I haven’t written much lately, mostly because I have been distracted by my actual employment, but also because I’ve recently experienced a string of frustration regarding travel that has not materialized due to delays and cancellations. I try to stay away from the negativity in travel since it is easy to get wrapped up in it and take the focus off of actually enjoying myself. That said, this weekend I had another trip delay to the point that it made no sense to go. While it is a bummer that I won’t get to join my friends for our annual fantasy football draft – and let me tell you, drafting online by yourself is not even 10% as fun – I am impressed with how US Airways and British Airways chose to handle the situation.
My sequence of events would lead to what the airlines would call a “trip in vain” which is essentially when a delay, misconnect or some other circumstance causes your trip to no longer make sense. In my case, I needed to be in Northern Virginia by about noon. My wife and daughter were flying revenue on US, while I was on the same flight but ticketed by British Airways as I had used Avios.
It all started last night with a text alert from US Airways informing me that my daughter’s flight would be delayed an hour. That’s generally a bad sign the night before, since it means the airline might not have a crew ready to go first thing in the morning at the local airport, or the inbound aircraft got hung up somewhere else. Either way, that far out, the cause was likely having some wider cascading effects. Sure enough, I woke up around 3am to get ready to head out (things take longer with a toddler!) and thankfully, before I could wake up the rest of the family, saw a text that the flight was now delayed past 9am – close to 4 hours behind schedule. Even that would have been workable, until the delay pushed past 10:30 and we realized there was no way to make it work. That is when I got on the phone and was honestly impressed.
Let me back up a bit by saying that we in the United States generally have little rights as passengers during delays. When it’s mechanical or otherwise in the airline’s control, things tend to be a little more positive for the passenger, but when weather is dominant factor all bets are off – technically, the airline owes you nothing. It is my understanding that our delay today was caused by a weather delay last night on the inbound aircraft, so I was not expecting things to go well. Still, if you don’t ask, you will assuredly not get what you want, so I began to dial.
US Airways was first on my list because these were actual revenue segments and I wanted to try and get our $300 back. A rather cheerful agent took my call, and after I explained that the timing would make our trip in vain and that I needed to cancel, he immediately jumped in and said he’d cancel and refund it. I was floored because I didn’t even get to asking for the refund, and while I’ve had great luck getting US Airways to waive change fees during delays, I’d never gotten further with a refund. As far as I can tell, there is no official US Airways policy entitling a refund, but I’m told it’s standard operating procedure to accommodate change fee waivers and even cancellations as they make sense during irregular operations. Should you be in the same situation in the future, call and ask!
British Airways achieved the same outcome, refunding my Avios, with just as little contention – it just took a little bit longer. The agent wasn’t sure what she could do on a partner award, put me on hold, then came back and said “no problem” for the Avios refund. She also asked if I wanted to fly the return segment or have that back as well, which was nice, but I ultimately took the points back for that flight as well.
Overall, I was impressed with how smoothly US Airways and British Airways handled a trip in vain that I believe was ultimately weather-related. It never hurts to highlight good customer service in an industry where opposite stories are more the norm.