When Edith Maas’ return flight from Tel Aviv was canceled by United Airlines, she took matters into her own hands: She booked new tickets on another airline. Unfortunately, this action cost her an additional $1,500, and she wants a refund. But is she entitled to one?
This case is an important reminder of how not to reschedule your flight when you are informed of an airline’s cancellation. But it is also a strange case with a sudden, unexpected resolution at the end of Maas’ year-long quest for reimbursement.
Maas’ story began in January 2016. She purchased airline tickets to Israel on United Airlines through OneTravel. On the day before her return flight, she received a text message informing her that her flight had been canceled.
“We called the United Airlines’ toll-free number for assistance but we were just put on hold by an automated service for 14 minutes, with no one ultimately answering our call,” she remembers.
After these 14 minutes, Maas hung up and tried calling OneTravel instead. Although she reached a representative, she was told that she needed to call United Airlines to reschedule her flight. Maas told us, “After 37 minutes, the representative (of OneTravel) checked with her superior and told us that they could not help us and suggested that we contact United Airlines.”
This is in line with the advice from OneTravel’s FAQ’s, which explain:
Once your journey has commenced, it is advisable to get in touch with the airline or service provider in the city/country where you are situated. For your convenience we have provided a link for the toll-free number of all airlines, click here.
Additionally, in their terms and conditions, under the heading “Airline Schedule Changes” they make this bold statement:
“OneTravel does not assume any liability whatsoever for canceled flights, flights that are missed, or flights not connecting due to any scheduled changes made by the airlines.” And to make certain that the traveler understands, they repeat that statement again a few sentences later.
Travelers who decide to use a third-party website to book your flights, take heed. Similar language can be found in the terms of most of these online booking agencies.
Maas told us that she tried to take the advice of OneTravel. She called a number for United Airlines and was then placed on hold for “126 minutes.” Finally, she hung up and called British Airways and purchased new one-way tickets home at a cost of $1,473. At no time did Maas ever reach anyone at United Airlines concerning her canceled flight.
When Maas returned home, she complained to OneTravel and initiated a chargeback with her credit card for the cost of the United tickets. This chargeback was ultimately found in favor of United and the charges were reapplied to her account.
Receiving no relief from OneTravel or her credit card, she contacted our advocates. Initially, she and her husband were requesting a full refund for their return tickets from British Airways and from United. Maas explained,
We believe that OneTravel owes us the following two refunds:
a) A refund of $736 for the canceled return flight since this service was not rendered to us.
b) A refund of $1,494 for the British Airways return flight that we had to book since OneTravel left us stranded in Tel Aviv.
We were not sure why Maas believed that she was due two separate refunds — which would essentially mean that the flight home was completely free. But we focused on the refund that seemed likely: the canceled United flight.
We contacted OneTravel on her behalf, but the agency remained firm that Maas should have gone to United Airlines and had her ticket changed.
When an airline cancels a passenger’s flight, the airline has a duty to do one of two things: 1) rebook the passenger on the next available flight; or 2) provide the passenger a refund for the canceled flight. But if a passenger does not make any actual contact with the airline, then they obviously can’t offer either of these options.
On their website, United Airlines details the correct procedure for a passenger with a canceled flight. The first step is, of course, to make contact with the airline.
Maas was entitled to a refund for the canceled flight. Ultimately, though, the inability to reach anyone at United resulted in her ticket being invalidated. For this reason, she lost the chargeback with her credit card company.
And it almost resulted in this story ending in the Case Dismissed file.
I say almost, because a funny thing happened as I was writing this story. I decided to send an email to United Airlines and ask for clarification about this case. After all, how can a passenger be considered a no-show for a flight that was canceled?
To our surprise, the next day, Maas’ long refund battle became a victory.
“I received a call this morning from a lady working for United Airlines, and she informed me that United Airlines issued a full refund for the canceled return flight. Moreover, she offered my husband and me an additional travel voucher, valued at $150 for each of us,” she told us.
Given that United had already defended this case against a chargeback — and won — this was a peculiar but pleasant ending.
We are always pleased when we are able to mediate a successful resolution for a consumer. But we would be remiss if we do not point out a few lessons this case highlights. First, when you buy an airline ticket you are agreeing to the terms and conditions associated with that ticket. When you purchase a ticket through a third party, such as OneTravel, you are then adding an additional layer of terms and rules. Trying to sort through who is responsible for your rebooking can be quite complicated in these situations, as Maas found out.
If the airline cancels your flight, you must give them the opportunity to rebook or refund before the scheduled flight. If you can’t reach them by phone, try their website or even social media.
In a worst-case scenario, these methods will assure that you have written proof that you attempted to remedy your situation. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a year-long battle to get your money back, and we certainly can’t guarantee this case’s extremely positive surprise ending.