How to Get a Refund From an Airline


a blue and white airplane is parked at the airport

Everyone has at least one story of a flight that was not great. You sat on the tarmac for hours only to return to the terminal. Your flight got suddenly, inexplicably canceled. Your plane was delayed by another hour, every hour on the hour, leading to a near riot at both the gate and the nearest Hudson News.

However your travel plans have been wronged, you are displeased. You need a new flight, ASAP. Should you approach the counter? Call the customer service number? Take it to Twitter?

We asked a few frequent flyers their tactics for getting help when the best laid travel plans go haywire. Here’s what they recommend.

Act quickly

Unless your issue is of a truly personal nature, it’s a good bet that at least 100 other people are trying to get help from customer service at the same time. So you need to be quick about it.

If you are already on a plane that’s having an issue, that means being ready to move. Dan Miller, founder of family travel blog Points With a Crew recalled a flight that returned to the gate with a mechanical issue shortly after leaving it. He gathered his items quickly, and “As soon as the flight attendant announced that we were going to de-plane, I shot up from my aisle seat,” he wrote at the time. “Even though I was in seat 17D, because I was prepared, I had cleared 10 rows by the time anyone else had even started getting out of their seats!” That quick action helped him be second in line to talk to the gate agent.

But say you’re not able to sprint to the front of the plane. Or maybe you’re in the bathroom when that fateful terminal announcement is made. This is when it helps to get on the phone as soon as possible, so keep that device charged. By the time Miller got off his plane, “I was already on the phone with customer service while I waited in line,” he said by email.

Double up your efforts

As Miller mentioned, trying to call the airline while you’re in line to speak with the gate agent can expedite your solution. Similarly, writer Susan Shain tells us that while she’s waiting at the counter, “I’ll use GetHuman to find the best phone number and then call the airline, too. Sometimes I’ll get through more quickly that way.”

Use your perks

If you have access to airline lounges, don’t forget that the staff in these upscale areas may be able to help. “Agents in the club lounge may be the most helpful, and have shorter lines, at least with the largest US airlines,” Gary Leff, founder of the View From the Wing blog and InsideFlyer forums, said via email. “So if you have access head there if it’s anywhere near you.”

Suggest a solution

Here’s another reason to keep your phone charged: to look up your rebooking options. While you’re on hold or waiting in line, look up flight alternatives to your destination, both with your airline and also on its competitors.

“If you can suggest exactly what they [can] do for you, so much the better,” Leff said. “Search as though you’re going to buy a ticket, and suggest options if the agent doesn’t offer you anything you like.”

It’s helpful to brush up on your rights as a passenger before you fly, so you know what airline-offered options are reasonable. “If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight, don’t settle for a voucher,” Shain said. “Chances are the airline owes you cold, hard cash.”

Remember your manners

It behooves you to be calm, cool and collected even if your travel woes have you ready to blow a gasket.

“When speaking with an agent, always, always be kind,” Shain stressed. “They didn’t cause the crappy weather or wish for mechanical problems; they’re just doing their job.”

She said that it sometimes those manners can pay off, too. She recalled a canceled flight that required her to go home and return the next day. “I was surprised to learn the agent had booked me a first-class seat to Europe even though I’d originally booked economy. I like to think it was because I had been jovial with her the day prior, when everyone around me was being quite the opposite,” she said.

If you don’t get an answer you like, try the next person

Don’t give up if you get offered a less-than-stellar rebooking option or a voucher that doesn’t meet your needs. “If the first person doesn’t give you what you want, move on to the next person,” Leff explained. “For instance, airlines won’t always put you on another airline, but if you keep asking, you may find an agent who will.”

Go ahead, tweet about it

What about that old standby, social media? Try it if your efforts are getting nowhere with gate agents of phone reps, or if they’re so overwhelmed by other passengers that you can’t even talk to someone.

“If I’m not satisfied with the service I’ve gotten from [the gate agent or calling], that’s when I’ll take to Twitter,” Shain admitted. “I find that airlines magically get way more responsive as soon as you air your grievances publicly.”

See “Remember your manners” above to tailor your tweets for a speedy response.

WATCH: Video of airline passenger operating screen with his toes goes viral (provided by Fox News)


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