Italy vacation is in limbo after Norwegian cancels flight

After Inbal Graham’s flight to Oslo is canceled, her airline offers two difficult choices: either a flight one week later or a full refund. Isn’t there a door number three?

Question: My family and I booked tickets with Norwegian Air Shuttle to fly to Rome via Oslo for our summer vacation. On the day of our outbound flight, Norwegian texted us that the flight was canceled, but offered no assistance to rebook in a timely fashion and no apology. The airline just offered us two options: either a refund or a flight one week later.

We had already reserved all of our hotels and activities and did not have the flexibility to push our trip back by one week. We ended up finding our own flight on Norwegian for the following day out of New York (we were originally supposed to fly out of Oakland, Calif.). We paid out of pocket for four tickets to New York, so as not to miss our travels, but still missed a day of our vacation. We would like reimbursement for the four tickets we had to buy and pay for out of pocket. — Inbal Graham, Alameda, Calif.

Answer: Norwegian Air Shuttle shouldn’t have left you with a choice of a refund or a flight one week later. But as is so often the case in the airline industry, what an airline can do and what it should do are two different things.

To find out what Norwegian is required to do, you have to take a look at two documents. First, its general conditions of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline. You can find that on the Norwegian website.

Surprisingly, Norwegian is doing you a favor. When there’s a flight cancellation, it gives itself up to 14 days to get you to your destination. So much for schedules!

The other document is Norwegian’s customer service plan, which governs how the airline treats American passengers (EU passengers have a separate consumer law, EU 264, that applies to them).

“We strive to make sure that all of our flights depart on schedule, but unfortunately sometimes things don’t go to plan,” it says. “If your flight is cancelled or delayed, we’ll do our utmost to rebook you on our next available flight to your destination.”

Hmm. Their utmost? That doesn’t sound like much of a guarantee to me. Yet that language is practically an industry standard. They’ll do their best — for what it’s worth.

Still, it’s unusual for an airline to offer a take-it-or-leave-it solution like Norwegian did. You might have pressed your case a little more at the airport. Norwegian flies out of several U.S. airports, including Los Angeles and Boston. You could have made arrangements to fly out of one of those airports sooner.

You followed all the right steps to get this resolved, keeping your correspondence brief and polite. In the end, Norwegian suggested its response could take up to three months, which did not sit well with you. An appeal to one of Norwegian’s executive customer service contacts — I list them on my consumer advocacy website — might have helped move things along.

I contacted Norwegian on your behalf. It agreed to reimburse you $1,764, the full amount of your Delta tickets and other expenses incurred when you changed your schedule.

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