By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 2/28/2008 12:32:13 PM ET 2008-02-28T17:32:13
THE TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

: I would like to request your help in resolving an issue with AirTran Airways. I flew from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga., recently. But my return flight to Atlanta was canceled for mechanical reasons, and I was offered two options by a station supervisor. I could either spend the night at a hotel at AirTran’s expense and fly out the next afternoon, or I could rent a car and drive to Atlanta, again at AirTran’s expense.

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Since I had a morning business meeting the following day, I chose the second option. The following day I mailed my receipts for $124 to the station supervisor by certified mail. I also called the number on his card and left numerous messages. For two weeks I received no response from him or AirTran. Then a credit for $39 — the cost of the return flight — showed up on my American Express card.

Every time I get through to someone at AirTran, I’m asked to fax the same information over and over. The station supervisor never returns the messages I leave. It’s been almost two months since I rented the car, and I am extremely disappointed. This is not what AirTran and I agreed upon. Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated. — Daniel Richards, Alpharetta, Ga.

A: If AirTran offered you a refund for your rental car, it should pay it quickly. But the airline seems to be confused about what it should have refunded you, and that might be why it hesitated to pay your $124.

Strictly speaking, AirTran’s responsibility was to get you from Savannah back to Atlanta. By reimbursing you for your rental, AirTran would have technically been entitled to keep the $39 you paid for that portion of the trip. (You can read the rule in the airline’s contract of carriage here. Scroll down to Section K, part 2.)

Someone at AirTran may have issued the wrong refund, so once your unused return ticket was refunded to your credit card, the airline’s obligation to you would have been settled, at least in a contractual sense.

But the station manager you spoke with made an off-the-book agreement with you to cover your rental. Here’s the thing about these kinds of deals. It’s commendable when a supervisor agrees to go above and beyond what’s required to offer good customer service. But talk, as they say, is cheap.

You should have asked the supervisor to put his offer in writing. That would make it much more difficult to deny your refund. Gate supervisors do not typically handle refunds — there’s a separate department that deals with returning your money. So you may have sent your paperwork to the wrong person.

Typically, a brief, polite e-mail to the carrier, which describes your agreement and outlines your expenses, would have been the fastest way of getting your refund. (Airlines respond to e-mails twice as quickly as they do letters, on average.)

I contacted AirTran on your behalf, and it expedited a refund check to you.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler
magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations” on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at
celliott@ngs.org.

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