I can’t get a visa, so why won’t Turkish Airlines refund my ticket?

Ron Patton’s trip to Turkey went from impending to impossible when Turkey stopped granting tourist visas to U.S. citizens. But Turkish Airlines won’t explain — to him or to our advocates — why it refuses to refund his airfare.

On Oct. 8, 2017, Turkey announced that it was suspending most visas for U.S. citizens. (Limited visa services for U.S. citizens resumed on Nov. 7, but most airport visa options remain suspended and U.S. citizens cannot obtain new e-visas as of this writing.)

In August 2017, Patton and his wife had purchased two business class tickets on Turkish Airlines from Frankfurt, Germany, to Izmir, Turkey, via Istanbul for $1,200. The flight was scheduled to depart on Nov. 20. When Patton realized that he would not be able to travel to Turkey, he called the airline, which informed him that he would need to visit a Turkish Airlines ticket counter to request a refund.

On Nov. 19, he visited the Turkish Airlines ticket counter at the Frankfurt airport, where a representative told him that he would need to contact the airline’s sales department. Four days later, Patton returned to the ticket counter, where Turkish Airlines’ agent offered him a 64 euro ($76) refund for his tickets – far below what he had paid for them. Patton, hoping that the visa suspension would be lifted soon, asked for a voucher for a future flight, but the airline agent told him that this would not be possible.

Turkish Airlines’ website contains a press release which provides the following regarding the visa suspension for U.S. citizens:

For U.S. passport holders:
Excluding passengers with transit flights and those holding a valid Turkish visa; the following can be carried out regardless of fare rules for tickets issued on or before Oct. 9, 2017 for flights departing from the U.S. and arriving in Turkey between Oct. 9, 2017 and Dec. 25, 2017: …

Refund requests
Refund requests will be processed free of charge regardless of fare rules.

Extending ticket validity
Ticket validity may be extended to December 25, 2017 and no price difference or penalty will be charged.

Patton now wanted, and believed he was entitled to, a full refund for his airfares. He turned to our advocates for help in obtaining them. (Our Contacts section contains executive contact information for Turkish Airlines.) Michelle Couch-Friedman, our advocacy director, reached out to Turkish Airlines on Patton’s behalf.

One possible reason for Turkish Airlines’ denial of a refund may be that because Patton was scheduled to fly from Germany to Turkey rather than from the U.S., the airline’s personnel did not understand whether he and his wife are U.S. citizens who are due refunds for their airfares as promised in its press release.

Unfortunately for Patton, another possible reason for Turkish Airlines’ refusal is in a document on its website. Titled “Regulation on Air Passenger Rights,” the document notes that “No compensation shall be paid to the passengers in respect of flight irregularities in case of any extraordinary circumstances (meteorological conditions, natural disasters, security risks, unforeseen deficiencies in terms of flight safety, cases such as strike, and political unrest).” (Emphasis is mine.)

Turkish Airlines may be relying on this provision to deny refunds for airfares to affected U.S. citizens by defining the Turkish government’s decision to suspend visas as “political unrest” and therefore as “extraordinary circumstances.”

The airline did not respond directly to Couch-Friedman’s inquiry, but sent the following to Patton:

We would like to emphasize that as Turkish Airlines, we aim to pursue the highest level of service at all levels of services with our customers. Also please be advised that the efforts of Turkish Airlines is directed towards providing our valuable passengers with a superior level of service on the basis of our passenger’s impressions and constructive criticism and feedback.

We would like to inform you that, excluding passengers with transit flights and those holding a valid Turkish visa; the regulations for the visa restrictions are applied to the flights departing/arriving from/to [the] U.S. and Turkey directly regardless of fare rules for tickets issued on or before October 9, 2017 for flights between October 9, 2017 and December 25, 2017.

On the other hand, due to our policies, any ticket is only being issued after receiving our passenger confirmation via our webpage. For this reason, unfortunately, we are unable to meet your request positively. In case of cancellation or change specific fare rules will be applied to your ticket.

Thank you for your understanding.

This response doesn’t clarify why Turkish Airlines refused to provide a full refund to Patton in accordance with the promise in its press release. But as Couch-Friedman notes, this response is typical of Turkish Airlines’ rare replies to dissatisfied passengers. (The airline never responds directly to inquiries from our advocates.)

Couch-Friedman suggested that Patton initiate a chargeback with his credit card, which would force Turkish Airlines to explain with more clarity and transparency why it refused to issue him the refund to which he is clearly entitled, according to the press release. Patton notified us that he is planning such a chargeback.

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