How did an extensive flight delay cause a Lufthansa passenger to lose $5,459?
That’s what Sruthi Samraj wants to know after her bizarre experience with Lufthansa. She recently boarded a last-minute flight planning to make a connection in Frankfurt to Bangalore to attend her grandmother’s funeral. But after an extensive delay, during which the passengers deplaned, it was clear Sruthi would miss her connecting Lufthansa flight.
So she canceled the trip and went home.
But the disappointment of missing her grandmother’s funeral was soon exacerbated by the airline’s response to her refund request. Lufthansa intended to keep her entire $5,459, calling her a no-show on the delayed flight.
Now Sruthi is asking for help to get her cash returned. But with Lufthansa remaining firm in its refusal to refund her money, will that be possible?
A same-day business class ticket for a sad event
Early one afternoon last spring, Sruthi received the sad news that her grandmother had died in India. The funeral would be scheduled to occur within 48 hours, and Sruthi intended to be there.
“I called Lufthansa and booked a same-day business class ticket from Chicago to Bangalore,” Sruthi explained. “I had a connection in Frankfurt.”
The total cost of the last-minute flight: $5,459; An unexpected but necessary expense to pay her last respects to her grandmother.
Sruthi quickly packed her suitcase and headed to the airport for her 7 p.m. flight. The first leg of her journey would be a Lufthansa codeshare flight operated by United Airlines.
Arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare, she checked in for her flight and then sat down for a much-needed breather. It had been a terrible day so far.
Unfortunately, the day would soon take another bad turn.
Flight delay after delay for this grieving Lufthansa passenger
Sruthi heard the boarding announcement for her flight, and she headed to the gate. Soon she was settled into her business class seat, hoping to rest a bit before the next few days’ events.
“It had obviously been a stressful day,” Sruthi recalled. “The flight attendant came and took my dinner order, and then I closed my eyes to try to relax.”
The calm didn’t last long.
In about 20 minutes, after all the passengers had boarded and taken their seats, the pilot asked them to gather their belongings and leave the aircraft.
“He said there was a problem with the landing gear sensors,” Sruthi told me. “Then, for the next 90 minutes, the United Airlines agents announced delay after delay in little increments.”
When the flight delay ticked past when she could make her connecting flight to India, Sruthi decided to cancel the trip.
Calling Lufthansa to cancel the entire (refundable) trip
Sruthi called Lufthansa to explain that the codeshare flight now had a delay that would cause her to miss the connection in Frankfurt.
“The Lufthansa agent assured me that the flight delay (now three hours) qualified for a refund. She said she was processing the refund while I was on the phone with her and that I should see it in 5-7 days.”
Mentally and physically exhausted by the events of the past 12 hours, she headed back to her home.
Lufthansa: No-show passengers do not receive a flight refund
About a week after one of the most unpleasant days of her life, Sruthi noticed that the refund from Lufthansa hadn’t appeared on her credit card yet. She called the airline, and an agent told her that the refund request hadn’t been processed correctly.
“That agent told me the original Lufthansa agent hadn’t processed the flight refund at all,” Sruthi recalled. “But now she had put in the request, and I should get a response in another 5-7 days.”
The words this Lufthansa agent used now made it sound like Sruthi’s refund was in question.
It was. In fact, just a few days later, Sruthi received shocking news: Lufthansa had processed her refund – but for just $121. The notification explained that as a no-show for her Lufthansa flight, she was only eligible for the taxes on the ticket.
“You have been marked as a no-show on the return leg of your flights, and I don’t see a record of your request for cancellation or refund. (Lufthansa)”
Sruthi was stunned. Lufthansa intended to keep over $5,000 for a flight she had canceled because of the extensive delay. And now, no one at the airline acknowledged that there had ever been a delay.
This refund rejection set off a flurry of back-and-forth emails between Sruthi and Lufthansa as she battled for her cash.
What is the Lufthansa Refund Clarifications Team??
But one month later, she was no closer to victory. In fact, the opposite was true.
After this email from Lufthansa’s “Refund Clarifications Team,” which didn’t actually clarify anything, Sruthi gave up.
But not quite.
That’s when her request for help landed in my inbox.
Will Lufthansa ever admit there was a delay and send the refund?
By the time Sruthi reached me, she had reached a frustrating breaking point. In her paper trail, I could see that she had laid out a very clear and logical case for Lufthansa. Repeatedly. She had screenshots of her phone call to Lufthansa on the night of the delay, her boarding pass to prove she wasn’t a no-show, and her baggage tags for the flight.
Yet each Lufthansa agent she spoke to claimed to be unaware of a flight delay. It was nonsensical. How could a customer service agent not be able to see records of the outbound flight delay that turned out to be nearly 5 hours?
If you’re a regular reader of my column, then you’ve probably already guessed the answer. I assumed this was another Artificial Intelligence customer service failure. I’ve been writing about this terrible evolution in customer service for some time now.
Last week two of my columns covered customer service failures that could only have been created by a non-human. No real human could be so dense as to suggest a toilet is a negotiable amenity in an Airbnb Or that a traveler should produce a repair bill for a stolen car – a vehicle that was never recovered.
The number of companies that have replaced human connections with AI robots is disturbing to me as a consumer advocate. These often very unintelligent bots only serve to aggravate customers and frequently do more damage to the consumer/ business relationship than anything else.
It was time to put an end to Sruthi’s endless go-rounds with whoever – or whatever she was corresponding with at Lufthansa.
Asking Lufthansa to have another look at this refund rejection
I was determined to get Sruthi’s case in front of a real person at Lufthansa, where I assumed her refund request would be quickly approved.
We have a Lufthansa customer (Sruthi Samraj) here who purchased a r/t ticket from Chicago to Bangalore via Frankfurt scheduled for March 22. The first leg of the journey was a codeshare flight on a United Airlines aircraft (Flight LH 9151 operated as United Airlines UA 907). It was delayed multiple times for a total of 4h 54 mins. Sruthi called Lufthansa and canceled the ticket after it became clear she would not make the connection in Frankfurt.
Michelle Couch-Friedman to Lufthansa
A 5-hour delay should have qualified her for a full refund, but for some reason, Lufthansa has her marked as a no-show. I’m including a photo of her boarding pass that shows that she did board the plane, but after the delay became significant, all the passengers were taken off the aircraft, and Sruthi did not reboard.
Could your team take a look at this case and see why the ticket hasn’t been refunded? Thank you.
And just so you know, even consumer advocates sometimes have difficulty prying an answer from the companies we deal with.
A week later, neither Sruthi nor I had heard from the executive resolution team at Lufthansa.
Never one to give up easily, I tried again. And then…
Success: Lufthansa Refunds Clarification Team has new clarity!
The next day, the Refunds Clarification Team had new clarity.
And now Sruthi has finally been made whole, and she couldn’t be more relieved.
And this is precisely why we do what we do here every day at Consumer Rescue. You’re welcome, Sruthi!
What to do during an extensive flight delay
Airline passengers are often confused about what to do before, during, and after an extensive flight delay. But your actions at each stage can impact your ability to receive the compensation that may be available to you.
Here’s exactly what you need to know before an extensive flight delay hits you.
In the planning stages of your next trip
Arm yourself against the financial repercussions of a flight delay by taking a few steps in your planning phase.
Book an early flight: On average, early morning flights are delayed less often because, in most cases, the aircraft is already sitting at the gate, having arrived the day before. Keep in mind that your airline’s entire fleet is interconnected, so delays in one location can impact flights all over the country. One way to decrease your chances of getting caught in that domino effect is by booking an early morning flight.
Take nonstop flights: With each leg you add to your journey, you increase your chances of getting hit with a flight delay that could stop you from reaching your destination. By booking a nonstop flight whenever possible, you improve the likelihood that your travel day will go smoothly.
Consider travel insurance: This is important even for domestic trips if you have booked nonrefundable hotels, rental cars, vacation rentals, excursions, or other events. Many travelers don’t think about this until it’s too late, assuming that travel insurance is only for international adventures. This simply isn’t true. Remember, in the United States, there are no laws or regulations that compel an airline to provide compensation for nonrefundable bookings that you miss because of a flight delay or cancellation. But travel insurance can provide trip delay, interruption, and cancellation protections – as well as lost or delayed luggage coverage.
So before you confirm any nonrefundable components, consider protecting your investment with a travel insurance policy – even for domestic trips. You can receive a free personalized quote and compare policies from various travel insurance companies through InsuranceMyTrip.
Use a professional travel advisor: Using a travel advisor may be for you, especially if your travel plans are complicated. These professionals can help you navigate an extended delay or cancellation. A professional travel advisor has access to tools you don’t. These tools can get you back on track quickly and mitigate the impact of a delayed or canceled flight.
During an extended flight delay
Ok, so the worst has happened, and you are now experiencing an extended flight delay. Remember, the Department of Transportation says that in the United States, airlines must give passengers the options of a refund or being put on the next available flight on their own fleet. But that replacement flight could be hours, days, or (as we saw during the pandemic) weeks later!
The DOT also doesn’t define the exact number of hours the delay must be for the passenger to be able to request either of those options. You’ll find that information in the airline’s contract of carriage. Before the pandemic, most carriers identified a 90 to 120-minute delay as the magic number.
But most, if not all, airlines, including United and American Airlines, adjusted their schedule change policy “temporarily” during the coronavirus crisis. Unfortunately, those increases appear to be here to stay. Today it is typical to see four hours as the delay or change needed before a passenger can ask to cancel or get a refund. So before you decide to scrap your trip because of an extended delay, make sure that you’ve reached the threshold that allows for a refund for your particular airline. Then:
- Let the airline know that you no longer want to travel. Do not just walk away from the gate and go home. You must officially cancel your reservation via an airline employee, online or on the phone. Make sure to get the employee’s name, so there is no confusion later.
- If you’ve purchased travel insurance, you can contact the toll-free number that most companies provide to receive specific flight delay guidance. Having this type of resource available can be a welcome relief if you’re caught in a massive system-wide flight delay fiasco such as Southwest inflicted on its passengers last month (Ps. I spoke to 5 On Your Side in St. Louis as that particular traveler’s nightmare was unfolding.).
- Of course, if you’ve booked your trip with a travel advisor, that professional will be your new best friend during an extended flight delay. Reach out to your agent and ask for additional guidance.
After an extended flight delay and you canceled
Most passengers inconvenienced by a five-hour flight delay should not have the battle in which Sruthi found herself. I’m unaware of any airline that doesn’t agree that a passenger can cancel for a full refund after such a deviation from the schedule. But if you don’t receive an automatic refund after canceling your flight, here’s what to do next.
- Contact the airline: If you are a member of the airline’s loyalty program, you can sign into your account and make your refund request there. If you aren’t a member, you may need to call or write to the general customer service address. You can typically find that by Googling the carrier’s name plus “Customer service.”
- Escalate your request: If you remain unable to reach someone who can help you or you’ve received a rejection, you’ll need to escalate your complaint within the airline. Consumer Rescue makes that process easy. Our team members have been working together for years researching and compiling a directory of helpful customer service and executive contacts for consumers. If you need to reach a real person within a company, submit your request to Consumer Rescue’s research valet. You tell us what business you’re having a problem with, and we’ll tell you who to contact first.
- Ask Consumer Rescue for help: Of course, if you’ve done everything you can to retrieve your refund from the airline and you’re still coming up empty-handed, you got a secret weapon up your sleeve: Consumer Rescue! Fill out our Get Help form, and we’ll be happy to assist you too. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)