What I learned from a cancelled flight

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you are likely aware that international flights everywhere have more or less shut down for the foreseeable future. I’ve been a regular traveler since I was in my teens, but this was the first time I remember that I had to deal with a cancelled flight.

Mrs. Lite, momma Lite, momma Lite’s best friend, and I (Mr. Lite) were booked and ready to spend a week in Argentina at the end of March. Earlier in the month, Argentina understandably decided to ban international visitors in order to slow the spread of Sars-Cov-2, and this policy decision was followed by a multitude of airlines suspending all their routes into Buenos Aires. Our flight was included.

Here are a few things I learned from this experience:

Lesson 1: If the airline cancels your flight for any reason, you are entitled to a cash refund. I did not know this bit of information prior to this recent experience. This is not airline specific; the US Department of Transportation protects this as a consumer right (here’s the link).

Airlines will do anything they can to get you to proactively cancel or change your flight. If you’re the one initiating action, then the airline will offer you flight credits for future travels equivalent in value to the price of your ticket, with or without a change fee.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but Delta was super sneaky about this. They announced on the evening of March 13 that all flights to Argentina would be suspended through the end of April. We had a departure date of March 28, but my Delta account said that the Atlanta to Buenos Aires flight was still on schedule.

Odd. I kept checking this daily until it was finally officially cancelled on March 22 and no longer showing up in my account.

So any unsuspecting passenger who called Delta between March 13 and March 21 requesting a flight cancellation would have had no choice but to accept a flight credit, because technically the flight was still scheduled. By waiting until Delta officially cancelled the flight, we were able to get a full refund instead.

Why did Delta wait 8 days between announcing an intent to cancel and actually doing it? My guess is because it was in their best financial interest to give me an IOU than return my money.

Lesson 2: I will never use a travel middleman like Expedia, Travelocity, or Orbitz again.

I know better. I knew from past experience that these companies are difficult to deal with if any type of customer service is needed.

I unfortunately used Expedia to book these tickets due to some cost savings. Once it was clear that the trip wasn’t going to happen, a sense of dread came over me. In order to get my money back, I would have to go through Expedia.

As expected, getting a hold of a customer service representative was a monumental challenge. I felt like Sisyphus pushing that gigantic rock up the hill just to see it roll back down over and over again. It took days and several attempts via phone, website, and social media, but I was finally able to get someone on the phone by using the call-back feature on their website chat. Once I got through, everything with the refund process went smoothly, and the lady on the other end of the phone who helped me was awesome.

By comparison, Delta was super easy to get a hold of with no wait time at all on two separate occasions. I called them first to see if they could take care of the problem directly, but they unfortunately could not process the refund since I bought through Expedia.

This drawn out process has solidified my conviction to buy straight from the airlines from now on, even if it costs me a little extra. The headache just isn’t worth it.

Lesson 3: Social media may be a useful tool when travel plans go bad. Though it didn’t work for me this time, I’ve read about other travelers having some success using Twitter or Facebook to contact customer service when the traditional methods have failed.

Problem is that too many people know about this now, so its usefulness is likely diminished compared to a few years ago.

So those are a few things I learned in the last couple of weeks. I’m happy that ultimately I was able to get a refund for those 4 plane tickets, as cash is infinitely more useful than travel vouchers that can be only used for a specified period of time; and who knows if this Coronavirus issue will even be under control by the end of that time frame.

Biggest piece of advice is if you have a flight that likely isn’t going to happen, wait a while to see if the airline cancels. If they do, you’ll have many more options available. All of you stay safe out there!


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