United Airlines refunds soldier, offers free travel after cancellation
By ALEANNA SIACON | Detroit Free Press | Published: December 24, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — United Airlines is making up for the expensive cancellation hiccup that forced a Michigan soldier to spend thousands of dollars to make it home for Christmas with his family.
United spokesman Madhu Unnikrishnan confirmed Monday that the airline will be sending the family a check to cover the money that 21-year-old Pfc. Benjamin Jimenez spent on a one-way ticket back to Michigan. The carrier also is offering him a free flight back to the Frankfurt Airport before his leave expires in early January, Unnikirishnan said.
While Jimenez's aunt, Sarah Mundt of Monroe, said she is "sad and disappointed" that their family had to go to great lengths to get the airline to do "what should have been done from the beginning," she is appreciative that they've reached out and that United will get her nephew back to Germany in time.
"I'm happy," Mundt said.
The debacle all started when Jimenez arrived at the Frankfurt Airport on Saturday and learned that his $1,116 round-trip flight tickets were canceled by United codeshare partner Lufthansa. Left with few options and wanting to see his family after a year of being away, Jimenez shelled out nearly $2,300 for a new one-way ticket to Detroit. The fare for a train ticket from Nuremberg to Frankfurt pushed travel expenses up to about $2,500.
Mundt told the Free Press on Sunday night that United Airlines representatives said Jimenez would have to dispute the charge for his initial round trip with his bank to get a refund, and the cheapest flight the airline could come up with for his return to Germany cost $3,000.
Mundt said they were told by United that their records show Jimenez received a cancellation notification, though the family is steadfast that he did not, and they could not reimburse him for the thousands in additional one-way travel expenses he paid Lufthansa to get home.
As a result, Mundt said their family was saddled with the prospect of having to dispute lost funds with Jimenez's bank and pool their money together to buy him another ticket back, during the holidays.
The offer from United on Sunday changes that.
"United is willing to get him back to his base, which is awesome, because honestly that's all we wanted originally," Mundt said. "(But) it's kind of bittersweet, because we tried for hours ... it took this to be able to get their attention."
An outcry of support from veterans, military families and community members followed a Free Press story published Sunday night, prompting a flood of Christmas Eve messages from Good Samaritans offering to start GoFundMe pages for Jimenez, and some even went so far as to offer up their travel points and enough cash for a first-class ticket back.
Michigan Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, was one of the folks wanting to reach out to Jimenez and his family to offer up help.
"As a fellow solider and new senator, I saw your article and felt compelled to do what I could to help," Hollier said in an emailed message.
"I remember being stuck in Atlanta’s airport trying to get home during holiday block leave and just wanting to get home to my family. I saw his rank and knew just how much of a burden buying another ticket can be for a lower enlisted soldier. If there was any way I could step in to help get this soldier home, I wanted to make sure I fulfilled that duty."
Max Emmer, of Bloomfield Hills, also reached out.
"This story resonates with everyone. Who doesn't have a horror story with the airlines? That said, it is beyond upsetting and disappointing to see it happening to a brave, courageous member of our military and his family at this time of year. Pfc. Jimenez and his family have clearly and are continuing to make tremendous sacrifices and the least they should be able to expect is the cooperation and assistance of a company like United," Emmer wrote.
"It is Christmas – a 21-year-old member of the U.S. military should not be worrying about paying for and financing thousands of additional dollars in order to spend the holidays with his family."
Several messages came in from across the country.
"We are deeply, deeply touched by everyone's response and everyone's willingness to help," Mundt said.
However, she added that it's hard for her family to accept monetary donations or other offers from the community, so while they are appreciative, they are happy about the response and reimbursement from United.
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