“Should I just take the money and run?”

virginatlanticMegan Boing booked two tickets from Chicago to London on Virgin Atlantic Airways for her honeymoon. Then the airline canceled her flights.

Normally, it would offer her two options: either a full refund or a new flight of its choosing.

But that’s not what happened.

I called the US customer service line on July 7th and they were unable to book me on a flight on any of the neighboring days. The phone representative told me to call back the following day to see if anything opened up.

The next day, I called them again on July 8th and was again informed there were no flights available. At this time, I requested a full refund of my tickets since (as I explained to the rep) I did not have flexible travel dates. After being put on hold for a time, the rep returned and said that since the ticket was non-refundable, I would only be able to get taxes and fees returned to me.

Virgin’s own conditions of carriage — the legal agreement between Boing and the airline — say otherwise:

Fare refunds will be [issued] … if we cancel a flight, fail to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, fail to stop at your destination or Stopover, or cause you to miss a connecting flight because of in-flight delay [or] diversion …

Boing asked Virgin for a full refund. To which it replied:

With reference to your Refund Claim 85975 , the fare purchased carries a USD200 cancellation penalty. The ticket is still valid for travel to be completed by 24Mar2010.Please advise if you desire the partial refund or choose to use your ticket toward future travel.

Kind Regards
US Refunds Dept

This is a clear case of an airline not following its own rules, let alone EU rules governing airfare refunds. Virgin canceled Boing’s honeymoon flight, and couldn’t reschedule her on a flight the day before or after her scheduled vacation. And it wants to charge her $200 to reuse the ticket?

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Boing asked me what to do. “Am I in the right to fight for a full refund, as the carrier canceled the flight?” she wondered. “Or, at this point, should I just take the money and run?”

I contacted Virgin on her behalf. A representative responded promptly:

Megan is correct … she is entitled to a full refund. Our Customer Service team will be contacting her directly.

Her refund appeared in her account late yesterday.

Lesson learned? When an airline says “no,” check its contract. It might not be following its own rules.

Obviously, Virgin should have offered Boing an immediate refund when it canceled her flights. And it shouldn’t have taken my intervention to get it to do the right thing.

(Photo: Dr. Jaus/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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