AirTran, where is my refund?

By | March 10th, 2008

Question: I would like to request your help in resolving an issue with AirTran Airways. I recently flew from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga. When my return flight was canceled for mechanical reasons, a station supervisor offered me two options. I could either spend the night at a hotel, at AirTran’s expense, and then fly out the next afternoon, or I could rent a car and drive myself to Atlanta, again at AirTran’s expense.

I had a morning business meeting the following day, so I chose the second option. The following day I mailed my receipts for $124 to the station supervisor by certified mail. I also called the number on his card and left several messages. For two weeks I received no response from him or from AirTran. Then a credit for $39 — the cost of the return flight — showed up on my American Express card.

Every time I get through to someone at AirTran, I’m asked to fax the same information back to the airline. This has happened time and again. The station supervisor never returns the messages I leave. It’s been almost two months since I rented the car, and I am extremely disappointed. This is not what AirTran and I agreed on.

Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

— Daniel Richards, Alpharetta, Ga.

Answer: If AirTran offered you a reimbursement for your rental car, it should pay it quickly. But the airline seems to be confused about what it should have refunded you, and that might be why it hesitated to pay your $124 rental bill.

Strictly speaking, AirTran’s responsibility was to get you from Savannah back to Atlanta. If AirTran reimbursed you for your rental car, thereby providing alternate transportation to Atlanta, the airline would have been entitled to keep the $39 you paid for that portion of the trip. But it didn’t. It refunded the fare. That suggests to me that someone at AirTran issued the wrong refund. Once your unused return ticket was credited back to your American Express card, the airline apparently considered its obligation to you to be settled. And it was, in a contractual sense. You can read the rule in the airline’s contract of carriage on the AirTran Web site (scroll down to Section K, part 2).

Related story:   Is Delta out of 'line'?

But the station manager you spoke with made an off-the-book agreement with you to cover the cost of alternate transportation. Here’s the thing about these kinds of deals. It’s commendable when a supervisor agrees to go above and beyond what’s required to offer good customer service. But talk, as they say, is cheap.

You should have asked the supervisor to put his offer in writing. That would have made it much more difficult for the airline to deny your reimbursement. Gate supervisors typically do not handle refunds – that’s a whole separate accounting and service department — so you may have sent your paperwork to the wrong person.

Generally, the fastest way to get a ticket refund or other reimbursement is to send a brief, polite e-mail to the airline describing your agreement and documenting your expenses. Airlines respond to e-mails twice as quickly as they do to letters, on average.

I contacted AirTran on your behalf, and it expedited a refund check to you.

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