I had airline tickets for Southwest Airlines to fly to San Diego on Oct. 31.

My sister in Texas died suddenly on Oct. 23. I knew I would not be able to go to San Diego, so I called the airline and spoke to a Southwest rep. She gave me the wrong information, saying that she would put a note on my confirmation that I had a death in the family and the funeral was the same day as the flight. She said that when I got back from the funeral, I should call the airline.

I returned home on Nov. 3 and called, but I was told that I was a “no-show” and had lost my entire ticket. They said I could try for a refund, so I sent the funeral program, my original itinerary to San Diego and my itinerary for the funeral trip – but I still got denied.

I am a senior citizen on Social Security. I have to pay the person who funded my trip to Texas. Southwest didn’t even offer me a voucher for another flight.

- Dorothy Thompson, Mountain View, Calif.

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

DEAR DOROTHY:

First, please accept our condolences on the loss of your sister. Losing a loved one is always hard, and having a hassle on top of that makes it even harder.

The ironic part about this problem is Southwest has a much more liberal policy than many other airlines when it comes to changing tickets.

We agree that it didn’t seem fair for you to lose everything just because a customer service rep gave you incorrect information. The good news is after we explained to Southwest what happened, they fixed it right away.

Besides offering their sympathy and apologies, they issued a full refund for the $166.20 you had spent on the plane ticket to San Diego.

Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said changing tickets is relatively easy and there is no fee to do so. The new ticket must stay in the original passenger’s name and cancellations must be made at least 10 minutes prior to departure. The ticketholder must have their “PNR” – i.e., the confirmation number – to make the change, so don’t lose that number. The new trip also must be completed before one year from the original booking date. If the new ticket is more expensive, the consumer must pay the difference.

Southwest’s rules are less strict than many other airlines, some of which charge $150 or more to change a ticket, in addition to making the consumer pay for any higher ticket cost.

Airlines tend to handle emergencies like a death in the family or a serious illness on a case-by-case basis. Some will give a voucher or refund for a missed flight if they’re notified in advance, but others are much less flexible.

If a consumer has an emergency that interferes with their travel, they should contact the airline or their travel agent immediately. They will stand a better chance the earlier they notify everyone.

Consumers should consider buying travel insurance, especially if the trip cost a lot of money. However, be sure to read all the fine print and find out whether there are low caps on reimbursement or exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions.

- The ABC News Fixer

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Stephanie Zimmermann

Most people groan at the thought of spending hours on the phone with a customer service call center, but Stephanie Zimmermann relishes the chance to slice through red tape.

Before joining ABC News, Stephanie untangled consumer problems at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her popular column recovered more than $1.4 million in refunds, credits, and merchandise for consumers in the Windy City.

Stephanie, who lives in Chicago, has also worked at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But most of all, Stephanie is a consumer who hates to see anyone else get ripped off.