What would you do? Where’s my $7,369 refund for a canceled flight?

By | March 17th, 2011

Taking your money is a lightning-fast procedure for an airline (indeed, for any business accepting credit cards). A minute after you’ve pushed the “buy” button, your credit card account is debited.

But it doesn’t work as quickly when the money is going the other way. Just ask Paramjit Bhatia, who has been trying to get a $7,369 refund for two roundtrip tickets from Kansas City to London on Dec. 22.

“I had to cancel my travel plans on account of a blizzard that shut down Heathrow Airport around Christmas,” says Bhatia. “A travel advisory issued by British Airways issued guidelines for travelers to either a full refund or re-book the flights for a later time.”

Here’s the exact wording of the advisory:

LHR – Both runways are open with normal operations. We plan to operate 100% of longhaul and 90% of our shortaul flights today. Customers who are travelling from Heathrow, whose travel is not essential, are encouraged to cancel their flight, in return for a full refund, or to consider changing their flight to another date over the next 12 months.

OK, so Bhatia should get a prompt, full refund. Right?

I talked to a British Airways customer service representative on Dec. 22 to cancel my flight and was assured a full refund by British Airways. I have not received the refund as of this date despite talking to a customer service representative on two occasions (Feb. 3 and Feb. 14).

I was again assured that the refund will be issued within two weeks. I had also submitted a claim for a refund on-line, with no response from British Airways.

Actually, the airline industry has something of a reputation for holding on to refunds. Here’s one that took nine months. I’ve seen others — particularly where a third party is involved in the transaction — that have taken a year or more to process. Some never do.

Now what?

The way I see it, Bhatia has a few options.

First, wait. Refunds can take six to eight weeks, and often longer. Should it take that long? Absolutely not. But airlines, like other companies, don’t like giving money back to their customers, and take their sweet time when they have to.

Second, Bhatia could appeal to British Airways again. Enough is enough; the refund should have been in the bank by now, right? A polite letter to one of the following contacts might shake something loose.

Or third, Bhatia could take this issue to the Department of Transportation, which might send an inquiry to British Airways. Nothing lights a fire under an airline like a government investigation, right?

The correct answer was: Wait. British Airways had already refunded the ticket by the time Bhatia contacted me.

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