By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 3/19/2008 4:30:06 PM ET 2008-03-19T20:30:06

Q: We’ve been trying for almost a year to get a refund from British Airways, but we can’t even get a human to talk to us, let alone get our money back.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

In 2006, I booked an itinerary for my girlfriend and me from Seattle to Casablanca, Morocco, with a change of planes in London. British Airways knowingly boarded us on the aircraft to London, where the airport was essentially closed down because of heavy fog.

When we arrived in England, we found out that our flight to Casablanca had been canceled. The airline paid for our hotel that night, but when we tried to rebook our flight to Morocco the following day, we were told that the next flight wasn’t available until six days later. We had only purchased a seven-day tour, so even if we had been lucky enough to get on that standby flight, our time in Morocco would have been over as soon as we got there.

While stranded in London, we received paperwork from British Airways telling us that tickets would be refunded. Since then we’ve tried to contact the airline numerous times. We have gone so far as to follow up with a certified letter. But still, there’s nothing but silence from them. It’s infuriating, and we’re at wits’ end. Can you help?
— Cameron Etezadi, Seattle

A: If British Airways promised you a refund, it should cut you a check now. Actually, it should have paid you back almost a year ago, when it first said it would.

Your right to a refund is spelled out in the airline’s General Conditions of Carriage, which are available online. Have a look at Section 9, which addresses remedies for delays, cancellations and denied boarding compensation, and it’s clear that you are owed a refund. But as I read the contract, the refund would only apply to the unused portion of your flight — in other words, from London to Casablanca.

British Airways’ offer of a full refund went beyond its contract with you. That’s good. So why didn’t it pay up?

Well, it turns out it did.

The airline promptly issued a check to your travel agent, but the agent never passed the money along to you. British Airways sent me check numbers, and together with your travel agent, we were able to track down your refund.

You spent all of your effort pursuing your airline, when in retrospect, it might have been a good idea to also ask you travel agent to review his records. Certainly, I think British Airways could have been more communicative with you when you sent it repeated letters asking for your money. There’s no excuse for stonewalling a customer, ever.

But next time your refund doesn’t show up — and honestly, Cameron, I hope there isn’t a next time — please check with everyone before assuming the airline still has your money.

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

© 2007 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments