Q: Hawaiian Airlines canceled my flight from San Jose, Calif., to Honolulu in June. The airline rebooked me on another flight to a different airport at a different time. I spoke with an agent, who confirmed the change, but said the airline could not refund my money. Instead, Hawaiian Airlines offered a travel credit I could use until 2022. I declined the change and requested a refund.

Doesn’t the Department of Transportation require a refund if a flight is canceled? If so, can you help me get my $268 back?

A: Yes, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that airlines refund a ticket when they cancel the flight. The Hawaiian Airlines agents you spoke to were flat wrong.

This is a common problem in the airline industry. Airlines know the DOT rules, and they know the rules are clear. If they cancel a flight, they have to refund the tickets within a week. For you, the refund made sense on another level: Hawaii has a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which made a vacation impractical. Even if there weren’t a DOT, Hawaiian Airlines should have considered a refund.

You kept a terrific paper trail and detailed phone logs after Hawaiian Airlines canceled your flight. If I didn’t know any better, I would say your airline is intentionally misreading the DOT rules for ticket refunds. Agent after agent repeated the same line: “We can’t refund your ticket, but we’ll give you a credit.”

I understand why airlines want to keep your money at a time like this. But rules are rules. And you know that if the tables were turned and you were asking for an exception to the rules, most airlines wouldn’t hesitate to say “no.” They can’t have it both ways.

I publish the names, numbers and e-mail addresses of Hawaiian Airlines’ executives on my consumer advocacy site, elliott.org. A brief, polite e-mail to one of them might have helped your case.

But this is a case where Hawaiian Airlines wasn’t following federal rules, so I recommended that you contact the DOT and fill out its complaint form. You did. The DOT agreed with my assessment and contacted Hawaiian Airlines on your behalf. The airline agreed to refund your $268 immediately.

 

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