Could the value of my canceled flight really be just $26?

How much is a flight between Boston and New York worth? Anastasia Ivanenko is asking after American Airlines canceled the last leg of her flight home from St. Petersburg, Russia.

All she’s received is a $26 refund.

Ivanenko’s story, involving a code-share, extensive delays and a crew member timing out, is yet another case of airline math not adding up in the passenger’s favor. It is also, sadly, another case where our advocates were unable to successfully mediate on behalf of a consumer.

Ivanenko booked a nonrefundable ticket on Finnair from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Boston via Helsinki and New York for $1,700 to attend her father’s funeral. American Airlines operated the last leg of the flight.

Before leaving Russia, Ivanenko received an email from American Airlines asking her to rebook her flight to Boston because of possible stormy weather. While checking in for her flights in St. Petersburg and Helsinki, she asked Finnair employees whether they could reroute her on a different flight to Boston. They told her in both instances that because American Airlines had not canceled the flight, they could not do anything for her.

When Ivanenko arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York, she learned that her Boston flight was delayed. American Airlines extended the delay for several hours before allowing the passengers to board the plane. But once all the passengers had boarded and the crew closed the doors, the captain announced that his first officer’s allowable flight time had run out. The passengers, including Ivanenko, had to deplane.

Ivanenko then asked American’s customer service to rebook her flight. American’s agent told her that the airline’s next available flight to Boston would depart in two days.

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Says Ivanenko:

It seems utterly unfair to me how the company handled this situation. First, I requested a rerouting from Finnair in good faith after receiving email from AA about impending bad weather and [advice] to rebook. Second, AA knew about bad weather situation well in advance and should have enough crews on the ground to fill in for the crews that are timing out. Third, it felt very deliberate that they were offering everyone the flight options that no one would take (flying from New York to Boston two or three days after the canceled flight — this is a ridiculous option given the fact that it is cheaper to buy a new ticket to fly to Boston than spend a night in New York). This looked like an attempt from AA to get away with [not] paying for their mistake.

As Ivanenko needed to return home immediately, she rented a car and drove to Boston. While still at Kennedy Airport, she asked for a refund for the canceled flight, but the agent told her that she would have to use American Airlines’ website to submit a refund claim.

When Ivanenko returned home, she filed a claim for reimbursement for her unused airfare and for her rental car fee. American refused to reimburse Ivanenko for the rental car because the delays and cancellation were weather-related. And Ivanenko would have to ask Finnair for the airfare refund. Finnair also refused to refund Ivanenko’s airfare because her ticket was nonrefundable.

Ivanenko used our executive contact information for American Airlines and Finnair to complain about her treatment, to no avail. Disappointed with the airlines’ responses, Ivanenko asked us for assistance with her claim.

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As Finnair had sold Ivanenko her airfare on its ticketing stock, we reached out to Finnair on Ivanenko’s behalf. Finnair issued a $26 refund to Ivanenko but did not respond to our inquiry.

Ivanenko wanted to know why Finnair would refund her such a small portion of her airfare. Our advocate told her that

As ticket prices are market-based on your actual departure/destination and not any intermediate stops, it is possible there could only be little or no value for the partial segment. Unfortunately, there is no law or government policy in the U.S. that requires airlines to provide reimbursement for canceled flights, normally the contract of carriage permits the airline to accommodate you on the next flight with availability (as in your case this could be days later), or provide a refund of the unused portion of the ticket.

He also mentioned that Finnair is subject to EU 261, the European Union’s air passenger consumer protection law, which provides that passengers are entitled to 600 euros (approximately $695) in compensation. (Finnair’s own conditions of carriage limit passenger compensation for delays and cancellations to those specified in EU 261.)

Our advocate suggested that Ivanenko could file a complaint with the National Authority in Finland, which won’t issue her the refund but could sanction Finnair if it finds that the airline wrongfully denied her claim.

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to do more for Ivanenko through direct advocacy. But we’ll ask our readers to answer Ivanenko’s question:

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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 Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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