In the great scheme of things, missing that vacation or conference due to the coronavirus isn't the biggest deal in the world. But at the moment, if you're a cash-strapped small business owner, clawing back every dollar you can often is. Which is why getting a refund for your canceled flight is essential. 

Unfortunately, as airline industry blog View From the Wing reports, many carriers are refusing to pay up, despite a legal obligation to do so. 

The law on refunds for canceled flights is clear. 

"Airlines that aren't providing transportation that was purchased are trying to keep customers' money, even as they seek more of their customers' money in the form of government bailouts," outraged blogger Gary Leff writes. "While the international airline trade group is trying to get governments to legalize this theft, some carriers are doing it on their own regardless of the law." 

Leff goes on to cite the exact regulation from the U.S. Department of Transportation that obligates airlines to shell out for any flight they themselves canceled (assuming they don't offer you an alternate flight), before sharing nightmare stories from travelers trying to get their money back. 

If you're in the same boat and thinking your misery might love some company, check out the complete post for one particularly hair-ripping exchange with JetBlue in which a savvy traveler quotes the airline's own policy back to them to justify his request for a refund. 

Fight for your rights 

But besides the consolation of knowing you're not alone, Leff's post is a helpful reminder of airlines' obligations, as well as a call to action to fight back against illegal conduct. (If you feel bad for your carrier or need some fuel to power you through your next infuriating exchange with them, remind yourself of exactly how much airlines spent on stock buybacks during the boom times: 96 percent of free cash flow, to be exact.) 

Fighting for your rights will be a challenge at the moment, no matter what the law says. But if you want to give it a go, Money offers tips for your battle with your carrier, including: 

  • Beware the dangers of indecision: Many airlines are offering free re-booking at the moment, but some folks are waiting for their carrier to cancel their flight so they can claim a refund. If you wait too long to see if your flight is canceled, you may miss your window to change your flight for free, Money warns. 

  • Know your carrier's policy. Airlines don't have to offer a refund if they get you on another plane in a reasonable amount of time. Definitions for what's reasonable vary throughout the industry. Check your carriers policy to know where you stand. 

  • Be patient. Even before this mess, getting a refund took two months on average. Expect a much longer delay now.