Woman gets air ticket refunded a year later

December 7, 2011 8:07:55 PM PST
Airlines charge travelers a premium to get a refundable ticket. So when you buy one, you should be able to cancel your flight and get a refund as promised. But that didn't happen for one international traveler until 7 On Your Side got involved.

This is the story of an international courtship, one extremely patient woman, and a refund that didn't land in a traveler's bank account until more than a year later. And as we found out, regulations governing refunds for air travel are practically nonexistent.

Mahua Choudhury-Hironaga of Foster City shows us a treasured memento of her courtship with her now husband Kent. The India-born Choudhury-Hironaga was introduced to Kent by friends during a business trip to San Francisco. It didn't take long for them to realize they were meant for each other.

"Three weeks down the line we were actually thinking, 'Hmmm, this sounds promising,'" said Choudhury-Hironaga.

Choudhury-Hironaga returned to India, but the two kept in touch via email, online chats and phone conversations. Eventually Kent visited Choudhury-Hironaga in India. A photo was taken the first time Kent met her family. The courtship intensified and Choudhury-Hironaga purchased a roundtrip refundable ticket from Lufthansa to visit Kent in San Francisco.

"The prices were a little steeper because they were the refundable variety," said Choudhury-Hironaga.

Everything went so well on her visit that Choudhury-Hironaga cancelled her return flight and received confirmation from the airline that she did so. Three weeks later, the couple was married in San Mateo County.

"There was really no need to waste time since we were really sure about what we were doing," said Choudhury-Hironaga.

When things settled down, she inquired with Lufthansa about the expected refund.

"And all I would receive is an automated notification saying your complaint has been submitted. I never really heard back anything from anyone," said Choudhury-Hironaga.

Over the next year she filed several on line complaints, ut there was no response beyond the automated email.

Al Anolik is a nationally known travel attorney who said, "Months and months, that isn't reasonable. But there's no consumer rights law that says it must be this long."

More than a year after her canceled trip, she contacted 7 On Your Side and we contacted Lufthansa.

"I'm thinking hallelujah. This is there was absolutely no communication with Lufthansa. I had completely written it off," said Choudhury-Hironaga.

Lufthansa blamed the delay on a computer glitch, but says it responded to her once it became aware of the situation. We do need to mention the refund was only about half as much as Choudhury-Hironaga expected. It seems she unknowingly purchased what's known as a "restricted refundable ticket" which entitles her only to a partial refund.

"I'm still happy because I at least got something back, which was not going to happen without ABC7's help," said Choudhury-Hironaga.

Choudhury-Hironaga felt the terms of her ticket were not fully disclosed. We looked online at Lufthansa's tariff and could not find it disclosed either. We asked Lufthansa where the terms were posted, and we have not heard back. When we do, we'll let you know. If we don't, we'll let you know that too.

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