Mar 30, 2020

How to apply for a cash refund when an airline cancels your flight

Delta's Coronavirus updates offer no info on your rights to a refund

Shortly after writing about a friend's experience with a Delta flight cancellation due to the coronavirus situation, I received my own e-mail from Delta, notifying me that it cancelled my upcoming flight to Europe, and automatically issued me an electronic voucher good for future travel. 

As I pointed out last week, a U.S. Department of Transportation rule guarantee cash refunds to customers when an airline cancels a flight, no matter what the reason. Airlines are counting on most people not knowing this, and accepting vouchers instead. These vouchers, or eCredits as they're sometimes called, have been coming with strings attached, including a requirement that you travel within a year of the time you purchased the ticket. In a sign airlines may be loosening up on that, Delta announced Friday that passengers due to fly in April or May would now have the flexibility to change their flights for up to two years without paying a change fee. 

That's nice, but you're still entitled to a refund if you want one.

The USDOT clarified this in an enforcement notice this week, notifying consumers that airlines "remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight."

Few people read an airline's contract of carriage, the pages of fine print that spell out its legal obligations to customers. If they did, they would find that all the major airlines guarantee refunds as per USDOT rules. 

Delta spells it out this way:

"If there is a flight cancellation, diversion, delay of greater than 90 minutes, or that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger’s request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment."

The operative words here are "at the passenger's request."  With three to four-hour waits on the phone to speak to an agent, the airlines are hoping most will give up and accept the vouchers instead. 

Better to put your request in writing as I did last week. 

Rather than call and wait on hold, I went to the top right hand corner of Delta's home page. I clicked on "Need Help" but found no information there on how to apply for a refund. I then clicked on "More," and in the drop-down box, clicked on "Comment/Complaint."

I filled out my flight details along with my confirmation number, ticket numbers, and attached a PDF of my receipt along with this note:

"You recently notified me that my and my husband's flights were cancelled by Delta, and that I would receive an eCredit good for one year from the date of purchase. U.S Department of Transportation rules require you to issue a refund - not an eCredit. Therefore I request an immediate refund. If this is not resolved as soon as possible, I will contact our credit card company for a charge-back."  

Within the hour, I received an email from Delta saying it would credit me for the full amount, and post a refund to my credit card within 30 days. 

This should work in most cases, but if your airline still refuses a refund, don't waste anymore of your time. Instead, dispute the charge though your credit card issuer. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your credit card cannot be charged for a product or service not delivered. This may be the route many have to go with some of the smaller European airlines. They are bound by similar rules when it comes to refunds for cancelled flights, but many are ignoring the laws, pleading cash shortages. 

“Airlines must refund canceled flight tickets,” EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean told Bloomberg News. “They can of course also offer a voucher but -- and this is very important -- only if the customer agrees to accept this. If the customer does not want a voucher or other proposed solution, the company must reimburse.” 

Most airlines don't make the refund guarantees obvious anywhere in coronavirus updates on their home pages. All the information has to do with what happens when you cancel a flight. 

Air Lingus is one of the few to publish a form on its website, providing a way for customers to apply for a refund for a cancelled flight.  Find it by clicking on "support" on the home page, then "cancellations and refunds."

If you have an upcoming flight in the next month or two, here's my advice. Wait for the airline to cancel, rather than cancel yourself and accept a voucher. Then plead your case by going through the normal channels with your airline, or, if that fails, appeal to your credit card company. 

Delta and Alaska, the two airlines that do the most business out Seattle-Tacoma Airport, are slashing their flight schedules by 70-80 percent in April and May. Other airlines are doing the same, so there's a good chance your flight will be cancelled. 

How far out do airlines cancel flights? Most do it sooner than the day before, which still leaves you time to cancel yourself if playing the cat and mouse game becomes too nerve-wracking. 

Delta cancelled my flight nine days ahead. To get an idea of what your airline is doing, check web sites such as to see which flights have been cancelled in the past few days. In Seattle, the Port of Seattle updates the status of flights for the current day and the day following. 


  1. Thanks so much, very helpful.

  2. Too bad this doesn't apply if your the one who canceled earlier, even if the flight is later canceled.

  3. There is a third scenario: the flight is not canceled, but you were obliged to cancel your entire trip because of quarantine restrictions. We had to cancel our tour to Sicily owing to lockdown, but our Alitalia FCO-CTA was not canceled (postponed several hours, yes). Alitalia offers rescheduling or voucher to be used in one year (neither ideal for us).

  4. What about non-US airlines? We bought tickets through JustFly, but the flights were all on Philippine Airlines. We were in the Philippines when COVID-19 caused the government to issue a directive telling all tourists to leave ASAP. No one could get hold of the airline to reschedule, so we just got new tickets home. Our original flights were subsequently cancelled. Are we due a refund?

  5. A very good and informative article indeed.It helps me a lot to enhance my knowledge.I really like the way the writer presented his views.I hope to see more informative and useful articles in future. disposable masks full face cover hat umbrella bougerv