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British Airways cancels flight and then refuses refund

Instead, the airline accused Carrie Christensen of missing her flight. Now, it’s declining to return all of her money. Can it do that?

The British Airways livery on the tail fins of passenger aircraft at London Heathrow Airport in London.Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Q. British Airways canceled my recent flight from Boston to London. The airline said it canceled the flight because of “operational constraints.” British Airways sent me an e-mail promising to “do everything [they] can to get you where you need to be.”

I asked the airline for a refund but instead, I received another e-mail that accused me of being a “no-show” for my flight and refused a refund. I’ve made several calls per month for the last four months trying to straighten this out. Finally, I received an e-mail from British Airways that said per its fare rules, it could not offer a refund. But British Airways canceled my flight, so doesn’t it owe me a refund?



A. It most certainly does. If an airline cancels a flight, it owes you a full and prompt refund under its fare rules and federal regulations. British Airways can’t keep your money under any circumstances.

I’m kind of shocked that your refund request dragged on this long. I reviewed the correspondence between you and British Airways. The facts were clear: You received an e-mail from British Airways that said, “We’re sorry your flight has been canceled due to operational constraints.” And you sent that e-mail to the airline when you requested your refund. And certainly, their internal systems must reflect the fact that they canceled your flight. How much more do they need?

You did a terrific job of keeping all of your records with the airline. If only British Airways had paid attention to its records, then you wouldn’t have a complaint at all.

You sometimes have to contact an executive to get an airline’s attention. I list the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of several British Airways executives on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/british-airways/. I think a quick, polite message might have gotten this resolved.


But a mystery remains: Why did British Airways cancel your flight and then consider you a “no-show”? To find out, I contacted the airline directly on your behalf. It looks like your flight wasn’t canceled after all. British Airways generated the cancellation notice by mistake. The airline still agreed to issue a full refund.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.