Hawaiian Airlines has issued an apology and will refund $225 to a California customer who was charged a service fee for canceling her plane tickets due to her mother’s death. Jane Wilkens of Monrovia, Calif., had planned to fly from Los Angeles to the Big Island with her 77-year-old mother and one of her mother’s friends in April. But then her mother died.

According to a column yesterday in the Los Angeles Times Wilkens tried to cancel three first-class tickets but was told that she would have to pay a $75 service fee for each ticket. Wilkens said she canceled reservations at the Hilton Waikoloa Village with no problems. She also canceled two first-class tickets on Delta Air Lines for a separate trip to Maine she planned to take with her mother after the Hawaii visit, the Times said. A resolution coordinator at Hawaiian initially told Wilkens that the carrier understood that her mother’s death was “an uncontrollable event” but went on to say the fees were “fair and reasonable,” according to the Times column.

“I thought that was ridiculous,” Wilkens told the Times. “I bought those tickets nine months in advance and canceled seven months in advance. It’s not like they wouldn’t have time to resell them.” Hawaiian said yesterday that it erred and has apologized to Wilkens for its handling of the matter. “We made the wrong call in this case, and we apologize for that,” said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian Airlines’ president and chief executive officer. “We have rules, and 99.9 percent of the time, these rules make sense, but there are always going to be exceptions. This was one of those cases, and we simply dropped the ball.” Wilkens could not be reached for comment. Airlines often suspend fees for flight changes and cancelations due to death of a passenger or the death of a close relative. Rival Aloha Airlines said its policy is to waive such fees and refund the ticket purchase in such cases. “It’s a matter of compassion,” said Aloha spokesman Stu Glauberman.

The public relations blunder comes as Hawaiian, the state’s largest airline, has been the industry leader for on-time performance and other customer service measures.

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