Downgraded on my flight home — where’s my refund?

After Andrew Wolkstein’s flight from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Newark, New Jersey, is canceled because of a pilots’ strike, he’s downgraded to economy class. Why won’t El Al Israel Airlines refund the fee he paid for a better seat?

Question: Last November, my flight from Tel Aviv to Newark was canceled because of a dispute between El Al Israel Airlines and its pilots. I was traveling with my father. Our direct flight — with an upgrade to economy class plus for two passengers, which cost $300 — was canceled, and we were booked on a flight from Tel Aviv to Zurich and then from Zurich to New York.

An El Al representative promised me a refund for the upgrades. I also would like to be reimbursed for the taxi fare from JFK Airport to my residence and for my lost work time. We still have not received any word on the refund. It’s been four months since our trip. Can you help me? — Andrew Wolkstein, Ellicott City, Md,

Answer: El Al should have refunded your upgrade promptly, since it didn’t provide the service for which you and your father paid. For most airlines, that process is automatic, but for whatever reason — it could have been the strike-related cancellation or a simple computer glitch — El Al kept your money.

Here’s where your case gets a little unusual. You showed me a paper trail of correspondence between you and the airline, in which you repeatedly request a refund. Still, El Al kept your $300.

Airlines shouldn’t be charging you extra for a reasonable amount of legroom. But that’s exactly what economy “plus” seating usually is — the same amount of legroom and amenities as it used to be back when air travel was a little more civilized. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to pay an extra $300 to be treated like a person; your airline would treat you like a person because it’s the right thing to do.

Related story:   Should my airline compensate me for a lost cruise?

I can think of one other reason your request might not have been granted: You asked for compensation for your cab ride home and for lost work time. Typically, airlines do not pay for either of those. You’d have to get something in writing from El Al before your flight agreeing to refund your ground transportation in order to make that work. And, unfortunately, I’ve never seen an airline cover lost work time.

You could have sent a brief, polite appeal to one of the El Al executive contacts. I list them on my consumer-advocacy website.

I contacted El Al on your behalf, and it refunded the $300 upgrade fee.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at

  • Steve Rabin

    I am not sure the cab ride home was not recoverable (lost work time is definitely not). Andrew’s original flight was to EWR, but they sent him to JFK. Perhaps from Israel the two airports look close, but they are in fact not. At the very least El Al should have covered transportation from JFK to EWR.

  • Michael__K

    The advocates should be aware that Israel is one of the growling list of countries with an Air Passenger Rights law similar to EC Regulation 261.

    If the cancellation was because of a strike, then there is no special Monetary Compensation for the delay, but the passenger is still entitled to “Assistance Services” which includes applicable expenses (such as cab fare between an alternate airport and the originally ticketed Final Destination).

  • Michael__K

    Yup, per Israel’s 2012 Aviation Services Law (patterned after EC 261) the passenger is entitled to reimbursement of the cab ride to their Final Destination.

  • Skeptic

    The airports are not even in the same state!

  • scoosdad

    When we were unexpectedly bumped from a flight out of Newark several years ago, we were rebooked on a flight out of JFK the same day. As I recall, it was about a $100 cab ride for the four of us from EWR to JFK which included a pretty hefty toll for crossing via Staten Island.

  • Mark

    However it sounds like the cab ride wasn’t to EWR, which muddies the water a bit.

  • greg watson

    ask for too much……………..& you could get nothing.

  • Alan Gore

    But isn’t EC 261 written to exclude Europe’s constant strikes as a reason for compensatable delay, lumping it with ATC problems as something like “unusual circumstances”? Israel’s law may have the same loophole.

  • Michael__K

    Provision 6(e)(2) of Israel’s law says that the passenger is not entitled to the so-called “Monetary Compensation” if “the flight was canceled due to a strike or a protected work-by-rule strike.”

  • Don Spilky

    This law predates EU 261 by quite a number of years :) Helpful link, thank you!!

  • Lindabator

    they are considered co terminals, as you can utilize EWR LGA or JFK

  • Lindabator

    cab was to go HOME

  • Lindabator

    but the “final destination” would mean the city (like flying to Flint instead of Detroit), but he still flew into NYC, just a different airport — and it looks like he took a taxi HOME from the airport, which h would need to have done in any case – this is a very convuluted situation

  • The Original Joe S

    considered by whom? anyone with any brains? or sanity? Another example of your taking sides against the consumer. What’s the name of your company, so we can avoid it?

  • The Original Joe S

    EWR isn’t in NYC. It’s across the river in New Guernsey, Commissioner Gordon!

  • Michael__K

    No, “Final Destination” means precisely what Israel’s Aviation law says it means — “the last destination specified in the [original] flight ticket.”

  • jim6555

    Perhaps he should have received the difference between the cab fare from EWR to his home vs. the fare from JFK to home. I’m sure that the amount is substantial.

  • joycexyz

    EWR is considered a New York airport, like JFK and LGA. El Al got him to New York. They certainly owed him for the fare class difference, which he eventually got. He could make a case for the cab fare. But I think he muddied the case by asking for compensation for lost work time, and that’s why El Al was not so forthcoming.

  • joycexyz

    You are correct. EWR is considered a New York airport. As a matter of fact, it’s actually about the same distance from EWR to Manhattan as JFK is.

  • cscasi

    Still, the right thing for El Al to do is give him the cost of a taxi from JFK to EWR. Then, he would be responsible for the rest.

  • cscasi

    That’s great. How many passengers who really do not check their itinerary closely, find that they land in one airport and their connecting flight goes out from another. The expense of getting ones self between the two (including ones luggage) is on them.

  • cscasi

    In my humble opinion,I thought we were not going to run one another down in this forum. Comments from all of us are comments, whether or not we agree with all of them; that’s a different story and people can say why they agree or disagree, but not in a derogatory manner.

  • cscasi

    Question is, did it cost him more to take a taxi home from JFK as opposed to EWR? If so, he could have politely asked for the fare difference (whether or not EL Al would agree to pay that is up to the airlines). Never hurts to ask

  • The Original Joe S

    Taking sides against customers consistently should be pointed out. Relying on a technicality to say that airports 60 miles or so apart are the same is not truth…….

  • The Original Joe S

    I’ll keep your words in mind.

    After Japan signed the surrender, Halsey issued orders for any Japanese planes approaching the fleet to be shot down in a friendly manner…………………

  • The Original Joe S

    People who don’t pay attention to what’s going on usually have themselves to blame………….
    In this case, they owed him transport……. Wasn’t his fault. JFK is about 35 miles from EWR…….

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.