Problem Solved: Pandemic Airfare Refund

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Mary Andrews' European cruises are canceled during the pandemic. But the refund for her airfare is still missing. Will she ever get her money back?

Q: I had two cruises booked in Europe for last spring. Both were canceled during the pandemic. We had nonrefundable tickets on Alitalia to Rome and KLM from Amsterdam to Washington, D.C., which we purchased through Cook Travel.

We would probably try to take the same trip again next year, but we have no firm dates and no knowledge that the trips will be the same. I've spoken with Alitalia, and a representative told me I'm due a full refund of $6,056.

I need my travel agent to help me, but he won't. I've sent him numerous emails, but he isn't responding. It's been five months since my cancellation. Can you help me get a refund? Many thanks in advance for your assistance with this request. -- Mary Andrews, Free Union, Va.

A: If your airline canceled your flights, you should receive a quick refund. But that didn't happen. Instead, you waited months for your airline and agent to help you, and they didn't.

Alitalia says it refunded your travel agency directly. So you began asking your agency for the money. Based on the email thread that you shared with me, your agent did not respond.

I think it's important to note that you are a retired travel agent yourself, so you know the system. And unfortunately, the system was breaking down as your colleagues struggled under the weight of thousands of refund requests.

There's one more twist: Although you were entitled to a full refund as far as Alitalia was concerned, your ticket said otherwise. It was a consolidator fare, purchased in bulk by your travel agency. And the travel agency imposed its own refund rules on the ticket. And it would not refund the ticket -- only provide a ticket credit.

I know, it's frustrating.

Your case raises the question: How long is too long for a pandemic airfare refund? That's something a lot of my readers have struggled with since last year. Certainly, five months is way too long. During normal times you should get your refund within two weeks. If it's a once-in-a-century pandemic, then you definitely should give airlines a little more time. A month, maybe two. But not five. Never five.

By the way, here are some <a href="https://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/alitalia/">contacts at Alitalia</a> and a few higher-level <a href="https://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/klm-airlines/">executives at KLM</a>, courtesy of my tireless researchers on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site. Those should help if you have another problem with a pandemic airfare refund -- or any airfare refund.

Your agency should have responded faster, confirming that it had received your money from Alitalia and that you were due a voucher, not a refund. But as a retired travel agent, you should have also known that you were buying a restrictive consolidator fare.

I contacted Cook Travel on your behalf. A representative apologized and said that the agency's office had been closed for nearly a year because of COVID. One of its staff members had also died of COVID. It reached out to you and sent you the vouchers in late March, almost a year after your scheduled flight.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer for Elliott Advocacy. Email him at chris@elliott.org or get help with any consumer problem by contacting him at http://www.elliott.org/help

© 2021 Christopher Elliott.

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