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TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

TAP Air Portugal promised a refund. Why won’t Orbitz help?

After the airline cancels Alexandra Rose’s flights from Washington to Italy, it promises her a refund. Then it stalls.

Q. I booked a ticket through Orbitz on TAP Air Portugal to fly from Washington, D.C., to Milan in May. The flight was canceled in April because of COVID-19.

I have been having an extremely difficult time getting Orbitz to help me. They have insisted repeatedly that I am not due a refund even though I am aware of the Department of Transportation notice that all tickets must be refunded if the ticket was canceled by the airline during COVID-19, if the customer desires a refund. I have also confirmed with TAP directly that I am due a refund. But they insist Orbitz must request it for me.

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After many hours on the phone with Orbitz over multiple weeks, I finally got Orbitz to e-mail TAP to request a refund in May. As of today, I have heard nothing further from neither TAP nor Orbitz and feel I need help to effectively get this refund I am owed.

ALEXANDRA ROSE, Washington, D.C.

A. You’re right. If TAP Air Portugal canceled your flight, you should get a full refund within a week. The DOT rule (www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/refunds) applies not only to airlines but also to online travel agencies such as Orbitz.

So, what happened? Well, after the outbreak, the European airlines petitioned the EU to allow them to keep the money for canceled flights and offer ticket credits. They said their survival was at stake, and they may have been correct about that. At the same time, a variety of European carriers began to slow down the refund process. Again, that’s totally understandable. They wanted to keep the money to pay their bills. This included creating new barriers to refunds. Could TAP Air Portugal have given you a refund for your flight when you asked? Without a doubt. Were they using Orbitz to slow down the process? Without a doubt.

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Orbitz was a willing accomplice. When it helps you get a refund, it loses any commissions and incentives the airline paid it. So you might say it is equally unmotivated, and in all likelihood, overwhelmed by other refund requests.

Although I understand the positions of both your airline and online travel agency, it’s also helpful to appreciate your position. TAP Air Portugal canceled your flight, and you were owed a refund. You weren’t getting it. If the tables were turned — if you canceled your flight because of a circumstance beyond your control — I’m not sure if TAP Air Portugal or Orbitz would be as patient as you’ve been, or as understanding.

But whose fault was this? I contacted Orbitz, and it says it contacted TAP Air Portugal several times regarding your case, beginning in May.

“During this time, TAP Portugal notified us that they are no longer allowing Orbitz agents access to process refunds via our system,” a representative told me. “We are only able to process refunds if we have been granted that right by the airline.”

Instead, TAP Portugal issued a policy that only allows Orbitz to offer a voucher with the airline that is valid for two years from the date of issuance. But you had a refund offer from TAP Air Portugal. Yet despite its best efforts, Orbitz couldn’t reach anyone at the airline to confirm your refund.

“Since we’ve passed a reasonable timeframe to expect a response from TAP, we have authorized an exception to our agents to process a refund for this flight from Orbitz,” the representative added.

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You should have a full refund of $1,499 by now.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.