How can I be a “no-show” for a canceled flight?

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:

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“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.

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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.

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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.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at

  • Chris_In_NC

    Glad to see that United did eventually do the right thing.
    What probably happened (and we will never know) is that United rebooked her on another flight and she was a no-show for the new itinerary.
    However, this article really makes OneTravel look bad, as it should. OneTravel bears responsibility as it took the money and does bear some responsibility assisting in the rebooking process.

  • Pegtoo

    I am so tired of the long hold time trying to reach airlines. I’ve experienced it myself a few times and it infuriates me how they can get away with offering such poor customer service .

  • John McDonald

    One travel could have simply looked in the clients booking in their res system & any new flights booked by airline would have shown up. This happens all the time. No big deal.

    If the new booking hadn’t have been made one travel would have agent only phone numbers at United & email addresses that are checked every few minutes

  • John McDonald

    Disruptions occur at short notice. If eg. Bad weather 1000s of people would try to call airlines at the same time. Perhaps when on hold, check your booking on airline website. It might save a phone call & being on hold for a while

  • sirwired

    Well, you don’t HAVE to give them a chance to rebook, but you need to file a refund request in that case instead of a chargeback.

  • Alan Gore

    Would she have done better to try reaching United online? My impression is that airlines are trying to phase out phone service as much as possible. I don’t see an online chat option (the best way of contacting Support if available) but you can tweet to @united.

  • Bill___A

    I’m glad they got a refund from United, but in the end, I think they were out a lot of money. Like many of these cases, my experiences are generally quite different. For example, in the case of a cancelled flight, I am used to automatically being booked on another one, and I go on that. So I am (fortunately) not used to seeing the progression of troubles they had. Of the two instances where something was a mess or cost money unnecessarily, one was my mistake on a website (although the website should not have let it happen) and the other was primarily the fault of a travel agent at Amex Platinum Travel.
    Cancellations happen every day, I hope this OP’s experience is the exception rather than the norm.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I wonder what would have happened if she had shown up at the airport, waited in line, and asked the staff there for help. While they couldn’t have put her on a cancelled flight, they might have endorsed the ticket to another carrier, or at least assisted her in rebooking onto a later flight. I recognize that she might have had some urgency in returning home, but they might have even just moved her to the BA flight anyway.

  • Mel65

    On Tuesday, my United connecting flight out of Chicago was cancelled while I was in line trying to get on another flight TO Chicago, since mine was delayed 4 hours. The United agent was great–might have helped that I sympathized with the bad day she had to be having ;). Without us even asking for it, she put me and my husband on Delta flights that bypassed Chicago altogether, avoiding their traffic control issues and got us to our destination only a little later than we would have originally. For ONCE, United got it right for me!

  • JewelEyed

    They should, but they refuse to take responsibility for that right in their terms. The thing to learn here is not to use an agency, online or otherwise, that doesn’t offer to help you if there’s an issue unless you are prepared to follow all proper procedures yourself.

  • JewelEyed

    I have a Twitter account solely for customer service issues. I’ve not had to do it for travel yet, but I can tell you TWC got back to me pretty quickly when I tweeted that I was having a bizarre issue. The waiting on hold is more annoying than just waiting for a message back, honestly, because at least you can stay occupied if you don’t have a phone glued to your face.

  • PsyGuy

    So OneTravel is basically an OTA that absolves itself of being anything resembling a TA.
    I’m happy that Chis iterated that buying through an OTA is essentially adding another layer of rules and terms all in the pursuit of saving a few dollars.
    The bigger issue here and the one I have issue with Chris about, is the idea that you have to wait hours on the phone to talk to someone that you are supposedly required to talk to. If we HAVE to talk to a CSR, we should be able to reach one in something closer to minutes and not hours. Further, that a phone conversation would provide any sort of paper trail.

    Aside from that, the LW should have gone to the internet and the UA website, it’s likely it would allow her to change flights.

  • PsyGuy

    OneTravel isn’t even an OTA according to their claims, they are just a travel portal with people.

  • PsyGuy

    This assumes that one travel is even an OTA. They could simply be a travel aggregator without any real access to a GDS, simply booking flights through a common consumer web app.

  • PsyGuy

    There had also better be significant savings or else why bother?

  • PsyGuy

    A little bit of a life hack, but try different numbers for another country, or a different office (such as the disability access desk). Second, if that doesn’t work just go to the airport.

  • PsyGuy

    Probably, what would have likely happened as mentioned earlier is that she’d have already been ticketed for a different and later flight. If the LW had gone online she likely would have found the new flight, and confirmed. She could then just take that flight, or then call if the new flight didn’t work out or she wanted a refund.

  • PsyGuy

    Doesn’t your phone have speakerphone?

  • PsyGuy

    All possible.

  • Doctor Now

    While reading the article, I noticed this on the side bar under underwriters:

    Fareportal — Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include CheapOair and OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

  • The Original Joe S

    Untied doesnt answer the phone? Typica|

  • The Original Joe S

    CheapOair is an underwriter? Bah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! How many times have we seen this one on the b|og?

  • DChamp56

    Personally, when you’re in an airport, trying to get through to an airline, and nobody answers the phone for 120+ minutes, I’d have had enough. Social media is good for some things, but posting something and sitting and waiting for an answer is an awful way to treat a customer that you already have the money from. I constantly find it amazing that airlines can get away with such bad customer service.

  • Michael__K

    Actually, Israel has a passenger rights law similar to EC 261.

    The passenger was probably due 3000 NIS (over $800) in compensation AND entitled to a refund of the cancelled segment.

  • Michael__K

    The right thing would have been honoring their obligations under Israeli law — which means 3000 NIS in compensation (over $800) if they could not rebook her on a flight arriving within 6 hours of her originally scheduled flight and inform her of this (and of her rights under Israeli aviation law) in writing.

  • sirwired

    When my wife and I were cancelled coming back from the UK over the summer, while it wasn’t due to weather, bad thunderstorms had hit the NYC area, causing extended wait times.

    My first step was to hit the AA website, which gave me my auto-rebooking. Since that auto-rebook was a connecting flight the next day (original was direct), I wanted to see if I could do better, but wasn’t in an all-fired hurry to get to the airport.

    I just used a VoIP app on my phone (Ooma; I have their home IP-phone service), used the hotel’s WiFi, and simply put AA on speakerphone while I read, watched TV, had my wife listen while I was in the shower, etc. It was 90 minutes before somebody picked up the phone, but I was relaxed when she finally came on.

    I’d like to think my charming personality and relaxed demeanor helped, because she moved us up to our original flight routing (just the next day instead) and the employee was very patient and helpful. I suspect it helps in such situations to NOT complain about the hold time, the cancellation, etc… save the complaining for somebody who can do something about it, and who is NOT the person with the fate of your trip in his/her hands. I didn’t ask for compensation, upgrades, etc.; I just requested a better booking, which I swiftly got. (And no, neither I nor my wife had any kind of status, and we were on discounted coach fares.) I DID ask for the cancellation reason (needed for my EU 261 claim), and I got it.

  • sirwired

    Good to know. I hope word of this gets back to the OP. (Of course, like EU 261, if the cancellation was not the airline’s fault (e.g, winter storms kept the aircraft from leaving the US), then no compensation (other than the refund) is due.

  • Michael__K

    A storm delaying the aircraft out of a previous airport would not qualify as an exception under EC 261, and Israel’s law uses the same language.

    Israel’s law does have a unique loophole for cancellations that prevent ‘desecration of the Sabbath’, which could apply if the flight was on a Friday or on the eve of a holiday.

    On the other hand, Israel also prescribes extra “Exemplary” (punitive) damages when the Operator does not willfully provide passengers the written notice and benefits prescribed by law.

  • sirwired

    Huh; I’m surprised airlines don’t complain about EU 261 more often then… at hub airports, sure, it’s often possible to scare up a replacement aircraft. But at spokes? If the flight can’t leave the hub, it can’t leave the hub. Seems to be non-sensical to me to penalize the airline for it. It’s certainly not financially feasible to maintain fleets of spare aircraft at remote airports.

  • Michael__K

    They do complain about it! But it seems that the politics of business regulations in the EU are very different from the US today.

    Also, just because aircraft may be stuck in Hub A, doesn’t mean that there aren’t aircraft in Hub B which could operate the flight from C to D. (And a storm in Hub A usually doesn’t emerge out of the blue; storms are usually forecast in advance).

    The law purposely doesn’t get into “financially feasibility” tests, which would be unweildy and even more subjective. The whole point is to shift the airlines’ calculations towards more fault-tolerant scheduling and operations. So that it’s *not* financially feasible for them to operate their fleet a la Spirit, with no redundancy and no margin for error.

  • JewelEyed

    Yes, but having speakerphone on in a busy airport seems like a really obnoxious thing to do to everyone around you.

  • PsyGuy

    Why don’t you have your earbuds in?

  • JewelEyed

    I really hate headphones with microphones on them. I’ve never bought any and I’ve never borrowed any that were worth a penny.

  • PsyGuy

    Fair enough, you hate earbuds, think speakerphones are obnoxious and can’t tolerate long hold times with a phone to your ear….

  • Lindabator

    The reason she failed on a chargeback, was because they charge back the entire trip – and since she used the outbound, it was fraud. She should have gone online and either changed or cancelled the flight, then apply for the refund on the return flight. She was considered a noshow as that flight was never cancelled. Was very nice that United understood and still gave her the refund, but people REALLY need to either learn what is expected from them to GET a refund/new ticket, or go to a real travel agent, who can handle for them

  • Lindabator

    since she never cancelled, you are correct. And this is the problem with OTAs – they are simply middlemen, NOT agents. I would have had this taken care of FOR this client – either a cancellation, new ticket and refund applied – or changed as needed – all part of my job! :)

  • Lindabator

    but she never actually SPOKE to anyone at United – and did not go to the airport and so so either – so United are not mind-readers to know she booked with another carrier

  • Lindabator

    go online – any changes show a button where you can change or cancel your flight – not that difficult, actually

  • Lindabator

    I worked for an airlines – you have no idea how people do not LIST actual phone numbers, or ones they have on the actual trip. No cell phones, hotels, etc – most even waive off giving emergency contacts. So not feasible – sorry

  • Lindabator

    and if there is a schedule change, there is a little button that says you can change/cancel the flight – not difficult at all

  • Lindabator

    she never went online, or this could have easily been resolved – it even allowy you to easily make changes on their dime for changes/cancellations like this

  • Lindabator

    but since she never actually bothered to cancel with United – null and void

  • Michael__K

    They don’t need to be mind readers. They just need to follow the law. They owe her the compensation and written disclosures required by law regardless of whether they spoke to her or not. And they can’t re-route her without her affirmative consent.

  • Lindabator

    and her going to the UA website would have avoided the issue – when they have a change/cancellation like this, there is a button allowing you to change/cancel the flight on their dime — but she didn’t bother

  • Michael__K

    False. Israeli law trumps United’s contract and requires written notice and compensation regardless of whether she contacted United or not.

  • Michael__K

    Why did UA not bother to comply with its Duty of Notification and Disclosure under Israeli law?

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