A dream trip ends early when her London flight is canceled

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By Christopher Elliott

When Leslie Hammond’s flight to London is canceled, she calls off her vacation. Why won’t American Airlines refund her ticket?

Question

I recently booked round-trip airline tickets on British Airways to fly from Albuquerque, N.M., to Inverness, Scotland, on British Airways. Made the reservation through Expedia, which included one night’s lodging at Culloden House. I also booked five nights at Ullinish Lodge on Skye directly.

My flight from Albuquerque to Dallas was operated by American Airlines. I was scheduled to connect with another American flight to London, but my overseas flight was delayed because of a mechanical problem. That meant missing the only daily flight to Inverness.

An American Airlines representative made a tentative reservation for me to fly to Inverness on the next available flight. I asked if could be rerouted through Dublin, but all flights were booked. It became clear to me that once my American Airlines flight arrived at the gate at London, American’s responsibility to me would be finished. I would be stuck in London for the next 24 hours with no luggage.

My dream trip for my 67th birthday had come to an end.

Another American representative at Dallas was able to book me on a flight home at 9:30 p.m. I arrived back home in Santa Fe at 11 p.m. The representative also agreed to initiate a refund request for the unused portion of my ticket. She told me that I would receive a refund in 6 to 10 days.

When no refund appeared, I called American Airlines. Another American agent made another request for a refund. It’s been almost four months, and I’m still waiting. Can you help? — Leslie Hammond, Santa Fe, N.M.

Answer

I’m sorry to hear about your 67th birthday trip. That’s what folks in the travel industry call a trip in vain. You flew to Dallas, only to have to return.

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I’m troubled by the perception that American Airlines didn’t care about getting you to your final destination. American and British Airways are code-share partners, which means they are taking responsibility for each others’ flights. No one from American should have left you with the impression that it was “finished” with you when you arrived in London.

A call to your online travel agency, Expedia, or to British Airways might have yielded a different result. As your travel agent, Expedia should have figured out a way of fixing your dream vacation — that’s what good travel agents do. (We have prepared a guide to help you find a reliable travel advisor).

Trip in vain

“Trip in vain” policies vary from airline to airline, but generally, they should offer a refund of the unused portion of your ticket. The money would be sent to your travel agent, which would then return it to you. (Related: Why did British Airways cancel my flight and leave me stranded?)

I list executive contacts for American Airlines, British Airways and Expedia on my consumer advocacy site. I think you could have successfully appealed this delayed refund to one of them.

As best I can tell, your refund followed a confusing path. If British Airways ticketed you, then it had your money. American would have had to ask British Airways for the refund, and then it would have been sent to Expedia. That may account for the delay, but it doesn’t fully explain it.

Upon the recommendation of myself and my advocacy team, you reached out to one of Expedia’s executives. Within a week, you had a full refund for your unused tickets.

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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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