Can I get a refund for my flight to Kenya?

By | January 30th, 2008

If you’re into the world’s most dangerous places, chances are Kenya’s at the top of your “must visit” list. The State Department has advised Americans to stay away from the violence-plagued East African country. So where does that leave people with nonrefundable airline tickets to Nairobi?

That’s what Richard Brooks wanted to know. Last November he booked a ticket on British Airways for a Feb. 1 flight from San Francisco to Kenya. “With the political turmoil in Kenya after the elections, I decided it was no longer safe for me to travel there and wanted to cancel the flight,” he says.

He continues:

I called British Airways and was notified that they were offering refunds for persons traveling up until Jan. 11, initially, which was then extended to Jan. 25. There is a travel warning for Kenya on the U.S. State Department Web site dated Jan. 11 which continues to Feb. 12. When I called the airline on Jan. 25 to find out if they had extended their policy for refunds, I was informed that their policy had instead been retracted. I therefore postponed the flight to Feb. 22, at least hoping to avoid losing the entire $1,400 I spent on the ticket.

But the situation in Kenya didn’t improve.

Today, I read in the newspaper that 19 people were burned to death in a town not far from Nairobi. I find it hard to believe that British Airways considers it safe to travel there despite the ongoing violence and the continued warnings from the State Department. I have contacted them numerous times, yet they stand by their policy. They have no way of contacting customer relations by phone and instead require contact by e-mail, which I have done and am awaiting a reply. I appreciate your advice.

I asked British Airways for its policy and reviewed Brooks’ itinerary. But I noticed a problem with the timing. The State Department issued its first travel warning Oct. 18, almost a full month before Brooks made his reservation. If there was a travel warning that the passenger should have been aware of, does British Airways still owe him a refund?

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It would be a nice gesture, but I’m not sure if it’s not something I could ask British Airways to do.

Late yesterday, British Airways revised its Kenya policy:

Following a deterioration of the situation in Kenya, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have updated their advice for travel to Kenya. They are now advising against all but essential travel to parts of Kenya, including Nairobi.

Due to this change in advice, the options for customers due to travel to/from Nairobi have been re-instated for travel up to and including Friday 08 February 2008. As previously, the situation will be continually monitored and any updates communicated as appropriate.

Advice for customers

Customers holding a ticket who are due to travel to/from Nairobi up to and including Friday 08 February 2008 who want to change their travel plans or no longer wish to travel, are covered by the following options:

Rebook on a British Airways flight to the original destination

– On the closest available flight to the original flight, provided that a seat is available in the cabin originally booked or

At the passenger’s convenience:

– Up to 2 weeks after the original flight, provided a seat is available in the cabin originally booked

– Up to 2 weeks prior to the original flight, where applicable, provided a seat is available in the cabin originally booked

– At any time outside of the above periods, provided a seat is available in the same fare class and same cabin as originally booked


a) Any changes to the booking (PNR) must take place no later than two weeks after the original flight.

b) The passenger will be booked into the same booking class, or where applicable, the lowest available class within the same cabin of travel.

c) Travel must be completed within ticket validity or within three months from the original flight, whichever is longer.

d) The return flight, if applicable, can be rebooked at the same time, and no extra fare is payable. Rebook on a British Airways flight to an alternative destination, with any additional fare to be paid by the customer


a) Any changes to the booking (PNR) must take place no later than two weeks after the original flight.

b) Travel will be governed by the new fare rules.

Refund of the original British Airways flight, plus any parts of the journey not made which are on the same ticket as the original flight

– The refund will be provided to the original form of payment.

Brooks received a full refund.

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Lesson learned: Always check the State Department site before booking a ticket to a country where security is iffy. Next time, British Airways might not be so generous.

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