Why is Delta Air Lines ignoring this traveler's refund request? Is this a new coronavirus policy?

Can Delta just ignore a refund request like this?

Delta Air Lines significantly changed Patrick Worrell’s upcoming flight and then ignored every refund request he made. Worrell intended to make a visit to the United States from Mexico in July. But the coronavirus made him rethink those plans and he doesn’t want to travel at all now.

With the date of the unwanted modified flight rapidly approaching, Worrell is asking the Elliott Advocacy team to intervene. Can we find anyone at Delta Air Lines who won’t ignore his refund request?

Unfortunately, the coronavirus continues to propel the airlines into various antics aimed at avoiding refunds. We’ve fielded hundreds of complaints involving airlines and troubled passengers with ignored or rejected refund requests throughout this global crisis. And although the airline’s name might change, the intent is always the same — delay, reject or ignore refund requests. Here’s one more frustrating tale.

Making summer vacation plans — before the coronavirus crisis

Earlier this year, before the coronavirus became the worldwide menace that it is now, Worrell made his summer travel plans.

He wanted to fly from his home base in Mexico City to Minneapolis and back. The nonstop flights that Delta Air Lines offered between the two cities appealed to Worrell. At just 4 hours and 20 minutes each way, the itinerary and cost made his decision easy.

Worrell booked the flights on Delta Air Lines and completed the rest of his travel plans. For the next month or so, he happily anticipated his upcoming trip to the United States.

Unfortunately, a global pandemic was about to put a wrench in the entire world’s summer vacation plans — including Worrell’s. But he didn’t know it yet.

Will the coronavirus cause Delta to cancel this flight?

In April, Worrell was already aware that the coronavirus put his journey to the United States in jeopardy. And he wasn’t keen about taking the trip anymore.

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“Because of the coronavirus, I thought Delta might cancel the flight,” Worrell recalled. “So I kept my eye on things. I didn’t want to cancel too soon.”

Since mid-March, Elliott Advocacy has been on a crusade to warn travelers about the repercussions of prematurely canceling future plans.

Worrell knew that if he canceled the flight before Delta Air Lines did, the carrier would only owe him a credit. And he didn’t want a future flight voucher.

He decided to wait it out.

Delta Air Lines: “Your upcoming flight has been modified.”

In May, Worrell received an alert from Delta Air Lines. The carrier had canceled both of his nonstop flights. Now there were new connecting flights listed in his itinerary. These added many hours to his trip.

There has been a change or cancellation affecting your trip. If you are not satisfied with this updated itinerary, you may be eligible to change your flight(s) at no extra cost. If you choose to cancel, you may be eligible to receive an eCredit, at a future time. Click ‘Modify Flight’ to view your options to change or cancel. (Conditions Apply) — (Message from Delta Air Lines about the canceled nonstop flights)

Conditions apply?

Worrell wondered what conditions might apply to his refund request for flights that Delta canceled. There shouldn’t be any. So he picked up the phone to ask someone at the airline. This problem should be an easy one to solve, he thought.

He was wrong — very wrong.

Unfortunately, Worrell’s frustrating battle for the refund that Delta Air Lines owed him for the canceled flight was just getting started.

The Department of Transportation enforcement statement

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, if an airline cancels a flight, it owes the passenger a refund. The DOT reinforced this regulation in a statement on April 3.

This notice reminds the traveling public and U.S. and foreign carriers that passengers should be refunded promptly when their scheduled flights are canceled or significantly delayed. Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, the airlines’ obligation to refund passengers for cancelled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged. (U.S. Department of Transportation, April 3)

This official reminder clarifies what should happen when an airline cancels a flight — a timely refund. But we know this isn’t routinely happening during the coronavirus crisis. In an effort to retain the millions of dollars already collected, the airlines are heavily pushing their passengers to accept future flight credit for these cancellations.

Some of these airline-created tactics aimed at retaining passengers’ cash involve:

  1. Not making it easy to reach anyone in the airline. (See: almost every article on this site since March!)
  2. Redefining the words cancellation and refund so that they are unrecognizable. (See: Yes, if the airline cancels part of your flight it owes a refund)
  3. Not answering passenger’s questions truthfully or at all (See: This is what happens when your airline convinces YOU to cancel your flight)
  4. Creating new policies after the fact: United Airlines famously did this by increasing from 2 to 6 hours the flight delay threshold for refund eligibility. The carrier did this after the coronavirus crisis began and then proceeded to reject any request that didn’t meet the 6-hour requirement (In June, United Airlines reverted to the standard 2-hour delay as the trigger point for cancellation and refund eligibility. If United Airlines rejected your refund request earlier this year, citing the 6-hour delay threshold, you should resubmit it now.)

“Delta Air Lines has ignored all of my refund requests for my canceled flights.”

Worrell says he didn’t get any excuse — Delta simply ignored his refund requests for the canceled flights. When he contacted the Elliott Advocacy team in early June, he wanted to know what else he could do.

Based on your advice of maintaining a documentation trail, I have been reaching out to Delta Air Lines in writing to request a refund instead of their offered credit. I started by using Messages through the Delta app. Then I tried Facebook Messenger. Finally, I used the comment/complaint form on their website to submit another request. To date, I have heard nothing from them.

Because of the sheer volume of refund requests the airlines are receiving during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever that travelers carefully follow the self-help methodology Christopher Elliott details in his consumer guide on the topic.

My colleague Dwayne Coward reviewed the paper trail Worrell provided and suggested that he file a complaint with the DOT.

Worrell did as Dwayne suggested, but one month later, he was still waiting. With the dates of the unwanted replacement flights fast approaching, he needed additional help.

Can you reach someone at Delta Air Lines about my refund request?

Understandably, Worrell was concerned. He didn’t want Delta Air Lines to mark him as a no-show for the flights he never wanted in the first place.

I’m following up with you to see what your advice is as time is growing short. Our flight is scheduled for July 9. We filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation but haven’t heard back. Should we do nothing and wait to hear from Delta? I’m worried that if they haven’t responded by July 9 and we take no action, Delta Air Lines will consider us a no-show. Then we won’t receive any compensation.

Worrell had battled long enough. After all, the Delta Air Lines Contract of Carriage identifies a 90 minute flight change as the threshold that allows a passenger to cancel the reservation and receive a refund. Worrell’s new schedule added over 3 hours of traveling time to both the outbound and return portion of his itinerary.

Delta Air Lines contract of carriage says a passenger should be able to ask for a refund after a 90 minute delay. Did the coronavirus crisis change that policy?
The Delta Air Lines Contract of Carriage identifies 90 minutes as the flight delay threshold that should allow a passenger to make a successful refund request.

The good news: Here’s your refund from Delta Air Lines

It was time to ask Delta Air Lines why it had ignored Worrell’s request for a refund for the canceled nonstop flights.

Hello! It’s Michelle over at Elliott Advocacy. We have one of your passengers here, Patrick Worrell, who is finding it impossible to refuse a flight “modification” that he doesn’t want. He had a nonstop flight from Mexico to MSP, but Delta canceled both ways. Now he’s been switched to connecting flights that add over 6 hours to his journey. He’s already filed a complaint with the DOT, but the date of the flight is fast approaching and he wants Delta to cancel his itinerary and provide a refund.

Could your team look at this case and see if you can help Mr. Worrell cancel and receive his refund? Thank you!😊 (Michelle to Delta Air Lines)

The good news for Worrell came two days later.

“We got our full refund credited to our Amex today!” Worrell reported. “Thank you so much for all your help!”

And with that, we can mark one more troubling case as a success for the Elliott Advocacy team!

How to make sure an airline doesn’t ignore your refund request

  • Confirm that the airline owes you a refund
    First, it’s critical to make sure that the airline actually owes you a refund before you start out on a mission to get one. Many of the passengers who have contacted us recently have overlooked this first step in the process. Do the facts support your refund request? Keep in mind, if you cancel the flight before the airline does, the DOT does not require the carrier to provide a refund. Goodwill gesture refunds are virtually impossible to obtain during the coronavirus pandemic. So if that’s what you’re asking for, you may want to spend your time on more useful projects. The airlines aren’t granting goodwill gestures at this time. *Also, remember if you’ve booked through a third-party, that company’s terms and conditions will also apply. The Department of Transportation’s refund rules only apply to tickets purchased directly through your airline. Many third-party agents can and do charge cancellation and other fees even if the airline canceled your flight. So if you’ve used a third party booking agent, you’ll need to review the policies that apply to your ticket. You’ll find those terms on your confirmation and on the booking agent’s website.
  • Stay off the phone
    An easy way for the airline to ignore your refund request is if you don’t make the request in writing. Although phoning to ask for your money back may seem simple, you’re not creating a paper trail. Keep everything in writing. The Elliott Advocacy research team has compiled a giant database of executive contacts for you to use to make your formal refund request. Whether you need Delta Air Lines executive contacts or any other company, John and Meera, our research team, have you covered.
  • Don’t give up
    Of course, in these troubling times for the travel industry, the airlines would love for you to allow them to keep your cash. If you don’t mind accepting a voucher, by all means, do. But if what you really want is a refund and the airline owes it to you, you’re going to need to be persistent. Keep your requests short and polite, but make it impossible for the airline to ignore your request for a refund.
  • Keep a clear record of your refund requests
    If your requests go unanswered, as happened to Worrell, make sure to keep the documentation that shows that you asked for a refund. Should you need to escalate your case to an external agency later, you will need this proof if the airline claims it has no record of your requests.
  • File a complaint with the DOT
    At this time, thousands and thousands of complaints about the airline industry are hitting the Department of Transportation. You may experience a delay in the DOT’s response, but you should not overlook the value in filing a complaint. The more complaints the agency receives about a particular topic or specific airline, the higher the likelihood of it taking action. Here’s how to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
  • Send a request for help to the Elliott Advocacy team
    If you’ve followed all of our guidance and hit a wall with your refund request after an airline canceled a flight, use this form to reach the Elliott Advocacy team. We’re always here to help — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — ready to defend consumers. 😊(Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

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