For a recent trip to Tel Aviv, Edith Maas used OneTravel to buy her airline tickets. Everything went well — until it didn’t. United Airlines canceled her flight home, and when she received no rebooking assistance from either company, she took matters into her own hands. Now she wants a $1,500 refund for the new tickets she says she was forced to buy. But why is she being called a no-show on that canceled flight?
This case is an important reminder of how not to reschedule yourself when an airline cancels your flight. But it’s also a strange case with a sudden, unexpected resolution at the end of Maas’ year-long quest for reimbursement.
A United Airlines cancellation
Maas’ story began in January 2016. On the day before her return flight, she received a text message informing her that United Airlines had canceled her flight home.
“We called the United Airlines’ toll-free number for assistance, but we were just put on hold by an automated service for 14 minutes, with no one ultimately answering our call,” she remembers.
After these 14 minutes, Maas hung up and tried calling OneTravel instead. That representative told her that she needed to call United Airlines to reschedule her flight.
“After 37 minutes, the representative of OneTravel checked with her superior and told us that they could not help us and suggested that we contact United Airlines,” Mass recalled.
Why can’t OneTravel help?
This advice is in line with the information from OneTravel’s FAQ’s, which explain:
Once your journey has commenced, it is advisable to get in touch with the airline or service provider in the city/country where you are situated. For your convenience we have provided a link for the toll-free number of all airlines, click here.
Additionally, in their terms and conditions, under the heading “Airline Schedule Changes” they make this bold statement:
OneTravel does not assume any liability whatsoever for canceled flights, flights that are missed, or flights not connecting due to any scheduled changes made by the airlines.
And to make sure that the traveler understands, they repeat that statement a few sentences later.
Travelers who decide to use a third-party website to book your flights, take heed. The terms of most online booking agencies contain similar language.
No help from United Airlines or OneTravel. Now what?
Maas told us that she tried to take the advice of OneTravel. She called a number for United Airlines and waited on hold for “126 minutes.”
Finally, she hung up and called British Airways and purchased new one-way tickets home at the cost of $1,473. At no time did Maas ever reach anyone at United Airlines concerning her canceled flight.
When Maas returned home, she complained to OneTravel and initiated a chargeback with her credit card for the cost of the United tickets. Her bank ultimately found in favor of United Airlines. She soon found the charges back on her credit card.
Receiving no relief from OneTravel or her credit card, she contacted our advocacy team. Initially, she and her husband were requesting a full refund for their return tickets from British Airways and United Airlines. Maas explained,
We believe that OneTravel owes us the following two refunds:
a) A refund of $736 for the canceled return flight since this service was not rendered to us.
b) A refund of $1,494 for the British Airways return flight that we had to book since OneTravel left us stranded in Tel Aviv.
It wasn’t clear why Maas believed that she was owed two separate refunds — which would essentially mean that the flight home was completely free. But we focused on the refund that seemed likely: the canceled United Airlines flight.
Was Mass a no-show?
We contacted OneTravel on her behalf. But the agency remained firm that Maas should have gone to United Airlines and had her ticket changed.
When an airline cancels a passenger’s flight, the airline must do one of two things: 1) rebook the passenger on the next available flight; or 2) provide the passenger a refund for the canceled flight.
But if a passenger does not make any actual contact with the airline, then the airline obviously can’t offer either of these options.
On their website, United Airlines details the correct procedure for a passenger with a canceled flight. The first step is, of course, to make contact with the airline
United owed Maas a refund for the canceled flight. So why didn’t the airline send the refund?
It would appear that United Airlines had automatically rescheduled Mass on the next available flight. When she didn’t show up for that flight, the airline marked her as a no-show. When a passenger is a no-show for their flight, they lose the remaining value of the ticket. Because of her no-show status on that flight, she lost the chargeback with her credit card company.
Case Dismissed? Not so fast
And it almost resulted in this story ending in the Case Dismissed file.
I say almost because a funny thing happened as I was writing this story.
I decided to send one last email to United Airlines and ask for clarification. After all, how can a passenger be considered a no-show for a flight that United had canceled? And since she never received any information about an updated flight, United should have provided a refund.
To our surprise, the next day, Maas’ long refund battle became a victory.
“I received a call this morning from a lady working for United Airlines, and she informed me that United Airlines issued a full refund for the canceled return flight. Moreover, she offered my husband and me an additional travel voucher, valued at $150 for each of us,” she told us.
Given that United had already defended this case against a chargeback — and won — this was a surprising but pleasant ending.