When Taylor Helsel’s flight is canceled because of bad weather, she’s rebooked and downgraded to economy class. Is she owed a refund?
Question: I booked a flight on British Airways (code-shared through American Airlines) from Boston to India, that included a connecting flight in London. I paid a hefty fee to upgrade to business class.
The morning of my return date, I was notified that the second leg of my flight from London to Boston was canceled because of a snowstorm in Boston.
I contacted British Airways and was informed that the only flights available were on American Airlines, but I would have to be downgraded from business to economy. The alternative was to delay my return by a day or two until a flight with business class seats was available. I opted to fly on American.
I asked customer service about a refund for the downgrade, and they stated that refund requests are only granted after the flight is completed. The airport staff were very accommodating and let me use the business class lounge, and I was given priority boarding.
I submitted a refund request online to American Airlines. It has been 23 days, and the status of my refund is still pending.
I am getting frustrated. Normally I’m very frugal, but I made an exception for this trip and splurged on business class. I believe I should be reimbursed for the downgrade.
Can you help me get a refund? Taylor Helsel, Boston
Answer: I understand your frustration. You paid for an upgrade to business class, and a refund of $500 is a fair request.
I’m glad you reached out to our advocacy team. After their initial contact with American, you were given a refund of $116. When you asked how American came up with this figure, its representative explained, “To calculate the refund amount, we use the mileage and the fare rules of your ticket and compare it to the service you actually received. The refund amount is the difference between the two.”
Sounds like a formula they don’t want you to figure out.
If American wanted to be transparent, it would show you the actual figures that were used to determine your refund. Instead, it came up with an arbitrary figure that was much lower than the difference you actually paid to upgrade.
Since your flight on British Airways from London to Boston was canceled, it falls under the European Commission Regulation 261/2004 (EU 261). This regulation applies to any airline that either departs from a European Union airport, or a European Union airline that arrives at an EU airport. When airlines follow the proper protocol, passengers that are downgraded to a lesser class of service have the following rights:
If you are downgraded, your airline must reimburse you within seven days. The amount you receive is calculated as a percentage of what you paid for your ticket, and depends on the length of your flight:
- For short-haul flights of less than 1,500 km, you will receive 30% of the price of the flight.
- For medium-haul flights of 1,500 km – 3,500 km, or flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km, you will receive 50% of the price of the flight.
- For long haul flights of more than 3,500 km, you will receive 75% of the price of the flight.
It is likely you will only receive a refund for the portion of your journey that was downgraded.
For more details on passenger rights, visit United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority website. You can also check out our frequently asked questions about EU 261.
The EU 261 also mandates that airlines compensate passengers when their flight is canceled for reasons within the airline’s control. Since your flight was canceled because of adverse weather conditions, you would not qualify for monetary compensation. However, there are entitlements that the airline is required to uphold.
The airline should care for you as a passenger by providing meals or accommodations while you wait for your new flight. It should also extend the following options: Offer a refund on the full or remaining portion of the ticket, rebook you on the earliest alternative transportation, or allow you to book your ticket for a later date.
British Airways followed through by booking you on a codeshare flight with American Airlines later that day.
By understanding the rights that have been granted to you as a passenger, you can turn a difficult situation into one that is more beneficial. The airlines will not always present you with the alternatives available — they leave it up to you to ask.
Our advocates were able to negotiate with American Airlines, and it increased your refund to $417. Even though this is less than you requested, you informed us that you were pleased with the outcome. Your determination paid off.