Mark and Donna Scaggs booked what was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime – a visit to Bali – in 2019. Like all the rest of us, they had no idea that COVID would turn the world upside down a few months later, nor how long it would last (Joe and I have a post written March 15, 2020, where we discussed our thoughts of things closing for 2 weeks to help slow COVID down – we had no clue what was coming down the pike).
The Arizona couple booked their round trip flights on United, at the cost of $9,797. Of course, when COVID hit, United offered to reschedule their flights. You may recall that at the time, people thought the virus wouldn’t be able to survive through the heat of the summer. So after accepting the flight vouchers that the airline offered, they used their electronic travel certificates (read: vouchers) to rebook their trip for that upcoming August.
Obviously, their August 2020 trip didn’t happen either – the heat didn’t do diddlysquat, we were still in a worldwide pandemic, and international air travel was still pretty much at a standstill. So they rescheduled, again, this time for September 2021.
However in July 2021, guess what? United canceled their flight. Not as in “We’re not flying that day so pick another day,” but, “We’re not flying to Bali anymore.” They terminated the route, period.
The Scaggs asked for a refund of their nearly $10,000 but United said that they would convert the tickets back into vouchers for future travel because they had used vouchers to book the flight for September 2021.
Now really, unless you’re a power traveler, or want to go somewhere else that’s halfway around the world (most of which is still closed to Americans and probably still will be for some time to come), who wants $10,000 worth of travel vouchers?
Without knowing what to do next, the Scaggs contacted their local TV “troubleshooter,” in the form of AZFamily.com’s “3 On Your Side.”
“Hopefully you can work your magic and get somebody there with some logic to say these people paid. You cancelled; you owe them the money back,” said the Skaggs.
3 On Your Side contacted United Airlines, whose response was, essentially, for the Skaggs to pound sand.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continually looked for ways to better support our customers. As part of that effort, we extended ticket validity to 24 months from the date the ticket was issued. The Scaggs’ tickets fall within our refund policy and were refunded to the original form of payment for the trip which was an electronic travel certificate. The full trip value is valid for booking through July of 2023. They can use the credit to travel to any destination United serves.
Except United no longer served Bali, which is where they wanted to go.
“At the end of the day…we didn’t buy $10,000 worth of tickets for nothing. We paid them to take us to Bali. But now they’re saying you can go to Des Moines like 12 times,” said Mark Skaggs.
Fortunately, there’s still a happy ending to the story. A few weeks after 3 On Your Side reported about United’s unsatisfying reply, they wrote another update.
Since the TV station wasn’t successful in solving the matter, the Skaggs went up the ladder, contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation (here’s where you can do it), and filed a complaint against United.
It worked. United apologized. But that’s not all they did.
From 3 On Your Side:
Because United Airlines is the one who cancelled, the decision was made that they should refund Mark and his wife despite the transfer into vouchers.
Hooray for happy endings! But really, how awful is it that someone should have to jump through a hoop like filing a complaint with the U.S. government to get an airline to give you a refund in a case like this?
As a side note, I looked at the DOT’s most recent list of complaints against airlines, which was for June 2021. Of the 432 complaints against 21 airlines that were about refunds, over 25% of them (123, to be exact) were specifically against United:
^^^ From https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2021-08/August%202021%20ATCR.pdf, page 56 of 75.
Anyway, I’m happy for the Skaggs. And I’m grateful for TV channels such as “3 On Your Side” that offer “troubleshooters.”
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary