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Department of Transportation and EU regulations clearly state that the customer is entitled to cash refund in case the airline cancels a booked flight. Obviously many airlines at the moment are refusing to do this.

Questions:

  1. Do the same regulation apply to tickets not directly booked with the airline but through a third party like Expedia ?
  2. Is Expedia required to at least honor the cancellation rules of the airline

Background:

We booked Air France tickets on Expedia and Expedia cancelled since Air France cancelled the flights. Expedia offers airline credit but it's extremely restricted. Basically you can only use it for a single ticket on one booking for the same person on the same airline departing from the same country and costing the same price. Ideally we want cash back or at least Air France's conditions which offer a voucher that becomes refundable after one year. Expedia has removed the original fare rules from their website but they didn't include any specific verbiage about cancellation by the airline.We like to charge back through the credit card company but would like to understand the legal situation first.

Links to the regulations

https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32004R0261&from=en https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/refunds

UPDATE ON EXPEDIA VS AIRLINE In this case I think we need to deal with Expedia since they took our money (not Air France). If we were to execute a charge back, we'd have to do it against Expedia. I had a different booking with Priceline on Air China, but in this case Air China charged us and also refunded the money as well (without any problems, I might add).

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It doesn’t even apply to the airline in current circumstances

(14) As under the Montreal Convention, obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

You don’t book with Expedia

Expedia is an aggregation service provider, they put you in touch with the supplier (who pays them) for you to book with. They are not a traditional travel agent acting as an intermediary.

So, no matter what, you can’t get your money from them.

What does the contract say?

We have already established that the regulation requiring a refund has excluded itself so the first thing to look at is your contract and why Air France cancelled the contract. They could have cancelled it because a government prohibited the flight, or because it was unsafe to make the flight, or because it was uneconomic, or ...

As an added complication, you might have been prohibited from taking the flight even if it had been operated depending on your nationality and government restrictions at the time, if so, the cancellation of the flight has caused you no damage beyond that which you suffered from the government decree

The first step is to read your contract and find out who bears the risk for each of those eventualities and what has to be done. If the contract says you get a refund, you get a refund, if it says you get a credit, you get a credit. Ultimately, if there is a complete and utter failure of consideration, you are entitled to a refund - that is if they cannot provide you with a flight within a reasonable time. In theory, when this all ends, they could contact you and say, “we can fly you tomorrow” - they would then have fulfilled their obligation even if you don’t want to fly tomorrow. Legally, this is fine, commercially, it would be a disaster.

Force Majeure

This obscure area of contract law has become very relevant at this time. It means “superior force” and deals with what happens when a party is unable to fulfil its obligations under a contract through unforeseen in the contract and unforeseeable in practice events beyond either parties control. That is, between the parties, who took the risk of that unforeseeable event?

If the contract is silent then, under French (civil) law, Air France is relieved of its contractual obligations, that is, they are not in breach of their contract and are not subject to damage. However, if the contract is under Common (English/US etc.) law then they have breached their contract and owe you damages. Whose law is the contract under? You’ll have to read it.

Consumer protection law

This adds another level of complexity.

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  • Thanks for the answer. It would seem that this cnn.com/2020/04/03/politics/airlines-canceled-flights-refunds/… contradicts most of what you wrote. My understanding is that Force Majeure exempts the airline from any type of punitive compensation but they still owe you the money for the original ticket. They did NOT provide the service they were paid for. – Hilmar Apr 4 at 13:34
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    It does not matter if they can provide you with a flight in reasonable time. This is an EU carrier, and thus you are not bound to accept. If they cancel your flight, you are owed a refund. Yes, due to major circumstance you are not owed compensation, but you are owed your paid money back. – Martin Dimitrov Apr 7 at 7:28
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As Dale said, Expedia has nothing to do in this case. You have to contact AirFrance. They will offer you a voucher, which you DO NOT have to accept and could ask for a full money refund. Note, however, that they have probably thousands of people writing to them and asking for a refund and the process could take months. They are legally bound to give you the money back, unless they go bankrupt first(which is very possible with a lot of carriers right now). You are not owed compensation however, due to the major circumstances. All you can ask of them is to refund you the money back.

Yes, the best option right now, would be to ask for a charge back, since it is not impossible for the company to go bankrupt before this all ends. We are getting reports that at least 2 EU carriers are on the brink right now, and could go bankrupt as soon as 2 weeks from now.

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    Given EU airlines are currently pressing for a rules change around EU261 rules because refunds will cause 90% of them to go bankrupt this year, dont expect a refund any time soon - airlines are going to fight handing out money they dont have until either they have no choice but to go bankrupt, or someone else foots the bill, or the rules change to say they dont have to. – Moo Apr 7 at 7:34
  • @Moo Exactly. This is why, the best option is to try a charge back. Nobody can guarantee you will get any money back, but this is his best bet. – Martin Dimitrov Apr 7 at 10:14
  • @MartinDimitrov: why do you claim this is not Expedia's issue. Expedia took our money, not Air France. If we were to charge back, we'd have to do it against Expedia. See updated question on details. – Hilmar Apr 7 at 15:11
  • @Hilmar From expedia General TOS "Expedia, Inc. operates the Website which acts as an interface between you and the various Travel Service Providers offering the Services. When you make a booking for a Service using the Website, you will be entering into a contract with the relevant Travel Service Providers for that Service. " – Martin Dimitrov Apr 8 at 15:03
  • Thanks, that's helpful – Hilmar Apr 10 at 13:27
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DOT clarified a week ago that the COVID-19 epidemic does not except the airlines from offering the full cash refund. So there - no Force Majeure applies, at least in the US. The problem of course is that if you have to deal with the airlines that might still take quite a while.

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