is clearly upset and holding back tears, continues.
“So I email American Airlines with his death certificate requesting refunds for his round trip, his two tickets to and from Tampa and Philly and his one-way daughter’s ticket from Tampa to Philly and, um, what they send me back in response: ‘We’re sorry your travel plans didn’t work out. You purchased a basic economy fare,’ blah blah blah.”
“They’re not going to refund me because my son’s travel plans ‘didn’t work out’. Wow. Do better American Airlines, do better will you.”
As more and more people started to watch Jackie’s upsetting video, one TikTok user reached out to her.
“Someone who works for American Airlines who saw my video responded to me and is going try to help because the email I received was basically a generic robot response which is not supposed to happen in this type of case. Hopefully, um, I’ll receive some good news,” Jackie explains in a follow-up video.
Last year, American Airlines introduced a fully automated customer relations system which auto responds to email complaints and enquiries without any human interaction or oversight.
Codenamed ‘Fast Eve,’ the system is meant to kick in when AA’s customer relations department can’t keep up with the rate of emails being received in order to get the backlog back down to a manageable level.
The system is, however, meant to detect enquiries that would require a human response, such as a bereavement, for example.
Thankfully, the person who reached out to Jackie on TikTok was able to flag her email for review by an actual human employee. On Friday, Jackie shared that American Airlines had finally refunded her the cost of the tickets.
“I woke up to an email from American Airlines: ‘We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused by the incorrect that was sent,” Jackie explains. “I can only assume that the person who reached out to me in TikTok was able to make contact with the correct people to help me get the tickets refunded.”
Although Jackie says she overwhelmingly received a positive response from other TikTok users, she also addressed the people who sent her “nasty messages” claiming it was her fault because she had purchased non-refundable Basic Economy tickets.
It’s okay not to feel okay. There is always someone you can talk to in times of need, and you don’t have to deal with times of hardship or pain on your own. You can find confidential talking services in your local area by using the free search facility offered by Befrienders Worldwide.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.