Action 9 investigates airline refund nightmare

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PALM BAY, Fla. - A Palm Bay woman can't believe an airline refused to approve ticket refunds after her husband's sudden death, so she called Action 9 for help.

"I can't handle it. I'm too upset. I'm too emotional," said Catherine O'Connell, referring to her husband's sudden death in July and her battle with Spirit Airlines now.

O'Connell and her husband, John, were supposed to fly to New Jersey. After her husband's death, she assumed she could get a refund for tickets that can't be used.

"I don't know why they can't take care of it," said O'Connell.

O'Connell's family said they sent Spirit all requested documents, including a death certificate. Weeks later, there was no refund and they claim no one answered their request.

"This kind of money is a lot to me. It may not be to them, but it's a lot to me," said O'Connell.

The Better Business Bureau has more than 2,100 Spirit complaints, many involving sales, billing and service issues.

Consumer Reports recently rated Spirit the worst airline.

The O'Connells had nonrefundable tickets, but Action 9 checked with major airlines and low-cost carriers and most make an exception when there's a death in the family or a serious illness. Officials said they simply need proof for refunds.

The O'Connells said they delivered that to Spirit.

"If they would just give me an answer, do something. They do nothing," said O'Connell.

Many consumer watchdogs claim Spirit has the lowest fares but the most fees and bad customer service.

"I can guarantee you they have sold that seat already, so why not just give the money back," said George Hobica with AirfareWatchDog.

After Action 9 contacted Spirit, it agreed to give the O'Connells a full refund, something the family said they were denied.

Spirit said it sends the family its condolences.

Most airlines cover similar refunds, and travel insurance is another option to protect you during family emergencies.