|By Jim Stingl, Milwaukee Journal
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
February 20, 2009 --It's hard to believe that a soldier shipping off to war must first do battle on the home front to get a refund for a vacation he and his wife aren't able to enjoy.
For weeks, Jeffrey Ahlborn, 26, of Greenfield tried to convince Priceline.com and US Airways that he had a darn good reason to cancel their trip to Las Vegas. Then his mother, Linda Ingalls, joined in the fight.
"Priceline told us it wasn't their problem that he got deployed," Ingalls said in an e-mail to me, hoping some pressure from the news media would help.
At the risk of becoming Contact Stingl, I'd say her instincts were right on. After I sent e-mails to public relations folks at Priceline and US Airways this week, they couldn't refund Ahlborn's money fast enough. It's a shame that the possibility of public embarrassment seemed to motivate them more than giving a soldier a break.
Ahlborn is part of the huge deployment of 3,200 Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers this week. They are heading for Iraq. It's Ahlborn's second deployment to the region.
It was last April that he and his wife, Keva, 23, booked the trip to Vegas, with an additional stop in Los Angeles for a relative's wedding. There was already talk then of the possibility of deployment in 2009, but Ahlborn was scheduled to get out of the guard in March of this year, so he didn't think he'd be affected.
The timing couldn't have been worse. The six-day vacation was supposed to start Wednesday of this week. The airfare for two: $662.96, including travel insurance, which I always thought was supposed to help you avoid hassles like this.
"When he got deployed, he and I tried in vain to get his tickets deferred or reimbursed. We got nothing but the run-around," Ingalls said. Even a lawyer at the firm where Ingalls works as a paralegal couldn't squeeze a refund out of them.
At one point, Ingalls said, someone from Priceline said they were informed by someone at US Airways that the best they could do was to defer the trip until the end of this year, which wouldn't do Ahlborn any good over there in the desert.
"The fact is that he's going to fight for our country, and they don't really care," Ingalls said.
Ahlborn declined to comment because as a soldier he was told not to talk to the press. His civilian job at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino will be waiting for him when he gets back, his mother said.
She called me Wednesday. The battle was over.
"I have heard from Priceline. I have heard from US Airways. Whatever you did, it worked. I really appreciate it," Ingalls said.
Without going into much detail, Brian Ek at Priceline told me the Ahlborns had a refund on the way.
"It looks like a miscommunication over the type of ticket he purchased," he said.
In a voicemail left for Ingalls this week, a representative from Priceline said, "US Airways have agreed at this time to waive their cancellation policy due to the military concern."
Sharon Baker, who works in customer relations at the airline, said in an e-mail to Ingalls: "We appreciate everything Jeffrey is doing for our country and I will keep him in my prayers."
OK, so good recovery.
I talked to Keva Ahlborn on Thursday. She had just dropped off her husband and said goodbye for a year.
"It was very hard, especially for him," she said. "He didn't want to leave Ava," their 9-month-old daughter.
At least he doesn't have to worry about kissing $662 goodbye for a vacation he's giving up.
Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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