Where's My Airline Refund? What to Know if Your Flight Was Canceled By an Airline

Travelers say airlines are refusing refunds for canceled flights, despite a federal law that requires them to pay customers back.

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There is no question the airlines are reeling from the slowdown in travel and may not survive as we know them. But they also received billions in government grants last month to pay their workers.

That's even more reason that customers say they should also be paid the cash refunds they are legally due. 

Earlier this month, after receiving a steady stream of complaints from ticketed passengers, the U.S Department of Transportation found it necessary to remind carriers of a basic rule: If an airline cancels a flight, passengers get their money back. Regardless of the type of ticket they bought. It’s that simple.

“This thing really hit the fan around the middle of March,” according to Paul Hudson of

Hudson says 90% of the complaints coming in to right now are all about the money.

“It all comes down to where's my refund?” Hudson said.

Travelers say airlines are refusing those refunds and pushing vouchers instead.

“The average American only goes on a plane trip once every one to three years,” Hudson said. “They're not going to care about a voucher that may be good for anywhere from 90 days to a year.”

It is important to point out that many travelers, concerned about the virus, cancelled their own flights. They’ll have to take whatever voucher they can get.

But for the untold number whose flights were cancelled by the airlines, their right to a refund should not also include an argument. That's exactly what Carl and Sharon Obenauf said they got when their two tickets to Scandinavia, which cost them $6,300, disappeared from Obenauf’s American Airlines app earlier this month.

“Knowing the directives from the Transportation Department, there's no question that that ticket, those tickets are refundable,” Obenauf said.

Instead, American Airlines denied his claim twice, saying: “We’re sorry your travel plans changed,” followed by words Obenauf can only describe as aggravating:

“Your trip is non-refundable, but don't worry, the unused value of your ticket is safe, you'll be able to use it towards future travel,” Obenauf recounted.

NBC 5 Responds asked American Airlines what was behind the refund denial. After our inquiry, American said Carl and his wife will now receive their $6,300 refund and called the denials they received "human error."

American Airlines gave the following statement:

The refund is currently processing. We apologize to the Obenaufs for the confusion and delay in reimbursement, which in this case was the result of a human error. Additionally, we encourage our customers to contact our customer relations department with any concerns regarding bookings.

We know flexibility is important to our customers during this time of uncertainty, and the comprehensive travel waivers we’ve put in place are designed to meet that need. The safety and well-being of our customers and team members remains our highest priority, and American's team members are working around the clock to care for our customers.

As has always been our policy, if American cancels a flight for any reason, a customer can receive a full refund back to their original form of payment. Visit for additional details.

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