RALEIGH-BARTLETT, TN (WMC TV) - An airline and an online travel agency reimbursed an enlisted sailor's holiday air fare after the Action News 5 Investigators discovered his flight protection insurance excluded cancellations for active duty orders.
In July, Petty Officer 1st Class James Wright and his wife Nitzi booked a round-trip flight itinerary to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in December to celebrate Christmas with her family. They booked the trip through Expedia.com, an online travel agency. They were scheduled to depart Dec. 18.
They spent $38 on Expedia.com's Flight Protection Plan in case the Navy activated James for his fourth tour of duty.
Just before Thanksgiving, James Wright got his orders: report to Afghanistan Dec. 23.
The Wrights called Expedia.com to exercise their flight insurance and cancel James's fare.
They were turned down.
"It was more like, 'Sorry. We can't help you. You might have to go ahead and pay some fees to cancel your flight,'" said Nitzi.
A closer look at their Expedia.com flight insurance policy revealed this:
"this insurance doesn't cover...any loss caused by...serving as a member of the armed services"
"It's like a slap in the face," said James. "We don't support our troops anymore."
Vicki Rush, CEO of A&I Travel Service, Inc., in East Memphis (http://www.aitvl.com/), said activated military members may have trouble getting air fare reimbursements through online travel agencies because she said the airlines don't consider that air fare to be THEIR air fare.
"I think airlines feel that fare then belongs to the Hotwire.com's, the whomevers, and you have to go to them for some relief," said Rush.
But she revealed a little secret -- if our activated military can't get relief though the dot-com agencies, they should contact the airline directly. Rush said most airlines' policies are to reimburse active military personnel's air fare if they submit copies of their activation orders.
"If you're traveling under active military orders, (the airlines) will waive the penalty. They will refund the ticket," Rush said.
In fact, federal law may require the refund.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) of 2003 provides protection, including reimbursement remedies, for service members when active duty disrupts their contract obligations (http://usmilitary.about.com/od/sscra/l/blscramenu.htm).
Action News 5's sources with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) said there's nothing specific in the law as it relates to travel insurance or air fare, but the protections may be used to plead James Wright's case. The law's contract provisions apply specifically to property.
Acting on behalf of the Wrights, the Action News 5 Investigators contacted the press offices of their airline, U.S. Airways, and of Expedia.com. The two worked together to drop the exclusion and reimburse James's portion of the fare.
"It should be reflected on the credit card used to make the initial purchase within a few days," wrote U.S. Airways spokesperson Todd Lehmacher in an e-mail. "Additionally, (a) penalty fee on Mrs. Wright's ticket was waived by our reservations department."
When Action News 5 asked Expedia.com why its travel insurance plan contained the active duty exclusion for flight cancellations, the agency sent the following response from its insurer:
"The exclusion cited is related to war exclusions, which are typical to almost every insurance policy. Insurance typically can't cover contingencies of a large scale without exorbitantly high prices. This exclusion would come into play if someone is injured while actively serving."
But Wright was never injured. Expedia.com's insurer invoked the exclusion simply based on his activation orders, not on a service injury.
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