Bumping games: how American redefined ‘denied boarding’

By | April 24th, 2008

It was bound to happen, given that airlines are now required to double their compensation for passenger who are involuntarily denied boarding. If you can’t change the rule, just change the definition of “denied boarding.”

That’s exactly what Mohit Singla alleges American Airlines did when he tried to board a flight from Chicago to Dallas recently. Although he had a valid boarding pass, the airline stopped him from getting on the flight. “My seat was given to people on a waiting list,” he says. He paid $800 to fly to Dallas on Southwest, and wants American to pay for the new ticket.

Here’s how American responded to him:

I’m terribly sorry we couldn’t accommodate you aboard flight 2303 on March 7. Due to the weather, the flight was overbooked and we were forced to remove some passengers from the flight and reaccommodate them. While there were very good reasons for doing so, they are of little solace when you are the one who’s plans are disrupted. Again, I apologize.

I’ve authorized personnel in our Passenger Refunds department to issue the applicable refund. Once the adjustment is processed by the accounting specialists in that department, a credit will be issued directly to your credit card account. Please look for that transaction on your statement (this could take up to two billing cycles).

While I must decline your request to reimburse you for the Southwest Airlines ticket, we are not unmindful of the inconvenience to you. As a gesture of goodwill and apology, we’ve made arrangements for [a $100] eVoucher for you to use toward the purchase of a ticket to travel with us. I hope you will accept our gesture in the spirit of compromise. The next time you travel with us, we’ll do our best to make sure your trip is a good one.


Fredia Luckey
Customer Relations
American Airlines

I was surprised by this response, and so was Singla. So they removed him from the flight — that’s an involuntary denied boarding situation — but blamed it on the weather? In other words, American has created a new class of denied boarding (a “weather denied boarding”?) to which to normal denied-boarding rules as outlined in its contract of carriage don’t apply?

Here’s Singla’s response:

Thank you for your reply. I must say that you email and $100 coupon just did not make me happy. Rather, it made me think that you did not understand my reason for writing to you.

I had checked in online and had valid boarding passes for my entire trip in my hand. I was denied boarding despite that, when I was in line to get in the plane. That flight took off from Chicago to Dallas on time. So I WAS NO ALLOWED TO BOARD! That resulted in about $800 expense and all the problems for me to get to my destination in addition to stress.

Normally, when a passenger is on the stand by list, he/she can be denied boarding but not a passenger with confirmed boarding pass. If a passenger decided to voluntarily give up his/her seat, he is reasonably compensated by the airline and booked ticket on next available flight to destination.

  • portabelly

    I have recently flown to South America, and was bumped by LAN.  I have flown many times, and have never encountered this.  Once in 1993 I was in America on the way to Vail.  They had overbooked, but they seemed to handle the entice volunteers quite well and it was not a problem.  Call me naive, but it never occurred to me that I could be involuntarily denied boarding!  We go skiing every year, and was thinking of revisiting US, but I cannot put up with this crap!  In fact, the way I feel at the moment I cannot see myself leaving Australia, definitely for the rest of this year, and then who knows!  However, LAN and AA are unlikely to be on my list of airlines to fly.