After United Airlines cancels Leslie Wiercinski’s flight to the Cayman Islands, the airline offers her only a flight credit, but not a refund. Is United Airlines following the refund rules?
Q: In January, my family booked airline tickets on United for six people to fly in March from Washington, D.C., to the Cayman Islands in March. This included upgraded seating both ways.
On March 6, the Cayman Islands government closed both of the country’s airports to international flights from March 22 to April 13. I looked up the flight a few weeks ago, and United is offering a waiver for future travel. I checked with my travel agent today, and she said that the flight has not been officially canceled yet, and at this time she knows of no airline offering any refunds — all are only waiving the change fee.
You recently mentioned that if the airline stops flying to a destination, then the U.S. Department of Transportation requires that the airline process a refund within seven days, if paid by credit card.
On a recent evening, we received emails from United stating that we have successfully canceled our reservation and can get flight credit. We didn’t even cancel. I could not get through to United. I’d like to get a refund of $4,953. Can you help? — Leslie Wiercinski, Brookeville, Maryland
A: If United Airlines canceled your flight, you should receive a full refund. No questions asked.
That’s a Department of Transportation requirement, and it’s been one for as long as I can remember. To change that would require action by the DOT. I checked with DOT; it says it hasn’t changed its rules.
By the way, this isn’t just a United problem. Other airlines are trying to change their refund rules during the coronavirus crisis. They want to offer a credit that expires after a year.
I can’t blame them. Losing all that money could put them out of business. But keeping the money in defiance of government regulations is wrong. If you want a credit, it should be your choice.
This has the potential to become more than a travel issue. Businesses across the country may try to change their rules in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I just want to be on record to note that airlines started this.
By the way, you can always appeal to someone higher up at the airline. Here are some United Airlines executive contacts from my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.
So what happened to your reservation? Well, I asked if I could review the paper trail between you and United. It turns out there was another party involved: your travel agent.
It looks like your agent called United to request a cancellation. It was an interesting conversation. United said the flight wasn’t running, so technically, the airline canceled. The United agent strongly suggested that you accept a voucher. Your agent persisted, citing my article about your right to a refund. And after a long discussion, United relented and processed a full refund.
I like your travel agent. You should definitely keep her. But the next time you have to fly somewhere, you might consider a different airline that follows DOT refund rules.
If you need help with a coronavirus-related refund, please contact me. You can send details through my consumer advocacy site or email me at email@example.com.