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I'm a physics student and researcher who travels a fair amount to communicate with scientists in my field, and I recently booked a non-refundable ticket through Turkish Airlines to get from Boston to Geneva next week.

I was aware that Turkey was not the most stable region, but all travel warnings at that time regarded southeastern Turkey; my flight has a 16 hour layover in Istanbul, which is on the western side of the country. I was told recent events would not be a problem, both by Turkish acquaintances and service representatives of Turkish Airlines. However, that was when I booked the March 25th flight at the beginning of the month.

When the bombings in Ankara (central Turkey) occurred last weekend, I called Turkish Airlines to cancel my flight, suspicious that violence was moving westward. After four separate customer service calls, they finally gave me the following breakdown of my non-refundable ticket:

  • $360.00 USD for fuel taxes (non-refundable)
  • $129.00 USD minimum ticket cost (non-refundable)
  • $96.76 USD refundable ticket cost

Which adds up to $585.76 USD, only $96 of which is refundable. I complained to their customer service representatives that the circumstances were such that I should not feel compelled to take a flight when there was a reasonable chance I would find myself in serious danger during my travels to Turkey (this was the only reason which would have driven me to cancel my flight). Their response was that they had no evidence of danger in Istanbul or Ataturk airport, and that I would be safe during my 16-hour layover. However, I was suspicious, and felt that this was not exactly a statement the Airline could guarantee.

Last night, I called again because the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued a travel warning yesterday (March 17), saying that U.S. Government buildings and tourist areas might be targets for acts of terrorism. I called Turkish Airlines again and complained; they redirected me to a Customer Care Relations form which I could fill out to request a full refund. I did so. The airline usually takes 48 hours to respond.

This morning, Istanbul was victim to a suicide bombing in a populated tourist area. At least 36 were injured, and five were reported dead. I am concerned that after hours of effort, I will not be able to obtain a full refund, even though there is now evidence of a clear and present danger in Istanbul. Given that I have had to book another last-minute flight through a safer region (Canada to Geneva), I would expect Turkish to at least refund the cost of my ticket, or provide me with a credit for future travel (although I am so concerned with the way they do business that I do not think the latter is acceptable anymore).

If they do not provide me with a full refund, my next step will be to go to small claims court. My question is whether there is a court precedent for my situation. Is there any chance I will get my money back in filing a claim?

In my view, the situation is like this: suppose you buy a cake from a bakery. You pay up-front for the cake, and are told that the purchase is final. This sounds reasonable, because you trust the business owner to provide you with a product which is, at the very least, safely comestible. However, when you stop by a week later to pick up the cake, the baker tells you that there is a reasonable chance the cake has cyanide in it, and that you would endanger yourself in the act of consumption. The baker then refuses to provide you with a full refund for your purchase. This situation seems unreasonable to me in the exact same way that my current situation does. What are your thoughts?

Thanks so much for your help.

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    It was your choice to ask for a refund because you chose to assess the events as a safety risk to yourself and the airline. The baker and the poisoned cake metaphor is not accurate because the airline did not create the risk situation you perceived as dangerous. – BlueDogRanch Mar 19 '16 at 20:17
  • @BlueDogRanch, initially that was the case. However, given that there was a bombing in the city today, there is a real safety risk, not just a perceived one. The airline must legally acknowledge that there are dangers associated with traveling to the city, especially in light of the fact that the U.S. Consulate has issued warnings regarding travel in Istanbul – Evan Coleman Mar 19 '16 at 22:34
  • @BlueDogRanch In the cake example, the cyanide could have come from the particular almond extract the baker was using. This is not the baker's fault, because he did not know there was going to be cyanide in his ingredients. He may have intended well, but ultimately the product is dangerous. Then you could similarly argue that the baker did not directly create the risk situation. However, he is still creating a business scenario which endangers the consumer. – Evan Coleman Mar 19 '16 at 22:41
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    "The airline must legally acknowledge that there are dangers associated with traveling to the city..." What law - US, Turkish or International - states that? – BlueDogRanch Mar 19 '16 at 22:50
  • @BlueDogRanch This was what a customer care representative of Turkish Airlines told me to reassure me that if a real security risk were present, the company would be forced to acknowledge it. I am not trained in law, so I do not know from where this statement derives its validity. However, the State Department recognizes Istanbul as a high-risk travel destination after today's events. I am not making this up by any means. – Evan Coleman Mar 19 '16 at 22:53
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As I said in my comments, "It was your choice to ask for a refund because you chose to assess the events as a safety risk to yourself and the airline."

The airline did not assess a risk and as a result cancel the flight and issue refunds. The airline did not disregard advisories or laws pertaining to the terrorist acts that took place and result in legal triggers that mandated the airline cancel the flight and give refunds.

If a city or country is classified as a war zone - by that country itself or some international body, or by the US State Department - then there are triggers that either suggest or mandate flight closures, through a myriad of laws and jurisdictions.

It is solely your perception of the risk to yourself and the airline that you are using as a reason to ask for a refund. You have made a decision on your own and simply don't have a case for a refund.

http://www.turkishairlines.com/en-int/travel-information/legal-notice/terms-amp-conditions/cancellation-refund

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The state Department just advises against non-essential travel, they have not prohibited you from going. I take it that no airline have cancelled any flights due to the situation in Turkey, so the choice of not going is entirely a private decision you are making based on that you don't think your business is essential.

You chose to buy the non-refundable ticket, and made the choice not to go -- the airline have not rescinded on their part of the deal to fly you, so I think the problem is yours.

  • Hi, I like your answer (can't upvote it), but this only gets to part of my question - what is the legal precedent? Is there any previous court case in which a similar ruling was made? Also, I don't know if you've read the comments on the OP, but they might make more clear the nuances I struggle to understand in this situation. In particular, would Turkish Airlines be forced to cancel flights if the US determined Turkey too unsafe to travel to? Where are the legal boundaries here between caveat emptor and an unbusinesslike transaction? – Evan Coleman Mar 19 '16 at 23:59
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    I don't think there is any nuances -- I don't think you have a case, and if you take it to (any) court your case will just get dismissed -- that is unless you can show that the non-refundable service you paid for was no longer available due to no fault of yours -- if the US air traffic, state department or whoever were responsible for such decision would stop the flights then it would not be your fault, but I take it that that has not happened. – Soren Mar 20 '16 at 0:07

protected by user6726 Jul 16 '16 at 4:45

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