Alex Hamberger was devastated when he was forced to cancel a trip to see his precious young niece.
His doctor had warned him against travel due to a sudden illness, so he was forced to postpone his March flight from Buffalo, New York, to Kansas City while he recovered.
Unfortunately Hamberger had booked a nonrefundable ticket, and was hit with a fee of $US200 (nearly $300) to rebook. But instead of getting angry, or simply resolving himself to losing the cash, Hamberger got creative and penned a witty - and rather lengthy - letter to American Airlines asking for mercy.
In the letter Hamberger explained about his beloved niece and why he had to postpone his trip.
"I felt an email would just get lost in the shuffle," he told CNN. "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."
At the very least "it might brighten someone's day", he said.
He was shocked when he received an email response from the airline a couple of weeks later. He had won them over - they agreed to waive the fee and helped him rebook the trip.
"Dear Mr Hamberger," the letter began. "Thank you for your letter to customer relations. I enjoyed reading it, and your photo story to match.
"I sure don't want your niece to be disappointed if you don't show up. Mr Hamberger, I know you will have a lovely time visiting family."
Here's the letter in full:
"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 six-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 five. Remember when I mentioned I was going to visit my six-month-old niece?! Thank heavens I didn't!
"Suffice to say, after two 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, cancelling 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 cancelled. But I'm hoping you can see that this trip was cancelled 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 recooked my trip and I've already paid the $200 change fee. So I now realise 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 travellers 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 (story) 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."
And this is the airline's full response:
"Dear Mr. Hamberger:
"Thank you for your letter to Customer Relations. I enjoyed reading it and your photo-story to match! Still, it is unfortunate that you were so ill that you had to cancel your trip in March. 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!
"I noticed that the ticket for your future reservation, has not been issued. This is where the 'magic' actually is able to happen and none of the 356 reasons are needed! I have authorised a waiver of the $200 change charge. However, in order for the ticket to be issued, there is an additional fare of $96.22 that needs to be paid. Therefore, if you will please contact our reservations office at 800-433-7300, a professional and kind American Airlines's reservation agent will be able to complete ticketing for you on this booking.
"I sure don't want your niece to be disappointed if you don't show up! Mr Hamberger, I know you will have a lovely time visiting family. On behalf of all of us at American, thank you for flying with us! We look forward to welcoming you aboard!
"Sincerely, Marilyn Meck. Customer Relations, American Airlines."