British Airways refund disaster: I’m still waiting for my pandemic ticket refund!

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By Christopher Elliott

Erika Eng booked tickets from Washington, D.C., to Paris in 2020. British Airways canceled her flight but never refunded the money. What happened to her $994?

Question

I booked two tickets to Paris on British Airways through Flight Network in 2020. British Airways canceled the flight because of the pandemic. 

I have tried for years to get a refund from Flight Network. But after numerous calls and emails, I have not received the money. Can you help me? —  Erika Eng, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Answer

You’re kidding! It’s been almost four years since the start of the pandemic and you’re still waiting for your money back? That’s got to be a new record.

So what went wrong? You booked your tickets through Flight Network, a Canadian online travel agency. (I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of Flight Network’s executives on my consumer advocacy site.) Flight Network has some of the worst online reviews I’ve ever seen. But that’s not the reason for your delay.

The pandemic was a disaster for airlines. They canceled flights and lost billions of dollars in revenue. Airlines were also slow to refund tickets when they canceled flights. In fact, some airlines insisted on giving customers flight credits until regulators got involved. And if you purchased your tickets through an online agency, it could take even longer, since the refund had to go through the travel agent. But that’s not the reason for the delay, either.

A look at the paper trail between you and Flight Network shows that you eventually initiated a credit card dispute. This is a legitimate use of a dispute, as I note in my free guide to credit card chargebacks on my consumer advocacy website. But it looks as if your dispute may have delayed your refund. (In one email, the agency asks for proof that you had dropped your dispute.)

Do airlines still owe refunds for pandemic flights?

Your case raises a question that goes beyond one British Airways ticket refund. Do airlines still owe their customers for refunds during the pandemic? And if so, how do you get your money back? (Related: British Airways lost my airline ticket. Can you help me find it (and get a refund)?)

Flying Angels provide medical transport anywhere in the world on commercial airlines with a Flight Nurse or Doctor. A Flight Coordinator handles the logistics. The client receives care during the entire transport—bedside to bedside. Visit FlyingAngels.com or call 877-265-1085 to speak with a flight coordinator.

As of December 2023, airlines have fully repaid their customers, as far as my advocacy team and I know. However, some customer money may still be stuck with travel agencies. Remember, the money goes back to the agency and then to the customer. And some online travel agencies experienced some challenges during the pandemic, and may still be holding their customers’ money.

If you’re reading this and you’re still owed money for a pandemic flight cancellation, here are a few things you need to know.

European airlines asked the EU to waive certain provisions of EC 261, the European airline consumer protection law, citing the “extraordinary” circumstances of the pandemic. EU carriers didn’t want to compensate passengers for delays, cover their accommodations in the event of an overnight delay, or refund their tickets. Instead, they wanted to only offer expiring flight credits. (Related: Help! FlightNetwork will not give me the refund it owes me.)

On May 18, 2020, the EU issued a ruling that answered the airline’s request. It insisted that they offer lodging and full refunds for a cancellation. U.S. and UK carriers faced similar rulings in their home countries.

And, in another development, the EU has proposed new rules that will require airlines to refund you within 14 days. The U.S. also has a similar rule.

The problem is that the rules get a little fuzzy when it comes to travel agencies. So, while an airline may offer a fast refund on a pandemic-era ticket, the online agency might be able to hold the money indefinitely without worrying about penalities from the U.S. Department of Transportation or EU regulators.

How do you get your money back for a flight canceled during the pandemic?

British Airways was taking its time getting your money back. It looks like Flight Network had your money but couldn’t do anything because of the chargeback. 

I know this is going to sound like crazy advice, but in this particular case, you might have had your money sooner if you’d waited just a little while longer. 

Does this mean you should avoid a chargeback when an airline is slow to refund your purchase? No. Even with a potential delay, I still think it’s worth pursuing a chargeback if an airline or online agency is dragging its feet. Had you done that, and succeeded in your dispute, you might have had your money in 2020 instead of late 2023.

You could have appealed your case to one of the executives at Flight Network or British Airways (I also publish the names of the airline’s executives on my site). But knowing what I do about how refunds worked after the pandemic, I suspect that nothing would have moved the process along faster.

So there you have it: A refund British Airways ticket refund that took almost four years. But not a minute longer. I contacted Flight Network on your behalf. It confirmed that it had your refund and wired you the money for your canceled flight.

About this story

As far as airline ticket refunds go, four years is a new record for our advocacy team. We are very disappointed that this even became a case for us, but glad we could help Eng get her money back from British Airways and Flight Network. If you’re in a similar situation, please contact my advocacy team and we will do our best to help you. I’m grateful to Dwayne Coward and Mel Smith — a.k.a., the A-Team — our all-star editing team led by the fearless Andy Smith, and avant-garde illustrator Dustin Elliott.

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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. He is based in São Paulo.

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