WASHINGTON -- Those of you who have been feigning illness to get refunds from USAir can throw away the stationery with the physician's letterhead. The airline has announced new rules it hopes will put an end to the ruse of passengers using letters from doctors to get refunds on what were supposed to be non-refundable tickets.
Special low-fare, non-refundable tickets represent a big part of USAir's traffic, accounting for about 45 percent of the airline's business. Because of a loophole that allows passengers to get refunds if they can produce a doctor's note saying they were unable to fly on the dates they reserved, these tickets have turned out to be quite refundable for anyone with a good relationship with a doctor or access to a physician's stationery.
"It's spawned a cottage industry in phony doctors' notes," Randall Malin, USAir's executive vice president of marketing, said yesterday in announcing the new policy. "We can't complain about people taking advantage of the loopholes. We're the ones who created the loopholes."
Effective Aug. 5, the tickets really will be non-refundable. A passenger who cannot keep the original reservation will be able to keep the ticket and make a new reservation upon payment of a $75 penalty.
Mr. Malin said the new policy should go a long way toward putting the airline and travel agents in less of an adversarial relationship with passengers. "We want to make flying on USAir easier for the customer and less confrontational," he said.
He said that no matter how good a job the airline did in alerting customers who bought non-refundable tickets, many of them still got angry when their plans changed and they could not get their money back.
Barbara L. Resnick, manager of the Towson Travel Center Inc., agreed. "People often get upset," she said, when they learn they cannot get a refund.
Her travel agency prints a warning that a ticket is non-refundable the itinerary issued to each customer. "If they're surprised, it's because they weren't listening in the first place," she said.
Even if they do understand the restrictions, they may still be distressed, she said, when they are unable to keep a reservation for reasons beyond their control.
The non-refundable tickets are aimed mostly at non-business travelers, typically vacationers who can plan ahead and have wide discretion over their choice of travel times.