Local media attention and an audio tape of a customer service call helped a New Jersey couple claim the refund they were promised after Hurricane Maria disrupted their travel plans.
It’s best to get important agreements in writing, but a pair of United Airlines passengers did the next best thing when they called the airline to reschedule a trip to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. An audiotape of the phone conversation proved invaluable after United reneged on a promise to cancel a booking and refund a credit card payment in lieu of a flight change.
When it became clear that Marianna Lopez and her boyfriend Spike Mcgreggor would have to cancel a long-planned vacation to the US territory after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, the pair reached out to United Airlines to reschedule their trip to a more suitable holiday destination. When it started to look like it would cost the couple thousands of dollars more to rebook the trip to Jamaica instead (Lopez and Mcgreggor’s preferred alternate destination), a customer service agent agreed to cancel the booking to, at the time, closed San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU).
The agent assured Lopez that the cost of the fare would be refunded to the credit card used at the time of purchase. When this didn’t happen, she again called the airline only to be told that while the trip had been canceled, no refund would be forthcoming.
“I thought there was a misunderstanding as their representative the day before promised us everything was fine,” Lopez told New Jersey Star Ledger consumer affairs reporter Karen Price Mueller. ”I spoke to [United Airlines’ customer service rep], who instead of trying to help us just told us to write on their feedback page online. They gave us the option to cancel and get credits for United, but that is not what we were promised. We are very upset because they lied to us and promised something one day and changed the whole story the next.”
Fortunately, the couple had the foresight to record the original phone call to United. After Lopez reached out to the newspaper’s “Bamboozled” consumer helpline with her supporting evidence in hand, United Airlines softened its position considerably.
Interestingly, according to United Airlines’ published policy for passengers with flights affected by Hurricane Maria, the second opinion from a United Airlines representative appears to be the correct interpretation of the rules. In this case, however, the carrier relented and opted to honor the initial promise. Faced with taped evidence and press inquiries from a tenacious consumer affairs investigator, airline officials were remarkably quick to back down.
“We have reached out to our customers to apologize for the confusion, and have refunded their tickets,” a United Airlines spokesperson told the newspaper.