Downgraded on my flight home — where’s my refund?

After Andrew Wolkstein’s flight from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Newark, New Jersey, is canceled because of a pilots’ strike, he’s downgraded to economy class. Why won’t El Al Israel Airlines refund the fee he paid for a better seat?

Question: Last November, my flight from Tel Aviv to Newark was canceled because of a dispute between El Al Israel Airlines and its pilots. I was traveling with my father. Our direct flight — with an upgrade to economy class plus for two passengers, which cost $300 — was canceled, and we were booked on a flight from Tel Aviv to Zurich and then from Zurich to New York.

An El Al representative promised me a refund for the upgrades. I also would like to be reimbursed for the taxi fare from JFK Airport to my residence and for my lost work time. We still have not received any word on the refund. It’s been four months since our trip. Can you help me? — Andrew Wolkstein, Ellicott City, Md,

Answer: El Al should have refunded your upgrade promptly, since it didn’t provide the service for which you and your father paid. For most airlines, that process is automatic, but for whatever reason — it could have been the strike-related cancellation or a simple computer glitch — El Al kept your money.

Here’s where your case gets a little unusual. You showed me a paper trail of correspondence between you and the airline, in which you repeatedly request a refund. Still, El Al kept your $300.

Airlines shouldn’t be charging you extra for a reasonable amount of legroom. But that’s exactly what economy “plus” seating usually is — the same amount of legroom and amenities as it used to be back when air travel was a little more civilized. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to pay an extra $300 to be treated like a person; your airline would treat you like a person because it’s the right thing to do.

I can think of one other reason your request might not have been granted: You asked for compensation for your cab ride home and for lost work time. Typically, airlines do not pay for either of those. You’d have to get something in writing from El Al before your flight agreeing to refund your ground transportation in order to make that work. And, unfortunately, I’ve never seen an airline cover lost work time.

You could have sent a brief, polite appeal to one of the El Al executive contacts. I list them on my consumer-advocacy website.

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I contacted El Al on your behalf, and it refunded the $300 upgrade fee.


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