ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

What It Takes to Get a Refund from an Airline

We posted last week about happy news for travelers seeking recovery from airlines over flight cancellation caused by the pandemic.  More legal action is in the offing against Southwest for its holiday meltdown this year.  I'm still hoping that Southwest will get ahead of this PR nightmare and offer frustrated travelers generous compensation.

Easter IslandMeanwhile, friend of the Blog Karen Halverson Cross alerted us to a feel sorta, kinda good story about about a $17,000 recovery from American Airlines.  The New York Times' Seth Kugel reports in the Tripped Up column about a traveler who, through no fault of her own, was unable to fly to Chile in time to meet up with her cruise to Antarctica.  The snafu was caused by American Airlines having provided the traveler with inaccurate information about what documents she needed in order to be able to fly Rapa Nui (Easter Island). 

The traveler did everything right: she researched travel requirements, she bought travel insurance, and ahw followed up aggressively when both American and the travel insurance company denied her claims.  American offered to refund the costs of her airline tickets, given that she was unable to fly due to her reliance on information provided to her by American, but they would not allow her to recover her consequential damages arising from her inability to meet up with her cruise ship.  The travel insurance company also refused a refund, on rather technical and shaky grounds. 

Seth Kugel put the screws to American, reading through the 299 pages of American's General Rules of the International Tariff, and he thought he had come up with a colorable argument for why American should have to cover the traveler's consequential harms and then . . .miraculously . . . American caved and paid.  

We should all be so fortunate.

But truth be told, applying ordinary principles of consequential damages, I'm not sure it would make sense to make the airlines cover the costs of a missed cruise.  How is American to know what the traveler had planned beyond Easter Island?  If they knew that $17,000 of additional liability awaited them on the other side of that flight, they might have upped their precautions against the provision of misinformation, but the more realistic course would be that the airline would make clear that they are not responsible for such consequential losses.  The traveler has to insure against the possibility of a missed connection.  The real problem here seems to lie with the limitations of travel insurance, which is really the only way for travelers to protect themselves against the unknown unknowns of air travel.

Commentary, Travel, True Contracts | Permalink


Nice post Jeremy! I agree with your point about insurance--the most depressing part of this story to me was how the insurance company weaseled out of paying

Posted by: Karen Cross | Jan 13, 2023 7:38:26 AM