Q. My husband and I were supposed to fly from San Francisco to Indianapolis last month. United Airlines notified us that the flight had been canceled and rebooked us on another flight that left the same day. The new flight made a stop in Chicago, and we were scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis just before midnight the same day.
We asked for a full refund. But United offered us a voucher.
We do not want a voucher. The flight got us into Indianapolis too late in the evening. I read one of your recent columns where someone had this happen to them on Delta. According to your article, the Department of Transportation mandates that the airline give you a full refund.
I called United and the agent agreed to the refund after telling her about your advocacy group. She said I’d get the money back within 28 days. Instead, I received notice that my request for a refund was declined. Again, United offered a voucher. Can you help me?
SANDY BAKER, Saratoga, Calif.
A. United canceled your flight, which means that it owed you a full refund. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, as my grandmother used to say.
So why didn't it? United, like other airlines, is in a tailspin after the COVID-19 outbreak. It's hemorrhaging money. It's doing everything it can to keep the cash it has, even if that means not following all of the rules.
The agent who promised you a refund had it right, but it looks like the refunds department overruled her. I can’t say I’m surprised. The airline industry is in absolute chaos at the moment. At a time like this, you have to get everything in writing — and even then, you can’t be sure the airline will do what it promises.
There’s some confusion about schedule changes and refunds, and it’s somewhat related to your question. An airline can change your scheduled flight by a few hours (United recently revised its policy to two hours) and keep your money. But this wasn’t a schedule change; it was a cancellation and a rebooking. It looks like United was trying to circumvent not only the federal rules but also its own rebooking policy.
I list the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of the United Airlines executives on my consumer advocacy site, elliott.org. You could have reached out to them. Or you could have contacted the US Department of Transportation, which is in charge of enforcing these airline refund rules.
I suggested that you file a complaint with the DOT. You did, and a short while later, you received a full refund of $1,081.
If you need help with a coronavirus-related refund, send details through my consumer advocacy site or e-mail me at email@example.com.