The LAMag Guide to Getting Your Money Back From Airlines

Being handed a voucher after a canceled flight is not considered a valid reason to not refund your money

If you are one of the millions of people in California who never received a refund for your canceled flights during the Covid-19 pandemic, you may have given up hope, but all is not lost — the Department of Transportation has determined that the airlines did not have the right to issue you a travel credit or voucher in place of a monetary refund. 

Here’s the thing: If you did accept a voucher or travel credit .you’re not left out — this is not considered a valid reason to not refund your money. You have an opportunity to get your refund and LAMag has an easy step-by-step guide to getting your money back from the airlines.

Demand a Refund in 3 Steps

Download the app TapeACall. Know this: You do not need to explicitly tell the airline representative that you are taping the call, as at the beginning of the call they always state that they are recording the call, this is implied consent on the part of the airline.

  1. Pull together the relevant information — when you purchased the tickets, the flight numbers, the dates the flights were scheduled, the date the flight was canceled.

3, Call the airline’s customer service number and record the call where you demand a refund, and/or go to the airline’s website and file a written request for a refund.

File Complaints

Head to the Department of Transportation’s website or go in person and file a complaint. They have a dedicated team who contacts the airlines when a complaint is received to try and secure your refund. 

You should also file a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Send a Letter of Demand

Any business, even ones that are headquartered outside California, that does business in the state can be sued in small claims court for up to $10,000. Use free help available and/or this free court-approved letter of demand creator when preparing a message to the airline. You must be sure to send the letter of demand to the correct addresses and company figures. All businesses that are not headquartered in California are required to have an entity whose job is to act as its CSC, or proxy. You should mail the letter of demand both to the airline’s headquarters and to this proxy company. Use this link below to obtain the information needed to send your letter.

Find the Best Small Claims Court and Sue

Unless you have no choice, whatever you do, don’t file your small claims lawsuit at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. This one is wildly busy and just a headache. In California, you can file your small claims lawsuit in any jurisdiction in which the airline does business. For example, if you are suing American Airlines, filing in the Inglewood courthouse for the LAX location, the Long Beach courthouse for the Long Beach Airport location, or any other location where the airline flies. 

Once you have found the courthouse that’s the most convenient for you, go to the clerk for small claims, file your paperwork (and pay the filing fee.)

Three (More) Steps Before the Trial

  1. Serve the airline and file a proof of service — the best way to do this is to call a process serving company in the city where the airline’s CSC is located and have them serve the papers. This should cost about $75, the process server will then send you proof of service, which can be filed at the courthouse.
  2. Mediation: Within five days of filing, you must create an account to participate in free mediation. 
  3. Send a copy of the evidence — at least two weeks before the trial date, you must provide the evidence you plan to use at the trial to the defendant and the court.

At the Trial

The only information the judge is interested in is, for one: Why does the defendant owe you money? “The airlines charged you for a flight that they then canceled,” — say this verbatim — “Under U.S. law, airlines and ticket agents have a legal obligation to refund consumers if the airline cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from and within the United States, and the passenger does not wish to accept the alternative offered. It is unlawful for an airline to refuse refunds and instead provide vouchers to such consumers.”

The judge will also ask: “What efforts have you made to recover this money before going to small claims court?” As we’ve covered, you’ll have requested a refund in writing and over the phone, you have filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and with the Better Business Bureau, and you have attempted mediation through the Los Angeles Court system. 

Finally, the judge will ask: “What evidence do you have to present to show that the defendant owes you the amount that you have requested?” This is where you’ll give the court a copy of all of your receipts for the flights purchased.

Collecting Your Judgment

You have a 99% chance that the judge is going to find it in your favor and require the airline to refund your money. The airline will receive a copy of this judgment and they will make arrangements to pay you. 

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