SATA Airlines warned me of a possible industrial action. Can I get a refund?


Mike Parker learns of a possible industrial action that threatens his vacation in the Azores. Can our advocates get Expedia to refund his flights on SATA Airlines?

Question: I booked a vacation in the Azores, including a flight on SATA Airlines (now known as Azores Airlines) from Boston to Ponta Delgada, Portugal, and a stay at the Pestana Bahia Praia on São Miguel Island, through Expedia for $2,600.

SATA Airlines has notified me of an “industrial action” — a scheduled cabin crew strike — on the day of my outbound flight. I considered moving the vacation back a week, but the hotel will be full and I cannot reach SATA Airlines on the telephone. Unfortunately, I did not buy travel insurance for this trip.

I would like a refund from Expedia for the costs of my flight and hotel. I can’t travel to the Azores again, so I won’t be able to use a credit from SATA Airlines. Unfortunately, Expedia has not been helpful. It seems unfair that they can keep my money when it isn’t my fault that this industrial action is happening. Can you help me get Expedia to refund my travel costs? — Mike Parker, Bayfield, Colo.

Answer: I agree that it’s frustrating when, for reasons beyond your control, you can’t take a vacation you’ve long anticipated. As you note, you could have benefited from travel insurance to minimize your risk of loss. In your case, travel insurance coverage, especially a “cancel for any reason” insurance policy, would have provided you with at least partial reimbursement for your airfares and your hotel room, which we discovered was nonrefundable.

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On the other hand, you had a reasonable expectation of recovering your airfares. Azores Airlines’ general conditions of carriage promise that the airline will refund airfares when it doesn’t provide service to its passengers. Also, as our advocate told you, although industrial actions such as strikes are often threatened in Europe, airlines don’t generally cancel flights there because the industrial actions usually don’t happen.

But when you asked Expedia for assistance, you did two things that didn’t help your situation. First, you kept pointing out that “SATA is causing [your] problem” and that it was “unfair” and “unreasonable” that you couldn’t get your money back. You also adopted a sarcastic tone in subsequent communications with Expedia. Unfortunately, your aggressive attitude probably predisposed Expedia’s personnel against you, delaying the resolution of your case.

Second, you began your complaint by writing to Expedia’s CEO. Starting with lower-ranking executives of Expedia and then escalating your complaint using our executive contact information might have yielded a more timely and helpful response from Expedia.

Despite these problems with your case, our advocates reached out to Expedia on your behalf. We learned that SATA Airlines eventually canceled the industrial action. Both SATA Airlines and the hotel allowed you to reschedule your trip for two weeks after your original dates, although you had to pay an additional $200 for your hotel room and $400 to change your flight from Colorado to Boston. But, as you note, the important thing is that you got to take your highly anticipated trip to the Azores. I hope you enjoyed your vacation.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • SirWIred

    Certainly a refund from the airline would have been due. But if you don’t have insurance, you are definitely on your own for the hotel or other associated costs.

    I wonder why the OP struck up a ‘tude with Expedia, since they didn’t create the problem… I agree that didn’t help matters.

  • Annie M

    It’s too bad he didn’t just leave it alone – it wouldn’t have cost him a penny since nothing happened.

  • Michael__K

    Which travel insurance policy would have covered this? Note that his point of departure was Colorado and the strike would have been in Portugal, and there was never a complete cessation of Common Carrier services.
    Trip Delay/Interruption coverage would cover additional expenses if he got stuck in Boston, except in this case EC Regulation 261 would have covered such expenses anyway.
    Buying and invoking CFAR more than 48 hours before departure would have covered full cancellation — but with a penalty of at least 25% (more that what the OP spent in change fees).

  • MF

    Yes, it’s too bad the PAX couldn’t read the tea leaves about the future of his vacation plans. Ex post facto, the rest of us now can. I guess that he really wanted his vacation to work out with more certainty than ‘maybe’?

  • Alan Gore

    SATA would have had to refund if it were on strike on flight day, but it reads as though LW would have to fly domestic from Colorado to Boston just to find out whether SATA is on strike. That type of trip-in-vain would be a situation that only insurance could have compensated for. And we had a similar case three weeks ago in which it was claimed that even this would not be insurable.

    Instead of flying across country just to connect to a cheap foreign airline that may or may not come through, going to Europe on system airlines from Denver would probably have been a safer alternative.

  • SirWIred

    Insurance does not apply only to the point of origin; a flight to the final destination would also have been covered.

    And when I said “hotel or other associated costs”, I was referring to his pre-booked hotel in the Azores, not a hotel in Boston to handle a stranding. EU 261 won’t touch the destination hotel.

  • Michael__K

    He wanted to re-schedule — and was willing to pay $600 to re-schedule — to avoid the looming risk of him spending much of his vacation stranded in Boston instead of where he was supposed to be. The point of my question was: which policy would have allowed him to cancel or re-schedule like he wanted, but without spending the $600?

    BTW, even to get his pre-booked hotel in Azores covered he would have to meet the Trip Interruption criteria. Which typically requires a “complete cessation of services” at the “Departure” or “Destination”. And some policies which are slightly more lenient on Trip Interruption exclude “announced” strikes from their Trip Delay coverage.

  • cscasi

    The refund would have been due “if” the flight(s) were cancelled, which they were not. So, I do not think he was due any refund.
    Further, he is lucky that he was allowed to change his (most likely non refundable) ticket for two weeks later but he had to pay a change fee for the U.S. portion of his trip; DEN-BOS). Plus the hotel cost more.
    Guess he should have gone on his original itinerary as apparently everything would have worked out fine.

  • cscasi

    Good information. But, the subject is really moot because the flights he originally reserved operated normally. It’s s shame he had to spend another $600 to move his vacation to two weeks later.

  • cscasi

    Couldn’t he have called prior to leaving DEN to ensure SATA was operating?

  • Michael__K

    Hinsight is always 20/20. The OP had to make a decision based on the information he had at the time, when there was a large risk that he would be spending much of his vacation in the wrong city. The $600 was his “insurance” against that risk. It’s a shame that customers don’t have better options to deal with this type of risk when it is imposed on them.

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