British Airways canceled my flight and now it refuses to give me a refund

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By Christopher Elliott

When British Airways cancels Carrie Christensen’s flight, she asks the carrier for a refund. Instead, it accuses her of missing her flight. Now it’s refusing to return all her money. Can it do that?

Question

British Airways canceled my recent flight from Boston to London. The airline said it canceled the flight because of “operational constraints.” The airline sent me an email promising to “do everything we can to get you where you need to be.”

I asked the airline for a refund. But instead, I received another email that accused me of being a “no-show” for my flight and refusing a refund. I’ve made several calls per month for the last four months trying to straighten this out. Finally, I received an email from British Airways that said per its fare rules, it could not offer a refund. But the airline canceled my flight. Doesn’t it owe me a refund? — Carrie Christensen, Pittsfield, Mass.

Answer

It most certainly does. If an airline cancels a flight, it owes you a full and prompt refund under its fare rules and federal regulations. British Airways can’t keep your money under any circumstances.

I’m kind of shocked that your refund request dragged on this long. I reviewed the correspondence between you and British Airways. The facts were clear: You received an email from the airline that said, “We’re sorry your flight has been canceled due to operational constraints.” And you sent that email to the airline when you requested your refund. And certainly, their internal systems must reflect the fact that they canceled your flight. How much more do they need?

You did a terrific job of keeping all of your records with the airline. If only British Airways had paid attention to its records, then you wouldn’t have a complaint at all. (Related: I had an aneurysm, but British Airways is keeping my money.)

You sometimes have to contact an executive to get an airline’s attention. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of several British Airways executives on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. I think a quick, polite message might have gotten this resolved. Or you could have reached out to my advocacy team for help.

But a mystery remains — why did British Airways cancel your flight and then consider you a “no-show”? To find out, I contacted the airline directly on your behalf. It looks like your flight wasn’t canceled after all. British Airways generated the cancellation notice by mistake. The airline agreed to issue a full refund.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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