SATA Airlines warned me of a possible industrial action. Can I get a refund?

Mike Parker learns of a possible industrial action that threatens his vacation in the Azores. Can our advocates get Expedia to refund his flights on SATA Airlines?

Question: I booked a vacation in the Azores, including a flight on SATA Airlines (now known as Azores Airlines) from Boston to Ponta Delgada, Portugal, and a stay at the Pestana Bahia Praia on São Miguel Island, through Expedia for $2,600.

SATA Airlines has notified me of an “industrial action” — a scheduled cabin crew strike — on the day of my outbound flight. I considered moving the vacation back a week, but the hotel will be full and I cannot reach SATA Airlines on the telephone. Unfortunately, I did not buy travel insurance for this trip.

I would like a refund from Expedia for the costs of my flight and hotel. I can’t travel to the Azores again, so I won’t be able to use a credit from SATA Airlines. Unfortunately, Expedia has not been helpful. It seems unfair that they can keep my money when it isn’t my fault that this industrial action is happening. Can you help me get Expedia to refund my travel costs? — Mike Parker, Bayfield, Colo.

Answer: I agree that it’s frustrating when, for reasons beyond your control, you can’t take a vacation you’ve long anticipated. As you note, you could have benefited from travel insurance to minimize your risk of loss. In your case, travel insurance coverage, especially a “cancel for any reason” insurance policy, would have provided you with at least partial reimbursement for your airfares and your hotel room, which we discovered was nonrefundable.

On the other hand, you had a reasonable expectation of recovering your airfares. Azores Airlines’ general conditions of carriage promise that the airline will refund airfares when it doesn’t provide service to its passengers. Also, as our advocate told you, although industrial actions such as strikes are often threatened in Europe, airlines don’t generally cancel flights there because the industrial actions usually don’t happen.

But when you asked Expedia for assistance, you did two things that didn’t help your situation. First, you kept pointing out that “SATA is causing [your] problem” and that it was “unfair” and “unreasonable” that you couldn’t get your money back. You also adopted a sarcastic tone in subsequent communications with Expedia. Unfortunately, your aggressive attitude probably predisposed Expedia’s personnel against you, delaying the resolution of your case.

Second, you began your complaint by writing to Expedia’s CEO. Starting with lower-ranking executives of Expedia and then escalating your complaint using our executive contact information might have yielded a more timely and helpful response from Expedia.

Despite these problems with your case, our advocates reached out to Expedia on your behalf. We learned that SATA Airlines eventually canceled the industrial action. Both SATA Airlines and the hotel allowed you to reschedule your trip for two weeks after your original dates, although you had to pay an additional $200 for your hotel room and $400 to change your flight from Colorado to Boston. But, as you note, the important thing is that you got to take your highly anticipated trip to the Azores. I hope you enjoyed your vacation.

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