No fee waived for jury duty


Q: In September I bought a nonrefundable ticket on Continental Airlines to fly from Washington to Los Angeles. After purchasing the ticket I received a notice from the Federal Court for the District of Columbia informing me that I was to report for jury duty while I was away.

I called Continental trying to either to reschedule my trip to LA or get a refund or a voucher for the value of the trip. I didn’t think it would be a problem and that they would waive their $100 change fee.

Continental informed me that receiving a summons for jury duty was not sufficient to waive the $100 penalty, and that I either had to take the trip or pay the $100 change fee.

I am a Platinum Elite frequent flier on Continental. I know that Continental has recently changed its policy regarding waivers and favors, but I wasn’t aware that it applied to jury duty. Can you tell me what’s going on?

— Thomas Vincent

A: In the past, most major airlines allowed you to make changes to any ticket with a doctor’s note, a jury duty summons, or just a good excuse. Not anymore. Continental is operating under a new policy called “no waivers, no favors,” which essentially means it makes zero exceptions to its ticket rules.

“We are unable to change Mr. Vincent’s itinerary without first collecting the $100 administrative service charge,” Rahsaan Johnson, a Continental spokesman, told me. “He is correct that we no longer waive the conditions on our discounted airfares for corporate or individual customers, including for jury duty.”

Johnson says Continental isn’t unsympathetic to your plight. For travelers like you whose schedules might change, the carrier offers “a variety of fares that meet the diverse needs of our customers,” he says. In other words, you could have bought a more expensive ticket that permitted you to make a change.

Of course, at the time you booked the flight, how were you supposed to know that you were going to get called to jury duty?

I completely understand the reasoning behind Continental’s new hard-line approach to tickets. It’s in the business of making money and it needs your $100 now and it hopes the penalty will encourage you to buy a more expensive ticket next time you travel.

There’s also no question that your current ticket is non-refundable and highly restricted. Continental could have told you to use it or lose it, a policy tried by US Airways but then abandoned. At least you’ve got the option of re-using the ticket after paying $100.

But I think “no waivers, no favors” is overly rigorous and ultimately will be abandoned by the airline industry. It loses sight of the fact that a commercial carrier is in the business of transporting people, not cargo. People whose plans can change due to unforeseen circumstances. The current policy will alienate more air travelers than the airlines think it will. It may lift revenues in the short term, but it will be a drag on profits down the road.

I don’t favor going back to the old system, where you could get an airline fee waived for flirting with a ticket agent. But Continental should make exceptions for jury duty, illness or legitimate emergencies. It’s the humane thing to do.

You can still get the fee waived. As an elite frequent traveler, just head over to the nearest Continental airport lounge. Ask one of the ticket agents there to fix the ticket. Odds are they will quietly do it for you. While Continental is not shy about disappointing you in public, I believe it would be more reluctant to do so in private.

Give it a try – what have you got to lose?