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TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

American Airlines canceled my flight after the pandemic. Where’s my refund?

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Q. In February, I made plans for my husband and me to visit our daughter in Newport Beach, Calif. We were supposed to fly from Philadelphia on American Airlines. As the coronavirus spread, we thought of canceling our trip.

In mid-March, Orange County was in lockdown, and we knew we couldn’t go. However, I read your article in which you suggested that we wait and see if American would cancel our flight so that we could get a refund rather than a credit.

American contacted us and said our flight had been rescheduled. I asked American if there was a chance they’d cancel and the representative said they had already consolidated flights, so probably not. I accepted the rescheduled flight.

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But on April 5, I got a message on my phone app saying our flight was canceled. I planned to ask for a refund, but then got another message on my app that American put us on a flight about two hours earlier and asked me to accept the change.

I would rather have a refund. Can I get my money back?

JILL KAISERMAN, Wayne, Pa.

A. American Airlines should have returned your money the first time it changed your flight. The US Department of Transportation, which regulates domestic airlines, is unambiguous about this. You’re entitled to a refund if American cancels a flight — regardless of the reason — and you decide not to travel.

Since the outbreak, many airlines have creatively reclassified cancellations as flight reschedulings. But there’s a specific definition of a rescheduling, and I don’t believe your first flight met that standard. It has to be the same origin and destination, and preferably the same flight number.

So, for example, a simple rescheduling would be if your flight from Philadelphia to Orange County leaves an hour later. But if American cancels that flight and puts you on a new flight with a stopover in Dallas, that’s technically a canceled flight.

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The second flight definitely was canceled. American even admitted it. You should have received a full refund. I know we’ve been through this in previous columns, but airlines are trying to keep your money during the coronavirus crisis. You can take a credit if you want, but you don’t have to — and they shouldn’t tell you that it’s your only option.

I supplied you with the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of the American Airlines executives. You called American and asked for a refund, citing the government rules. After a brief hold, the airline agreed to return your money. Nice job advocating your own case!

If you need help with a coronavirus-related refund, you can send details through my consumer advocacy site or e-mail me at chris@elliott.org.