DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: I booked a flight from Cairo to New York via Rome on Alitalia. When I tried to check in for my flight to Italy, an airline representative denied me boarding, because my visa was rejected. My visa doesn’t allow me to enter Europe en route to the U.S., according to Alitalia.
Fortunately, my ticket was refundable. I sent an email to Alitalia before the flight departed, requesting a refund. I enclosed the ticket receipt, which shows that the ticket is refundable, as long as I cancel before departure, and is subject to fees.
Alitalia replied that my ticket had “no value,” and it denied a refund. Instead, it offered me a ticket credit and a refund of the taxes. They’ve stopped answering my emails. I’ve also called them, but I’ve gotten nowhere. Can you help me get my $700 back, please?
— Ahmed Seloma, Giza, Egypt
ANSWER: If your airline ticket was refundable, you should be able to get a full refund. Unfortunately, airlines have taken their time during the pandemic. They were slow before, and they’re even slower now.
Your case is instructive for anyone planning an international trip in 2021. Passports and visas are your responsibility, not your airline’s. Had Alitalia allowed you to board your flight with the wrong visa, it could have faced government fines. So make sure you have permission to enter the country before you book your ticket.
What paperwork do you need? If you live in the U.S., check the U.S. Department of State site at https://travel.state.gov/. Also, visit the International Air Transport Association site at www.iatatravelcentre.com, which keeps the most up-to-date visa information.
You kept a great paper trail of the correspondence between you and Alitalia. It would have been good if you also sent the information to an executive contact at the airline, asking for their assistance. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the Alitalia managers on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/alitalia/.
Looking at your case, I think part of the delay was related to COVID-19. Another part was just normal airline shenanigans. Alitalia appears to have misread the terms of your ticket, falsely claiming that they owe you a ticket credit. By the way, if they’d persisted, you could have filed a credit card chargeback. In the U.S., the Fair Credit Billing Act protects you against charges for products or services not delivered, which this certainly was.
Calling Alitalia wouldn’t have done you much good. Phone or online chats are great for making a quick change to a reservation or asking a question about an upcoming flight, but not for refunds. You’re better off keeping everything in writing.
I contacted Alitalia on your behalf. It issued a $700 refund.