My experience canceling flights due to COVID-19

All airline phone lines are simply clogged to their limits as passengers request refunds and changes to their itineraries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I had several flights to cancel, notably with Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines (HA), so I decided to try my luck with their customer service departments.

Hawaiian Airlines: failure

Having booked a 3/29 LAX-HNL Hawaiian Airlines award ticket for my friend, my friend decided that flying out earlier on 3/26 would be the wiser decision as the governor of Hawaii had just announced at that time a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all visitors to Hawaii.  In response, HA suspended all long-haul flying except for a daily LAX-HNL flight and a daily flight to America Somoa.

HA and all the other carriers have made it blatantly clear that since their call centers are all absolutely swamped, calls should only be made if you're flying out within the next 72 hours.  Since the flight change to 3/26 was within 72 hours of my time of calling to change the flight, I decided to attempt to give HA a ring:

#1: Busy signal with their reservations call center

#2: Dropped call after 25 minutes of waiting on their HawaiianMiles call line

#3: Another busy signal with their reservations call center

Since the third time wasn't a charm, I decided that the best and safest course of action would be to book a new award ticket for my friend online for 3/26 and submit a cancellation request online for his existing reservation departing on Sunday.  Booking the new flight online took all but 3 minutes, and the cancellation form submission also only took a few minutes.

HA's response

Unfortunately, HA never responded to my cancellation request after a week, so I decided to actually go into the 3/29 reservation and cancel it from there literally the day before the scheduled flight.  Finally, on 4/6, I received the following e-mail:

Mahalo for your patience. We have processed your request to cancel your itinerary for reservation code XXXXXX. Rest assured that we will honor the value of your ticket for future travel on Hawaiian Airlines.

Please retain your original confirmation code and ticket number(s) below for your now canceled reservation. You will need to reference these when calling Reservations to rebook your travel.

I logged into my HA account and the miles were never refunded.  So I attempted to e-mail HA explaining that I simply want the miles refunded.  Minutes later, I received a non-delivery response e-mail saying that HA's mailbox was full.  So it looks I'll need to call to get those miles back or to re-book.  Good luck with that call based on my previous 3 calls.  #HAfailure

Southwest Airlines: success

I had two bookings with Southwest, and I decided to not even bother calling based on my experience with HA.  My gripe with my Southwest bookings, however, is that they were both canceled by Southwest and I wasn't even notified nor issued a refund.  So I submitted an electronic refund request for the first ticket on 4/3.  When I attempted to submit another refund request for my second booking, I got an error message.  My assumption that their mailbox is only allowing one request at a time per account?

Southwest's response

On 4/7, I received the following e-mail from Southwest:

Thank you for contacting us. We love hearing from our Customers, and we appreciate the opportunity that you’ve given us to respond. 
We sincerely apologize for any frustration that arose when you learned your Flight #xxx on April 28 was canceled due to operational challenges. Our focus has always been on providing our Customers with the best service in the industry. Normally we do a great job contacting our Customers when a flight has been canceled to assist with new accommodations and I am so sorry we let you down on this occasion.  In this instance I have processed a refund of your unused ticket. Please allow up to 30 days for the refund to process back to the original form of payment. 
We value your patronage and hope to have the opportunity to welcome you onboard a Southwest Airlines flight in the future.
After receiving that e-mail, I immediately went into my Southwest account and submitted a refund request for my second booking, which was sent without an error message.  Then, on the morning of 4/9, I got an actual phone call from a Southwest customer service agent, who told me that both of my flights were now canceled and that I should be seeing refunds in the form of statement credits on my credit card within 10 business days.  So I logged into my Amex account and saw that the first flight had already been refunded.  #SWA4thewin

A tale of many airlines

It comes as no surprise on how difficult it is to reach the airlines, who are all losing tens of millions of dollars a day with the majority of their planes grounded and their flights operating at ~10% capacity.  Whereas I feel for the airlines as they are just trying to stay afloat like the rest of us during this trying time, they do have the moral responsibility under the U.S. Department of Transportation rules to fully refund flights that are canceled.  Furthermore, they are bound by their waiver policy in refunding miles for current bookings.  For HA, not answering phone calls or e-mails is unacceptable, plain and simple.  I still have yet to receive my miles back, but I surmise it'll take some time to even get through to them based on my experience.  And whereas Southwest should have at least notified or re-booked me when my flights were canceled, I was at least happy that I was able to get full refunds in a timely fashion and even a phone call from them saying that my tickets have been refunded.

From all of us at Flying for Fitness, please stay healthy during this trying time.  We hope you enjoyed this post.  Please consider visiting one of our sponsors by clicking on the advertisements.  Our sponsors pay us for customer visits and help us to keep the lights on.  Thanks!


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