A $1,100 “cancellation penalty” when Paris was on strike?

Gail Satzberg and her husband took their granddaughters on a European cruise, anticipating a three-day stay in Paris after the end of the cruise. But conditions in Paris led them to change their minds – and to embark on a two-month journey in search of a refund.

The cruise ship departed from and was scheduled to return to England, but the Satzbergs had planned to disembark at Le Havre and take a train to Paris for a three-day stay, where they would fly on British Airways from Paris to London to catch their flight home to the U.S.

But the day before they were scheduled to disembark from the ship, they learned that a number of French services and professions were stopped by actual or threatened strikes, including train service, trash collection, pilots, and air traffic controllers. In addition, the Seine River was about to overflow and flood the surrounding areas.

Faced with these circumstances, the Satzbergs decided to cancel their visit to France and return to England on the cruise ship, where they would catch their originally-scheduled flight home. They notified their travel agent, who contacted British Airways to cancel the Paris-London leg of their flights.

To their shock, British Airways not only refused to refund the Satzbergs their airfares, it charged them a “cancellation penalty” of $1,100. Satzberg felt that the penalty was unreasonably high, particularly in view of the conditions in Paris that led to her family’s decision to abort their visit to France.

And that raises some questions: Was British Airways engaging in price-gouging by charging such a high penalty? Is it even reasonable for British Airways to charge a “cancellation penalty” at all?

Satzberg contacted British Airways to ask that the penalty be refunded. Its agent replied:

Thanks for contacting us regarding your recent booking with us from Paris …
I completely understand why you’re unhappy with the fee we charge when you ask us for a refund of your ticket. We know there are times when your plans change, however it’s been difficult for us to take on the extra administration fees and other overheads when our customers book and then cancel. This means we have to pass some of these costs on and I’m sorry to disappoint you.

I completely understand how frustrated you must have been when your flight from Baltimore was delayed, especially as you missed your ride to the ship. I’m so sorry for the problems we caused you.

Our Operations team investigate the reason for every flight delay and this tells us where we’re going wrong. From what you’ve told me about your delayed flight, I absolutely agree we’ve let you down.

We always want to maintain a stable operation and we’ll only delay an aircraft if we really have to, particularly as it affects our customers and their plans. If you speak to a staff member at the airport, or call our contact centers, we’ll do our best to rearrange your travel plans to suit you.

We’re very grateful you’ve taken the time to let us know what happened. It’s only through your comments we’re able to focus on areas where we need to improve and I know our Operations Manager will value your insight.

This response totally missed the mark. Satzberg’s request for a refund had nothing whatsoever to do with a delayed flight to Baltimore and didn’t address the actual circumstances that led to her canceling her Paris-to-London flight. She tried contacting British Airways again, only to get a similar response the second time.

Satzberg or her travel agent (who presumably was also trying to help her get the cancellation penalty refunded) might have escalated her complaint to executives at British Airways. But since she had no success in reversing the penalty, Satzberg turned to our advocacy team for help.

Disappointingly, many airlines, including British Airways, are looking to pad their bottom lines by charging their customers ancillary fees, including baggage fees, ticket change fees, cancellation fees, insurance, and whatever else they can think of. And even more unfortunately, they often get away with it by sticking language in their contracts of carriage that allows it.

British Airways is no exception. Its general conditions of carriage provide that

Taxes, fees and charges change constantly and can be imposed or altered after the date we have issued your ticket. If they change or if a new tax, fee or charge is imposed after we have issued your ticket, you will have to pay us any increase.

And unfortunately, British Airways not only stood by its refusal to reverse the penalty, but also suggested that Satzberg take her case to arbitration.

Satzberg may dispute the penalty with her credit card company or pursue legal action against British Airways — but it’s unclear that she has a legal case against the airline. We can only wish her the best of success and offer our regrets that we weren’t able to assist her. Although the airlines are within their rights to charge excessive fees, it is poor customer service and doesn’t feel right to passengers.

Should British Airways have waived the cancellation fees for Gail Satzberg?

View Results

 Loading ...
Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by 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.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.