Some airline issues get you a refund, some don’t. How it works | Cruising Altitude

Some airline issues get you a refund, some don't. How it works | Cruising Altitude
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welcom to America today with a new article about Some airline issues get you a refund, some don’t. How it works | Cruising Altitude 

John Schrier was traveling home to New York from Taipei last month and said the flight was interminably boring. “As we boarded, you could see that about half of the screens had a black screen,” he told me. “Half of us were not able to watch an entertainment system.”

Schrier said he reached out to the Taiwanese airline EVA Air on multiple platforms, including on social media during the flight, but said he initially had no luck hearing back or getting reimbursed for the inconvenience of a transpacific flight with no inflight entertainment.

Unfortunately for Schrier, it’s unlikely that compensation will be required. Airlines have conditions attached to every ticket, known as contracts of carriage, that outline their minimum obligations to passengers. Contracts of carriage, coupled with rules from regulators like the Department of Transportation, give passengers their basic rights when flying – but seatback screens are not usually considered mandatory equipment, even if they’re advertised as an available amenity.

Nevertheless, the DOT recently announced new rules that give consumers increased protections when other kinds of things go wrong, so here’s what you need to know about what is and isn’t a reimbursable offense by an airline these days.

Some airline fees and problems that affect them are eligible for reimbursement…and some aren’t.

Some airline issues get you a refund, some don't. How it works | Cruising Altitude
Some airline issues get you a refund, some don’t. How it works | Cruising Altitude

What is an airline contract of carriage?

Airline contracts of carriage are the terms and conditions that passengers agree to when they fly. Travelers automatically sign on when they purchase their tickets, even if they don’t have to formally sign a document. The contracts typically outline an airline’s commitments for transportation, as well as what happens if your flight is delayed or canceled and other fine print related to your itinerary.

“Some airlines have a customer bill of rights to basically simplify the airline contract of carriage, but essentially it’s what’s allowed, what’s not allowed, but everybody has a little bit different verbiage,” Loulu Lima, founder of the Texas-based travel agency Book Here Give Here, told me.

If you want to comb through the fine print, airlines make their contracts of carriage available on their websites. EVA’s contract, which covered Schrier’s trip, includes terms and conditions on how tickets can be used and (not) transferred, how stopovers work, what kinds of delays or cancellations make a passenger eligible for a refund and other assorted policies.

“It’s going to depend on the airline. An American airline is going to have a different set of rules than an Asian one,” Lima said. “The rules are really written based on the country of the corporate office.

Here are the contracts of carriage for each of the major U.S. airlines, if you want to take a look:

American Airlines

United Airlines

Delta Air Lines

Southwest Airlines

Can passengers get a refund for broken inflight entertainment?

Usually not.

“If you have status, you might get some loyalty points out of it, but other than maybe going on social media and making a big stink about it you’re probably not going to get anything,” Lima said.

Some airlines are also more accommodating than others and may voluntarily give passengers credits when something like that goes wrong. A few years ago, I was flying on Delta, and my seatback screen was broken, and they gave me about 2,500 SkyMiles as a goodwill gesture.

Schrier said EVA eventually offered him about $100 in compensation.

New Department of Transportation rule increases traveler protections

While inflight entertainment isn’t typically considered critical equipment by an airline, which means it’s safe to travel even if those seatback screens aren’t working, the DOT recently announced new rules that help guarantee protections and refunds for other kinds of issues in the air.

Part of the change mean:

Airlines will have to automatically issue refunds within 20 days if a passenger’s flight is canceled or significantly delayed (over three hours) and they choose not to travel on alternative flights offered.

If a traveler pays a checked bag fee and their bag is significantly delayed, they’ll be entitled to a refund of the fee.

If a traveler pays in advance for an ancillary service like an extra legroom seat or Wi-Fi and then does not have access to that amenity on the flight, they will have to receive a refund for those charges.

The refund policies were also coupled with another new rule that requires more upfront, clear-cut disclosure of airline fees.

“A lot of what we hear from passengers involves refunds – or the lack thereof – for passengers who experience cancellations and disruptions.” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement announcing the new rules. “Infrequent fliers are especially vulnerable, since they may not know that we are here for them, and are often not told about their right to a refund, and too often instead offered compensation in form of a voucher or miles whose value amounts to pennies on the dollar of what they are actually owed. Or they enter the vortex of call centers and chatbots, sometimes giving up before they get their money back.”

Schrier, for example, said he had a lot of trouble getting through to EVA to file his complaint.

It’s definitely frustrating for travelers who are on a long flight without functioning entertainment. I’m usually totally dependent on the seatback screen for my distractions while flying. But if the alternative is for a flight to get significantly delayed or canceled while technicians fix the operating system, I think I’d rather just get going.

Airline Refund Policies

As noted in the writings of the late Alfred E. Kahn, a man considered to be the father of airline deregulation, government regulation is not the only way in which consumer interest can be weighed in the airline industry. Increased consumer activism can also steer industry behavior toward modes that are more in the consumer interest. Step one for the consumer will entail taking a look at the refund policies of various airlines. This essay is designed to aid that search.

However, the study of airline refund policies and the provision of consumer information on this topic have been lacking. The Air Travel Consumer Report published monthly by the DOT does provide information on the number of refund-related complaints filed against each airline and the number of these complaints that the airline failed to resolve.

(Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 374 requires airlines to respond in writing to a disability-related complaint within 30 days and to respond to other complaints within 60 days), but an easy comparison of refund policies between airlines or a quick assessment of a given airline’s refund policy relative to industry standards cannot be made from this. This report does contain some useful information, but the complaining and reporting to the DOT about individual airline refund policies remains a somewhat obscure method of obtaining refund policy information. The customer must know where to look and what to look for in order to easily find this information. Informing the consumer ought to be an aim of both industry and government.

An airline’s refund policy is one of the terms of the contract of carriage and is an important consideration in the purchase of a ticket for air travel. This is especially true for college students and other budget-conscious travelers. Due to the fact that travel can be a somewhat uncertain endeavor, it is often the case that plans become altered and it becomes necessary to cancel a reservation or ticket. Because a refund is anticipated at the time of ticket purchase, it is important that passengers be apprised of an airline’s refund policy prior to buying a ticket.

Because this document will focus on refund policies and will largely consider each airline’s contract to be similar, this essay will generally consider the airlines’ contracts to be governed by the provisions of Title 49, Subtitle VII, Part A, Subpart I, Chapter 401, with respect to practices, and Chapter 413 with respect to consumer protection.

Although a contract may be established either orally or in writing, the government requires a written statement of the contract’s term with respect to providing air transportation. In the context of air travel, a ticket typically represents the written contract between the passenger and the airline, and it will serve as the statement of the contract’s terms.

When passengers purchase an airline ticket and pay for that ticket, they are entering into a contractual agreement with the airline to provide them with transportation between the departure city and the destination. Whether it is a business contract or a legal contract is open to interpretation and may vary by legal jurisdiction.

What is not open to interpretation is whether the purchase of the ticket creates a contract; it most definitely does. Who is the authority and jurisdiction that will decide the nature of the contract, the terms of the contract, and the enforceability of the contract as it relates to air travel? This question is also not easily answered, but what is easily answered is that when a ticket is purchased for interstate travel on a commercially deregulated air carrier, the contract is most definitely a matter for the US Department of Transportation and the laws and regulations of the United States.

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