Q: I recently was scheduled to fly from Toronto to Washington, D.C., on Porter Airlines. The flight was canceled when I arrived at the airport. Porter proposed rescheduling me on a flight two days later. A representative said the airline would put me up in a hotel for two nights and provide meal vouchers.
But I needed to be in Washington before that. The counter agent implied that I would be reimbursed if I bought a ticket on another airline, so I did. I arranged for Porter to fly me to Boston, and then I took a Southwest Airlines flight to Baltimore for $167.
The Southwest flight was my only expense. I believe I should be reimbursed, since it actually cost the airline less than two nights at a hotel, meals and transportation to and from the airport. Porter does not respond to my requests, so I am turning to you. Can you help? – Evelyn Morton, Potomac, Maryland
A: If a Porter Airlines representative promised you a refund for your flight back to Baltimore, the airline should have forked it over. But if an agent only implied that the airline would cover your expenses, that’s another matter.
What’s Porter required to do? Under its conditions of carriage – the legal agreement between you and the airline – nothing, really. Section 8 of the contract only says that the carrier will undertake “its best efforts” to carry you and your baggage “with reasonable dispatch” (https://static.flyporter.com/Content/Documents/Conditions–of–Carriage.pdf).
“Times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract,” it adds. “Schedules are subject to change without notice.”
Typically, an airline will offer to pay for your hotel, meals and transportation expenses when a flight is canceled. But a flight on a different carrier? You’d need to get a promise like that in writing, or, better yet, persuade the airline to pay it on the spot. Airlines can rebook you on another airline – it’s called “endorsing” your ticket. But there’s no rule that an airline must endorse your ticket when a flight is canceled.
Your math seemed to make sense. Wouldn’t it cost Porter more for a hotel and meals than the Southwest flight? Maybe, maybe not. Airlines negotiate special contracts with hotels, so it might have cost Porter less to keep you in a hotel than to pay for a flight on another airline.
I list the executive contacts for Porter Airlines on my consumer-advocacy website: http://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/porter-airlines/. You could have reached out to them if the airline continued to ignore you.
But that proved unnecessary. I contacted Porter on your behalf, and it agreed with your reasoning. It refunded the $167 for your flight.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.