The Most Offensive Reason Yet An Airline Refuses To Refund Cancelled Flight

A reader had booked to fly Washington Dulles – Munich on March 24th. At the beginning of March Lufthansa cancelled the flight. However they say they won’t provide a refund – despite clear European EU261 and U.S. DOT rules that require them to do so – because subsequent to their cancelling the flights Germany imposed immigration restrictions that wouldn’t have permitted the traveler to fly.

In other words, government regulation barred the travel. Instead of considering this a force majuere event requiring a refund, Lufthansa argues it means the passenger would have been a no show or denied boarding if the flight had operated.

After a complaint to the Department of Transportation, Lufthansa simply replied ‘no refund.’

Thank you for your correspondence forwarded to us by the Department of Transportation. We appreciate the opportunity to respond. Please note that Customer Relations is not responsible for processing refunds or making changes to bookings or fare conditions.

With DOT complaints at an all-time high over airlines refusing to honor their legal obligation to refund tickets when cancelling flights, the complaint has not yet been resolved. Lufthansa was an early offender violating consumer protection laws.

The customer filed a credit card chargeback and that’s where Lufthansa offered their creative theory.

We hereby inform you that we do not accept a chargeback for the above transaction.

The passenger was indeed unable to fly irrespective of the merchant’s willingness due to travel restrictions connected with entering GERMANY, which have been introduced on 17-03-2020. More details regarding current travel restrictions can be found on IATA website [URL]

Because of these restrictions, Lufthansa was not allowed to board the passenger. Lufthansa had a legal right not to carry the passengers based on the Lufthansa Group General Terms and Condition of Carriage [CoC URL].

The article 7 of the General Terms and Conditions of Carriage clearly states that Lufthansa may refuse to carry or continue to carry or cancel the seat reservation if the passengers wishes to enter a country for which he/she does not possess valid immigration documents.

It does not matter why Lufthansa didn’t fulfill its transportation obligations. The counterfactual world in which Lufthansa hadn’t cancelled the flight but the passenger wouldn’t have been able to travel due to new regulations implemented after the flight cancellation but contemporaneous with the date of scheduled travel do not change the analysis that the refund requirement is black letter law.

For the credit card issuer, the airline did not provide the service. That the customer wouldn’t have accepted the service due to a force majuere event if it had been provided is simply another reason why the funds should have to be returned. Lufthansa’s hypothetical thought experiment about a future world that differed from our own, in which they hadn’t cancelled the flight, might be ripe for a TV script – indeed, the writers are running out of ideas for the rest of 2020 – but carry no legal force.

This is the airline that’s been nationalized, and operates under the protection of the German government. With their newfound $9.8 billion, you’d think the German flag carrier might follow the law?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Lufthansa hasn’t shown much inclination to follow inconvenient laws for quite some time now. Trying to get EU261 compensation from them is not just like pulling teeth, it’s like pulling your own teeth using a pipe wrench. While disheartening, this latest ploy is not really surprising.

  2. Did the card issuer issue the refund? And which credit card company was it? Be good to know who sticks up for their customers.

  3. @ Gary — Great. Well I guess we will be screwed om pour upcoming MXP-ZRH-SIN LX F trip. If our rights are violated at all, our business with LH group will be terminated to the extent possible. My new favorite airline is Qatar 100%.

  4. It’s sad how awful Lufthansa and United have been about this. The airline that surprised me the most and still surprises me is American, as they have been good about refunds for the most part.

  5. So just that I understand in chronological order:

    Man buys a plane ticket.
    Airline cancels the flight.
    Man is eligible for a refund.
    Destination country bans entrance in to country.
    Man is no longer eligible for a refund.

    Is that correct? This makes my head hurt.

  6. Please check out Eurostar as they are doing the same thing. I couldn’t get to London because my flight was cancelled and the UK was not allowing tourists to enter the country, France barred foreign tourists, and my lodging in Paris was cancelled. Eurostar refuses to refund my payment for London-Paris trip on 5/23/20 and instead offers a voucher that MUST be used in one year. As if they know when the virus will subside and that a vaccine that is effective will be available and that I am still alive to travel. Ha ha..
    Perhaps Eurostar and Lufthansa are partners in a plot to keep money and yet provide no service!

  7. how does Lufthansa know the traveler can’t enter Germany? if Lufty is going to B.S. their way out of a refund, I would have B.S.ed my secondary passport or resident pass since the flight was cancelled anyways.

  8. I wouldn’t worry to much a about this. Take LH to a small civil suit in your local district , you will receive justice. I did this and won my refund for $1992.34 against LX, although Swiss quickly settled as soon as they were presented with the summons.

  9. I’m still going with an involuntary bankruptcy petition as my favorite strategy. It requires 3 creditors owed at least a total of $14,650 (I think the amount changes yearly) .

    Be sure to buy put options first as the hedge fund AI will pick up the filing and drive down the stock temporarily.
    Of course if this fails you could be liable for court costs and attorney fees, but the profit from the options should more than offset that.

  10. @woofie – you do know that credit card companies don’t have a pot of money sitting around to refund to customers seeking a chargeback right? They do have insurance and financial reserves to cover fraud (which is one reason that is typically refunded very quickly). Disputes with a vendor are different. Lufthansa clearly said they refused the chargeback so I’m assuming the card holder got nothing. BTW, this is common practice for all credit card companies. People seem to think they can just request a refund and get it. Best case it is a conditional credit that can be reversed if the credit card company is unable to process the chargeback (as is the case here) with the vendor. The credit card companies are valuable in a dispute since they have leverage (and contacts) with vendors that the average person doesn’t but that still doesn’t mean everyone that ask for their money back will get it!

  11. small claims will solve this issue real quick. Since LH would be a no-show it would be by default.

  12. There is a company called Flightright in Germany and will get you the refund. According to EU law unless there is a technical or weather issue you are entitled to a refund. It happened to us, we were waiting to board a flight for 3hrs which was cancelled. Had to sign a power of attorney for each us and git $2400 back (they kept a 600fee)

  13. @AC actually many credit card companies do hold a rotating reserve from their merchants to protect themselves against charge backs. Whether they do it to Lufthansa, I don’t know.
    I do know that I have always appreciated American Express when it comes to situations like the one @Gary describes. Other card companies, not so much.

  14. Even if you win the small claim court, where to get the money from? I am in London and they are in Germany…

  15. A small Israeli charter airline that also runs some scheduled flights refused my claim for a delay payment under EU261 although they admitted the delay. Reason – me and my family were not EU citizens. I send them a draft of a letter to the UK CAA, Civil Aviation Authority, requesting cancelation of the company’s right to land in the UK as it was in breach of EU law, saying this would be sent unless I got my money within seven days. It came in four! Would the CAA have done any such thing, I doubt it but the cost of dealing with such a request would have far exceeded the amount I wanted.

  16. Air Canada is just as bad. After cancelling my flights, they came up with a novel theory that DOT rules only apply to US based airlines (flight originated in the US). And I took up the chain at Air Canada with everyone parroting the same story. Filed a DOT complaint – let’s see if that results in something.

  17. Left lufthansa for their ignorance and attitude in 2014. Can’t be happier. Many say they will never fly or use this company after one serious incident but yet come back to them. I live by my words. It’s a good feeling

  18. I had the same thing happen with a flight from LAX to OSLO and back on Lufthansa. I have been waiting for my credit card company to finalize the charge back. My cc is thru Costco Visa, let’s hope they have some pull!!

  19. What a bunch of whiners,
    always searching for ways
    to litigate. Be happy that ya’ll
    are still breathing and possibly
    have jobs. I know your kind!

  20. Same story with TAP. I have made repeated demands and filed a DOT complaint. Next step, Small Claims Court. Any idea how and where to serve TAP so I can my lawsuit served properly. I am in Los Angeles. Thanks!

  21. Lufthansa has proven to be one of the worse airlines to fly in Europe. 25 years ago I lived in Germany for 9 years and without a doubt they were the best airline in the world to fly. Fast forward to today, I have NOTHING to do with them at all; and I speak fluent German. They make BA look like the greatest airline going. Nein danke Lufthansa.

  22. I had two one way flights with LH from the US to the EU and back. I requested a refund for them as soon as they were cancelled by LH. Mar 16 for the first, Apr 17 for the second. I filed a complaint with the DOT for not getting the refund processed within the legal requirements on Apr 30. They processed the first flight refund on May 25 and this was reflected in my account Jun 2. Just waiting for the second now, but at least I have proof now that they are processing refunds, just very slowly.

  23. @Knut hulbert – I guess you probably think it would be a good idea to defund the police as well.

  24. Another trick the airlines are doing is simply changing the flight without notice

    We have tickets for MSP-FRA in September on Condor

    Today looked up reservation: it’s now SEA-FRA
    But my flight “wasn’t canceled”

    Moving the airport 1,700 miles isn’t canceled?

  25. What do people think where airlines could take all that money from to refund everybody? They are trying to survive and to pay for their fix costs. Best you can ask for is a travel voucher.

  26. KLM is doing the same thing. Chase denied the chargeback and says it’s a valid charge, which is even more frustrating. Visa’s rules prohibit chargebacks when flights are cancelled due to border closures. It’s ridiculous.

    “Question 2: The cardholder purchased goods/services and the merchant cancels the good or service due to a government prohibition. For example, an airline cancels a flight because the government closed the border or a gym closes operations because of a government mandate to cease operations. Does an issuer have disputes rights?
    Answer: No, if the merchant has not provided the service due to a government-imposed prohibition, the cardholder does not have a dispute right. Government regulation and/or law supersedes Visa rules on dispute rights. The cardholder should work directly with the merchant to resolve.”

  27. 3 return flights to Nairobi. Lufthansa refunded tax in April and still waiting for full refund then recently received an email advising to rebook. I don’t know what to say anymore in all honesty.

  28. I’m in the same situation with Deutche Bahn. They’ve given me a voucher for a trip that COVID19 health regulations forbid me from taking. But I live in the US and it’s unlikely I’ll go to Europe at all before the voucher expires. I’ve disputed with my credit card but am not expecting a positive outcome. There are competing rail providers on the same route which gave me a full refund for my travel in the other direction. Choose Thalys, not DB for your travel when possible.

  29. Having same issue with Sata airlines. Our trip was in July to Portugal.

    They sent a 1 line email in April. “Your flight is cancelled”. Contacted the airline and they refused to refund and offered a 1 year voucher.

    Filed a DOT complaint, no response. Amex won’t refund because charge was over 90 days ago. We book in December 2019, so understand able.

    We need a class lawsuit against these companies.

  30. I purchased 4 x return tickets Heathrow to Johannesburg in October 2019 for April 2020. SAA cancelled the flights due to Covid-19. South African Airways have refused to refund me and my Credit Card company have stated that they can’t override the rules laid down by VISA for a chargeback?

  31. We booked two tickets Frankfurt-Seoul-Frankfurt in November 2019 to fly April 6, 2020. Then in March 2020, and being one of the large airlines still without any policy for flights to any other hot zone besides China:

    1 – LH changed the direct flight to Seoul to a one-stop over Munich.
    2 – Some days later, LH cancelled the flight and wrote that reservations for cancelled flights could be changed to another flight (to the same destination) until December 31st 2020.
    3 – Then LH indicated on their site the possibility to get a refund by cancelling the flight.
    4 – Then LH sent us two emails, one acknowledging a cancelled flight, the other feeling sorry for us cancelling our flight.
    5 – When I input the booking code, it said, this code does not exist.

    Recently (May 2020), a 15% stockholder of LH – one fat 70+ year old German thief billionaire called Heinz Thiele – blocked the talks for LH 9 billion bailout because he didn’t agree with the condition that no dividends should be paid for shareholders. Note that the money stolen from me contributes to the revenue that affects those dividends. Money taken for zero service rendered.

  32. I have a EUR 1864 Lufthansa flight from Nice to Delhi which got cancelled due to Covid and after several emails and calls to their customer care no sign of any refund. Is there a forum where I can file a legal complaint.

  33. It is best to file with the German FAA equivalent. Fight on their own turf. Worked for me. There’s an online form in german or english

  34. Lufthansa claimed I needed a visa to travel to Abu Dhabi. As an American citizen I did not, you can get one when you arrive if you are staying less than 30 days. They never checked the requirements for American citizens they just talked among themselves and I was not allowed to board. Later I found out that they were wrong but they never admitted it nor offered me a refund. The guy in line taking documents was very rude and cruel and kept yelling next like I was invisible. Such a horrible little man. I reported him. I will never book with them again.

  35. @Dee, the trick is to respectfully request to speak to the station manager (the agent may tell you it won’t make a difference at first). Usually, station managers have better customer service skills and are atleast willing to hear a customer out. They also have more tools at their disposal to resolve issues.

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