During the pandemic United Airlines was one of the worst offenders refusing to honor refunds for flights that they cancelled. It’s black-letter law that when an airline doesn’t operate the flight they sold you, that you’re entitled to your money back. United just refused to give the money, presumably reckoning that they’d worry about customers going after them if they survived. They’d keep your money and it wouldn’t matter if Covid-19 forced them out of business.
Some itineraries that they promised refunds for they said customers would have to wait a year. They even redefined the English language to weasel out of refunds, claiming that a flight was only cancelled if they no longer operate a route at all. If United scheduled 8 flights a day on a route, and cut that down to 3, United cancelled 5 flights – but under their definition they didn’t cancel any because they still served the route.
This went on for three months – even having received a government bailout – before agreeing to honor refunds in the face of threats by the Department of Transportation.
So it’s especially raw and galling to see United Airlines selling the option to receive a refund when they cancel a flight during the booking process on their website.
- A customer is entitled to a refund when United cancels their flight for any reason
- However United makes it appear that this is not the case when a flight is cancelled due to weather, unless the customer pays extra.
Now, a payout from insurance and a refund from United may be separate things but that’s not how this is marketed. If a customer wants a refund in the event of a weather-related cancellation, United’s website presents that as costing an extra $22.87 in this example.
Perhaps they’re messaging that – given their recent history – you really can’t expect they’ll honor refund requests if things turn south for the carrier, so you do need to insure against their improper behavior if you’re going to buy a ticket from them?
United’s marketing of ancillary insurance seems, to me, to be an ‘unfair and deceptive practice’ that should subject United to liability. Where’s the Department of Transportation? They’re focused on developing rules for exactly how fees must be shown every time you search for airline schedules even though these fees are generally well-disclosed already. But they aren’t currently concerning themselves with actually-deceptive sales practices during the booking path.
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