Benn Karne and his wife, Marilyn, had tickets from Athens to Bologna, Italy on May 14, 2020. Not that it did them much good. Like almost all other flights operated at the start of the pandemic, Aegean Airlines canceled it and eventually offered them a refund.
But then Aegean Airlines did something very strange: they only refunded one of the tickets.
Now the Karnes are trying to find out what went wrong with their second refund and how they can fix it. But their odyssey tells a much bigger story about airlines’ blatantly irresponsible behavior during the pandemic. You probably know stories like this. The extra context will make you furious.
Bad timing: He bought those tickets just before the pandemic started
The Karnes didn’t have the best timing. They booked their tickets for a vacation in Europe just before the outbreak. Then they spent the whole of March and April wondering if they could still travel. Of course they couldn’t. Greece and Italy closed and Aegean Airlines canceled flights.
The airline offered the couple credit vouchers, redeemable for cash after one year.
“At the end of the year, I received a refund for one of the tickets. But Aegean shows the other one as already redeemed, even though it was not,” he told me. he says. “To add to the confusion, the refund of a ticket does not indicate which one has been refunded.”
This is how he tried to get reimbursed by Aegean Airlines
Karnes tried – I mean, he really tried – to solve the problem itself. Here is a timeline of his efforts. (I’m posting this as a reading service so you don’t fall into this refund quagmire.)
Karnes booked the tickets on January 20, 2020, just weeks before the closings. Tickets were for May 14.
On April 2, Aegean Airlines canceled their flight.
“Depending on the website, we might ask for a credit voucher,” he adds.
In July, Aegean Airlines converted the two tickets into vouchers.
“These voucher emails said that after 12 months we could get a full refund,” he says.
A year later, he consults the site of Aegean Airlines. It indicated that one of the tickets was “already refunded”. The second ticket was still a good one.
Karnes checked his bank account. He did not see a refund. I let him continue to tell the story.
- On September 6, we were informed that we could add 10% value to the voucher or request a full refund. We asked for a full refund (again).
- On September 14, I tried to get my ticket refunded and the website said, “Currency refund request successful”.
- On September 15, 2021, Aegean Airlines informed me that the submission of refund bank details was successful.
In the end, he received 103 euros in return for one of the tickets. But the other note remained a good one. And that’s how he stayed until he contacted my team of consumer advocates a few months later.
Can a European airline cancel your flight and force you to accept a credit?
A funny thing happened after the pandemic. Airlines wanted to keep your money even after canceling their flights. Every airline has tried to do this, arguing it would hurt their business if they offered refunds.
American carriers didn’t get very far. As soon as they started asking for a federal bailout, regulators let them know they needed to reimburse passengers quickly, as required by Department of Transportation regulations. As the government noted in March 2020, “the airlines’ obligation to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fees charged for services a passenger cannot use, does not end when flight disruptions are beyond the carrier’s control (eg due to government restrictions).
Other airlines have gone further. European carriers tried to convert the money into credit, hoping for interest-free microcredit from their customers. But in May 2020, the EU said it was not legal. Customers like Karnes deserved a prompt and full refund.
Reimbursement of the full price of the ticket is due within 7 days of the passenger’s request for air, sea and river transport, 14 days after the offer or request received for transport by bus and coach and 1 month after demand for rail transport.
Under European Union law, reimbursement can be made in cash or in the form of a voucher.
However, reimbursement by means of a voucher is only possible with the passenger’s agreement. (Emphasis mine.)
Conclusion: Aegean’s inadvertent “conversion” of Karnes’ notes into credits was illegal. The EU said so at the time of the cancellation of his flight. Aegean Airlines was breaking EU laws.
How do I get a refund from Aegean Airlines?
I’m not surprised that refund cases like Karnes have been dragging on for years. Airlines and other travel companies prefer to forget the start of the epidemic, and they are more focused on the future than on a few painful months in 2020 when it seemed like the sky was falling. But you can’t let them forget.
We publish the names, numbers and email addresses of Aegean Airlines customer service managers on this site.
But a review of Karnes’ case suggests those names weren’t enough to get him a full refund. He sent numerous emails and a polite letter to the CEO using our online contacts. Then the airline refunded his first ticket. But Aegean’s website showed he had refunded both tickets.
Understanding this takes a bit of perseverance. I have details on how to resolve a complicated complaint like this in my story on how to resolve your consumer issue.
I think an email to the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority, the aviation regulators in Greece, might have shaken something up. You can find the EU complaint form on its website.
So what was the problem? I contacted the airline on behalf of Karnes. A representative said the airline tried to send the second refund to Karnes’ bank, but it appears the transfer failed. This can happen when the account number is incorrect.
I asked Karnes about this and he provided me with the correct bank account number. I think it’s possible that someone on the other end of the line mistyped their bank details on the second ticket. Or maybe they had the right number and intentionally badly typed. Who knows?
Karnes returned the account number. This time the refund was made.
How to get a refund faster from Aegean Airlines or any other European carrier
When it comes to reimbursement, airlines like to take their time. This is especially true when a pandemic interrupts all air travel. Airline payment processing systems are designed to take money fast and return it slowly, because it’s good for business. During a pandemic, this slowdown becomes very slow.
Don’t let him.
- Ask for a full refund. During the pandemic, some airlines assumed you wanted that one-year credit if you didn’t indicate a preference. (And, by the way, it could have been worse. Some airlines allow this credit to expire after one year, which is extremely illegal.) Make sure your claim is in writing.
- Remind the airline of the applicable law. The EU and US DOT have clear rules regarding when a refund should be given. When you ask for your money in writing – did I mention you have to in writing? — also recall the reimbursement rules.
- Follow up with a regulatory complaint. Seriously, nothing sets the wheels in motion faster than a complaint filed with regulators. Airlines don’t want this kind of thing on their file, and they’ll get back to you quickly to make the problem go away. There is no point in following up with the airline to request a refund. You to know reimbursement is delayed by the airline’s outdated payment system. Only an investigation by a government agency will be able to move things forward.
We have a long list of complaints about European airlines keeping their customers’ money for months, if not years, after the pandemic began. If you still have credit that your airline forced you to accept, please contact my advocacy team.
We will get them for you.