Q: I was supposed to fly from Boston to Detroit on Delta Air Lines for a wedding this month. But the event was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The groom is serving in the Navy and military are banned from flying commercially, so he and several guests would not have been able to travel to Detroit.

This morning I received an e-mail from Delta that my flight, which departed at 10:59 a.m., had been canceled. Delta has offered me a choice: either another flight leaving at 8:45 a.m. or a two-year credit. I’m not interested in the new flight and would like a refund to my credit card. Do you think that is a possibility?

A: Yes, it’s more than a possibility! It’s a requirement. Let’s take a look at the Department of Transportation’s refund rules. It says a passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancels a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to travel. It doesn’t matter if Delta offered you a replacement flight that gets you to Detroit within about two hours of your original itinerary. Delta canceled your flight. You get a refund. Case closed.

So why did Delta offer you either a new flight or a voucher? Well, like all airlines, Delta is trying to conserve cash. If it hands out refunds to everyone who wants them — even if they deserve them — it hastens Delta’s downward spiral. The government money runs out in a few months. Keeping your money is part of its survival strategy.

There’s just one problem: It’s not allowed to do that without your consent.

There’s been an outbreak of similar airline refund problems since the pandemic started. And, as I’ve noted previously, I have a lot of sympathy for the airlines trying to survive during these difficult times. But just like it’s wrong to base your business model on charging outrageous fees, it’s also wrong to break the law in order to survive. Delta needs to offer you a full refund.

I recommended you complain to Delta in writing and, if necessary, to copy the Department of Transportation on the note. I list the names, numbers and e-mail addresses of Delta’s customer service managers on my consumer advocacy site, elliott.org.

You did. A representative contacted you quickly and offered to process a full refund.


Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit consumer organization. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.