American Airlines waives man's $200 change fee after witty letter

Alex Hamberger and his niece

Story highlights

  • Hamberger had to rebook after he fell seriously ill
  • His letter did the trick

(CNN)The next time an airline hits you with a fee, you can either go on an epic rant about "Big" Business and their "evil" ways.

Or you can do what Alex Hamberger did.
    He took the honey over the vinegar approach and look where it got him.
    Back in March, a sudden illness forced Hamberger of Buffalo, New York, to cancel a flight to see his 9-month-old niece in Kansas City.
    He had to rebook, and we all know what that means: a $200 change fee. Ouch.
    So Hamberger reached out to American Airlines' customer service department to request the airline drop the change fee.
    He did it in the form of a letter. An actual snail-mailed letter. And what a letter it was!
    He used all of his considerable wit and charm to request the airline drop the change fee.

    Laying it on thick

    "Dear Most Kind and Benevolent American Airlines Customer Service Staff Member,
    I write to you with the hopes that you may take mercy on me and afford a little sympathy for this flyer who was taken quite ill and had to postpone his trip to see his beloved niece."
    He told them all about his postponed trip, his precious niece and how he hoped they'd cut him some slack.
    He signed his opus:
    "With gratitude,
    Alex Hamberger
    Frequent Flyer
    Brother
    Uncle
    Formerly sick person
    Currently healthy person
    Grateful flyer"

    Mailing it in

    "I felt an email would just get lost in the shuffle," he told CNN.
    For added effect, he attached a few photos of him and his cute-as-a-button niece. Hey, can't hurt.
    "I hoped that if they saw that someone had taken the time to write it with their own hand, they might read it. That it might make a difference," Hamberger said.
    At the very least "it might brighten someone's day," he said.
    It worked. American Airlines drop the charge.
    Alex Hamberger flies out to see his niece Thursday.
    "I'm glad you are "formerly sick" and "currently healthy" to make plans to see your precious niece. She sure is a lucky little girl to have such a loving Uncle Al!," an airline customer relations rep wrote back.
    Hamberger takes his rebooked flight to see his niece Thursday.
    He says he's only ever tried something like this once before, with a cereal company.
    "I reached out to [them] to tell them that I really liked the new packaging" on one of its new cereals, he said. He didn't hear back.
    So, let this be a lesson.
    Polite can help you trump policy.
    An adorable niece can help.

    And that's what he wrote

    Here's the letter in full:
    American Airlines Customer Relations
    4000 E. Sky Harbor Boulevard
    Phoenix, AZ 85034
    Dear Most Kind and Benevolent American Airlines Customer Service Staff Member,
    I write to you with the hopes that you may take mercy on me and afford a little sympathy for this flyer who was taken quite ill and had to postpone his trip to see his beloved niece.
    Picture it. No, not Sicily 1922 (But I appreciate you are a Golden Girls fan, much like myself! And in case you didn't get that reference, no worries; read on!), but February 29, 2016. It was a Monday night and I was getting so excited for my upcoming trip to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and niece who was about to turn 6 months old that Thursday! I started to feel a little sinus pressure that night, nothing major but enough to give me pause. As I woke up that next day on Tuesday, March 1st, I felt OK, but things quickly went downhill. It was a cold, I thought; nothing major.
    By Wednesday, March 2nd, things were escalating. My cold symptoms had intensified. I consulted with a virtual doctor-on-call using my computer (very fancy!), and she recommended I head right in and see an actual physician. "Uh oh," I thought. "That's not a great sign."
    I visited the doctor that evening and he was sufficiently concerned with my symptoms that he suggested I cancel my planned trip to Kansas City the following day. "WHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY," I wondered silently to myself. It seemed like a little cold, but alas, he concluded travel was unreasonable and issued me the enclosed note. Always a rule follower, I abided by his advice.
    And BOY am I glad I did! You'll see the doctor's note references an infectious disease. It was just two days later on March 4th, that I learned this infectious disease was not a household cold or flu: it was a Haemophilus Influenzae bacterial infection. Yes, the same infection that can cause conditions such as epiglottitis (a fatal respiratory disease), pneumonia, and notably, meningitis in children under 5. Remember when I mentioned I was going to visit my 6 month old niece?! Thank heavens I didn't!
    Suffice to say, after 2 long weeks of illness, which prompted a formal medical leave from work, I didn't suffer any of the severe complications (though I did have a sinus infection, ear infection including a ruptured eardrum, pink eye, throat infection, full-body rash, among others). But most of all, canceling my trip to visit my infant niece was the best thing that could have happened; had I visited her and she gotten sick, it literally could have killed her.
    All that said, I'm hoping you may be able, or at least willing, to take pity on me and this woeful tale (as pitiful as it is), and forgo the $200 change fee normally imposed on tickets such as this. I know, I know, I purchased a nonrefundable ticket and that I took the risk that my I may face this fee if my trip were canceled. But I'm hoping you can see that this trip was canceled for very significant reasons, and that in addition to the pain and suffering I endured as a result of my illness, I was even more so upset that I couldn't see my family members whom I hadn't visited since November! A niece needs her uncle (that's a saying, right?)!
    Now, I don't know if this will be problematic or not, but I just recently rebooked my trip and I've already paid the $200 change fee. So I now realize there may be 356 reasons you can't refund this to me, but I figure it's always worth a shot! If it's possible in any way to recoup this $200 I'd be forever grateful.
    I know you must deal with testy and ornery travelers all the time, and I assure you I am not one of those. If I'm not able to recoup this cost, I'm most understanding. I thank you for all you do to make the travel dreams of flyers such as myself a reality.
    And in case this letter was too long or unclear, I've also included a photo-story of the whole ideal attached.
    Thank you again for your kind consideration. I look forward to hearing from you and also to my next flight!
    With gratitude,
    Alex Hamberger
    Frequent Flyer
    Brother
    Uncle
    Formerly sick person
    Currently healthy person
    Grateful flyer