Airline refunds can be slow to arrive: Roseman (Toronto Star)

Airline refunds can be slow to arrive: Roseman (Toronto Star)

April 30, 2015

By Ellen Roseman  

Why does it take so long to get a refund from some large companies? It’s hard to be patient when not paid promptly, even if the amount at stake is small.

Here are cases where I chased an elusive refund or reimbursement for Star readers. Airlines are high on the list of slow payers.

United Airlines: Melanie Novis and Jim Van Horne flew first class to Maui, Hawaii, last December. When returning to Canada, they stopped over in San Francisco.

“United told us they had no record of our tickets and ultimately flew us home in economy class from San Francisco,” Novis said April 15. “We have been trying since January to get back the fare difference ($1,500 to $2,000).”

I heard nothing for a week after I sent their complaint to . But things started moving when Novis gave me contact information for two senior executives.

“Our records show that the customer care team did reach out to the customers on Jan. 22,” said Cynthia Boris in corporate customer care. “Travel certificates were emailed to them as a goodwill gesture.”

United also approved a refund in January, but didn’t process it until April 25 (after my second email). The delay was a result of having to confirm with Air Canada that a downgrade took place, Boris said.

Novis and Van Horne tried to use their $300 in United travel certificates on another flight to Hawaii booked for December 2015, but found the airline would not accept them as payment.

Air Canada: Anne and Adam Gunn bought tickets for a flight from Hong Kong to Toronto on May 27, 2015. They are spending a few months travelling outside Canada.

“We cancelled the tickets eight weeks ago and have not received a refund,” Anne said. “We contacted Air Canada twice and received an automated response that we will be contacted. That has yet to happen.

“We specifically purchased this type of ticket since it is fully refundable. We do not understand why our file must be reviewed. We should be issued our refund immediately.”

Air Canada is excellent in transporting passengers, but mediocre in responding to calls and emails from customers. The Better Business Bureau gives an F rating (the lowest) to the airline’s customer relations headquarters in Calgary.

The Gunns received their refund after I notified Air Canada’s media contact Peter Fitzpatrick.

Anne said: “We had an issue with a flight we took with Lao Airlines and we received a personal email response within one hour to our inquiry. Such a difference.”

Shoppers Home Health Care: Ed McFadgen had a $971 stair lift delivered to his home. He’s ordered products by phone before, since he lives in cottage country, and had a good experience.

“The chair wasn’t comfortable at all, not what I thought I was receiving. A larger chair would cost almost $1,700 and I wasn’t prepared to pay that much,” he said.

The retailer said he could get a refund and then said it was impossible, even if he dropped off the product himself at the store in Orillia.

McFadgen felt he couldn’t use a big store credit, since he’s a senior and his wife is in long-term care. After I reached out to Shoppers’ media contact Sheamus Murphy, he got his money back after all.

Canadian Tire: Chris Seifert bought a $90 Honeywell QuickSteam humidifier at the downtown Toronto store. Within days of using it, he woke up to the smell of burning plastic.

The unit was burning on the inside, he said, and could have caught fire. But the store refused to give his money back and insisted on an exchange.

Sarah Van Lange, a Canadian Tire spokeswoman, expedited his refund quickly. She said she appreciated a chance to make things right with the customer.

Honeywell also makes a $450 to $900 TrueSteam humidifier, which is the subject of a class action lawsuit, launched in Alberta by Siskinds LLP.

The Alberta action, still in its early stages, alleges that the humidifier has design flaws that can cause overheating, blockages and cracked components. Similar class actions have been started in several U.S. jurisdictions, says Siskinds lawyer Daniel Bach in Toronto.

Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at or .