When you’re scheduled on flight number 1234, and you get a message saying that flight won’t be happening, what would you call that? United, in perhaps the most oddly amusing recent attempt to run circles around government refund laws involving cancellation, says it’s not a cancellation, and that cancellations aren’t real.

Mind blogged? You’re not alone – but then again, this is United.

Travel blog View From The Wing shared one of the most “unique” sets of correspondence between an airline and a customer, in which a flight was cancelled by any normal definition of the word cancel, and the customer wanted a refund. Any flight which is cancelled for any reason, which a customer no longer wishes to take is eligible for a refund, not a voucher – and that’s an important distinction.

FYI travel nerds, the US Department of Transportation recently wrote to airlines that it’s upholding rules stating that refunds must be offered when flights are cancelled, or schedules are significantly changed. If you are in a similar boat, read this.

United’s response was that a cancelled flight doesn’t correspond to a flight number, or a time and that therefore a refund was not due. The plane sitting at the gate that says on time, then says cancelled isn’t cancelled. Confused? Read United’s correspondence for yourself…

“Our Schedule Change Refund policy is in compliance with the DOT statement.

United definitions, which are compliant with applicable law:

Schedule change: A flight is removed from our schedule, but the customer can be accommodated within 6 hours.

Significant Schedule Change: A flight is removed, and a customer cannot be accommodated with an impact of 6+ hours.

Cancellation: A flight is removed, and we cannot accommodate the customer.

If we remove a flight from our schedule and can accommodate the customer with another flight within 6 hours, that is not considered a cancellation.

A cancellation is not based on flight number or tail number, but on the ability to provide transportation to our customer without significant delay.

I completely understand you’d prefer not to travel at this time. You are correct; we do have an obligation to refund your money if we cannot re-accommodate you on another flight without significant delay. If we can provide transportation within 6 hours of your original departure or arrival time, this is not defined as a cancellation.”

But… it is a cancellation. As View From The Wing notes, if an airline had 8 flights a day between two cities and reduces service to 3 flights per day, what happened to the other 5 flights. Cancelled, right? This is an incredible reimagining of the world, not far off from “alternative facts”.

By this definition, the only way United would ever need to offer a refund is if it cannot move a traveler from one destination to another, within 6 hours of the original schedule. That’s a lovely thought, for United, but it’s not the law and it’s not the reality set forth by the United States DOT.

It’s an impressive week for United, which chose to use the business week to close the last loophole to the airline’s “show me the money” loyalty program. Now this? Golden.

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