Kathleen Quinn asked us for help. Then she un-asked us. Then she drifted away. Then she came back to us with a bombshell ending.
At issue: An involuntary downgrade on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Los Angeles and a promise by the airline to refund her $600. A promise, of course, that Turkish Airlines broke. (Otherwise, why would she come to us?)
It isn’t the many twists and turns this case took that are so compelling — although this case has more twists and turns than most. Rather, it’s the hard reality that if you tell us to go away, we can’t help you anymore.
First things first.
Quinn and her husband flew from Los Angeles to Istanbul a few months ago on their way to Africa. They spent an extra $1,000 on upgrades from their economy class seats.
“On our flight to Istanbul, we had the upgrades, but on the return flight, we were told they were no longer offering those upgrades,” she says. “After spending almost two hours in Istanbul airport with various agents, we were given papers indicating we were entitled to a $600 refund.”
But that’s not what happened when they returned to Los Angeles.
Upon returning home I made numerous phone calls to Turkish Airlines, always ending up with someone in Turkey telling me they could not refund the money.
I finally filed a complaint with them and eventually got a reply saying I was entitled to a refund of 269 euro which could be redeemed at a sales office.
I have tried calling several sales offices but get no answer or get a message that the mailbox is full so I can’t leave a message.
This pattern of referring someone to another department repeats itself again and again with Turkish Air. We’ve covered it. (Interestingly, I had colleagues contact me after seeing that post to tell me they, too, have experienced this “I-can’t-help-you” attitude.)
Of course, we contacted Quinn immediately to see if we could help. Our advocacy team doesn’t really get too involved in upgrade cases, but we pay attention to downgrades, especially where there’s a compelling paper trail. And having a promise in writing seemed pretty compelling to us.
But then we received this reply:
Unbelievable. After sending you a letter last night requesting your help, I received a reply from Turkish Airlines today. They are sending us refunds for our downgrade on their airline. So please disregard my request for help. Thank you for your immediate reply to my request.
Problem solved? Not really.
A few weeks later, she offered the following surprise update:
I emailed you sometime ago about a problem I was having getting a refund from Turkish Airlines for an upgrade we paid for but didn’t receive.
I finally wrote to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Fraud Division who contacted Turkish Airlines on my behalf. Peter.Cacioppo@dot.gov is the person there who deals with Turkish Air. He was very helpful and might be a useful resource for you.
We are pleased to finally get the reimbursement. Thank you for your interest in this problem and for taking time to write to me.
Huh? What happened to Turkish Airlines’ promise to refund her money, repeated in writing and by phone? As my 14-year-old would say, “WTH, Dad?”
Two takeaways from this case:
Talk is cheap, and paper contracts are meaningless. Looks like Turkish Airlines promised a refund, then backed away. Now, in fairness to the airline, Quinn says her travel agent misquoted a rate, and that may have led to a misunderstanding — but still. At the very least, the airline could have been unambiguous about her chances of a refund.
We can’t help unless you ask. I feel bad that we couldn’t assist Quinn. Had she let our advocacy team know about the second broken promise, we would have definitely jumped in and tried to assist. But if we don’t know, we can’t help. It’s as simple as that.
Quinn’s refund case has firmly established Turkish Airlines as a problem airline when it comes to customer service. We’re just faced with too many cases and too many broken promises to make these a thread of coincidences. I hope that changes — soon.