Q: I'm a graduate student at the University of Texas and I was recently awarded a fellowship to conduct research for two months in Ibadan, Nigeria. Believing that I would be departing from New York and then returning to Austin, Texas, I booked the trip in two legs. However, knowing that this could change, I reviewed the refund policies for both legs carefully to make sure the tickets were refundable.
As per the instructions on its website, I sent an email to their "Customer First" program within 24 hours with my refund request and the appropriate information. I also called their web support number to make certain everything was in order. It was at that point that they began to say that I had booked my ticket through the Nigerian Air France website, though I was given absolutely no indication that this might be the case as I purchased the ticket.
I was referred to the Air France Nigeria office, which I have attempted to contact numerous times by email, but I have never received a response. I have also contacted a number of other offices of Air France and its affiliates. I have been told on at least five occasions that my information has been forwarded to the Nigerian office, but -- three months since I first submitted the refund request -- I have still heard nothing from that office.
At this point, I am more than exasperated. I have spent more than 24 hours on the telephone and have written many emails. Despite my efforts, I cannot even get a representative from the Air France refunds department to speak directly to me on the phone. The closest I have gotten is to reach the refunds department of its codeshare partner, Delta Air Lines, which can get Air France's U.S. refunds department on the phone, but refuses to transfer me through or provide me with a contact number.
At stake here is roughly $2,400, one quarter of my fellowship award and the equivalent of one month's income for my wife and I combined. I am contacting you out of sheer desperation. I have been lied to, put off, and handled very rudely. After three months, I feel that I have gotten nowhere. -- Daniel Jean-Jacques, Austin, Texas
A: If you had a fully refundable airline ticket, then Air France should have credited to your card within a week of your request. That's not just me saying it; there's a Transportation Department rule that says refunds must be made within seven business days.
Don't believe me? Here it is: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm.
This business between you, Delta, Air France and the Nigeria office -- from where I sit, it just looks like a delay tactic, although I'm sure there's a perfectly good bureaucratic reason for it. The refund should have come quickly from the place you bought it. End of story.
I'm willing to give Air France the benefit of the doubt. After all, even the Transportation Department notes that sometimes it can take one or two credit card billing cycles before your refund shows up. I'd like to think that's what happened here.
If you ever run into a refund problem again, I wouldn't waste my time on the phone. You can escalate your case to a manager at Air France by email. The email format is the first two letters of the firstname and lastname, all as one word, @airfrance.fr (so if I worked at Air France, my address would be email@example.com). Pretty clever, huh? Here are the managers: http://corporate.airfrance.com/en/the-company/corporate-governance/executive-committee/.
I also list Air France's managers on my site: http://elliott.org/contacts/air-france/.
I contacted Air France on your behalf and it promptly processed your refund.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)
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