Q: I had a round-trip ticket on American Airlines from Boston to Washington, D.C., recently. As we prepared to board, the flight was canceled. There were no other flights available, and I could not travel.

I requested a refund and received only the Boston-Washington portion, which was $91. When I called, I was told the return flight was marked as used. This is impossible, as I never went anywhere that day.

A customer-service representative told me that there was nothing the airline could do and I had to file a written complaint, which I did. This smacks of the exact issue that affected another passenger you recently reported. That passenger also was denied a refund because her ticket was marked used, when it was not. I sincerely hope this is not the general practice of American Airlines.

A: American Airlines should have refunded your entire ticket. A careful check of its records would have shown that you didn’t use the return ticket. Case closed.

But your problem raises an interesting question. Technically, American Airlines — like all other carriers — has to refund the ticket only for a flight it cancels. And since American didn’t cancel the return flight, did it really have to return your fare?

This might be a new way for airlines to make even more money. If they cancel a flight, they have to refund only part of your ticket. I know, I know — don’t give them any ideas.

Obviously, you weren’t on the return flight. A quick e-mail to American should have cleared that up. If it didn’t, an e-mail to one of the airline’s customer-service managers might have helped. I list the names, numbers and e-mail addresses of American Airlines’ customer-service managers on my consumer-advocacy site.

I contacted American on your behalf, and it says it refunded your entire ticket.


Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.