You changed my flight — I want my fee back!

By | June 21st, 2010

Here’s a question I get a lot, but to which I don’t have a good answer — yet. If you pay a change fee and fare differential to fly today instead of tomorrow, and your airline cancels today’s flight, forcing you to fly on the day you were originally scheduled, are you owed a refund of the fee?

Ian Marks is wondering — and I should say that I get this question almost once a week, so it applies to a lot of my readers — after United Airlines canceled his flight from Atlanta to Washington recently.

I changed my flight from June 2 to June 1, and soon after that [United Airlines] had an equipment issue and postponed my flight, forcing me back to my previous day.

I had paid $350 for the change. A very nice reservations agent said she could only offer me a ‘customer relations choice’ email that was valued far below what I had paid.

I want a refund, or at least a voucher for the amount I had to pay for the change.

United’s response? Textbook form:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your recent travel experience.

Please accept my apologies for your frustrating and unpleasant travel experience. We realize that at times we are not doing as well as we should be in assisting you when there are circumstances that disrupt your travel.

While I realize that your experience with our flights does not demonstrate strong on-time performance, please be assured we are working hard to improve and provide service you can rely on.

I understand you made a change to June first and due to weather delays in the area your flight was canceled and you were offered protection the next day.

Unfortunately, I am unable to offer a refund for the voluntary change you made. While your request for additional compensation is appreciated, I am unable to honor your request.

Marks appealed. Unfortunately, United’s answer didn’t change.

The certificate was not intended as compensation to reimburse you for the change fee that you paid to change the flight. It was offered strictly as a goodwill gesture.

On June 1st UA7269 was in fact cancelled due to flow control so it was outside of our control.

Although we cannot honor your request, your understanding is appreciated.

(Flow control, for the purposes of this discussion, is an air-traffic related reason for a flight cancellation.)

So here’s how I see it. United is saying that it would have operated flight 7269 had it not been for air traffic control, which was caused by weather. A look at the flight’s history shows that’s probably true.

United seems to think that passengers should bear some of the risk of these uncontrollable delays, and I can see their point.

At the same time, United took money for a service that it couldn’t deliver.

Can you think of any other business that gets to blame someone else for not delivering a product, and then pockets your money anyway? I can’t.

United is unlikely to offer a $350 refund, but Marks should consider taking this matter up with his credit card company. He didn’t get what he paid for.

What do you think?

(Photo: Phinala nji/Flickr Creative Commons)

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