Case dismissed: A promised reimbursement, and then a denial

Jennifer Johnson was relieved when American Airlines offered her $175 for out-of-pocket expenses after it misplaced her luggage on a flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia last October. She was in town for a wedding, and needed to buy clothes and toiletries.

But her relief turned to disappointment when American denied her claim. True, the airline found her luggage and delivered it to her in less than two days, but it didn’t get there in time for the big event.

An appeal to the airline was pointless. In a terse letter to Johnson, American informed her that, “our original position shall remain unchanged.”

“I was only in town for about 60 hours — over 40 of which I spent without my bags,” she says. “Can you help?”

Unfortunately, Johnson never got the promise of a $175 reimbursement in writing. Further complicating the issue is the fact that when she filed her missing luggage claim, something — American didn’t say what — was missing. So she had to re-file her request.

None of these should have led to an outright rejection of her claim, as far as I can tell. So I contacted American on her behalf.

Much to the airline’s credit, a representative got back to me right away to explain that her claim had been turned down on a technicality. She needed to submit original receipts to the airline in order to get reimbursed.

The luggage department had been notified about this issue, I was assured.

That was in March.

A few days ago, I heard from Johnson. She’s given up on ever hearing from American. After several appeals and asking me for help, she is letting this her claim go.

I’m disappointed. Although I thought a $175 clothing and toiletry allowance for less than two days was a little too generous, Johnson didn’t get the promise in writing. So we have no proof that American made the offer.

I’m also unhappy with the way the overall claims process works. Vague forms and requests to submit original receipts seem only to prolong the claims process and wear down passengers like Johnson. Indeed, they seem to be done in order to make customers lose their patience and walk away — which is exactly what Johnson did.

Next time — and I really hope there isn’t a next time — Johnson needs to get more than a verbal promise when her luggage is misplaced. I think she stands a better chance of getting a reimbursement.

But I can’t guarantee it.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Guest

    I was in Boston last August for a wedding and the airline some of my friends (other wedding guests) flew in on lost the wife’s bag.  Since the wedding was the next day she was told that they would give her $300 to buy a dress, shoes, makeup, all that kind of stuff really adds up.  Sure could she have bargain hunted and found a dress for cheaper?  Yes but she was in an unfamiliar city and she didn’t have a lot of time, she went directly to Macy’s and bought everything there.

    The airline got the bag to them Sat evening, I think it showed up a few minutes before they left for the wedding but what if it hadn’t?  She would have been stuck without anything she needed to attend a fancy wedding.

  • Tom

    They misplaced her luggage and shouldn’t weasel out on a technicality. However, the suggestion that a wedding is an ultra priority event that calls for special handling from vendors such as airlines smacks of Bridezilla.

  • Guest568

    Many problems with American Airlines. Check out the comments about AA and other airlines at

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    When I started to travel for work, my manager told us that we should wear our suits when traveling as well as carry another suit with us as our carry-on luggage in case if our checked luggage got misplaced.

    Given the airlines, it is my suggestion to your wedding clothes to the hotel via FedEx or UPS; put these clothes in your carry-on luggage if it is possible; purchase travel insurance that has a short window (i.e. less than 24 hours) for delayed and/or lost luggage.  Shipping your clothes or buying travel insurance is an extra cost but you can have a peace of mind.

    Another suggestion is to video record your conversation with the luggage department on your cell phoneiphonesmartphonedigital cameraetc…make sure that you follow the local rules to video tape the conversation.  

  • Guest

    A wedding or other special event SHOULD be priorities.  Ms. Johnson flew into town for a wedding, it wasn’t her wedding.   Should she have attended the wedding in the jeans and t shirt she flew in?  People typically dress up for weddings.  Other special events are similar.  Should you have to attend your father’s funeral in sweats?  No. 

  • Walt Blackadar

    Obviously, if she could have carried her stuff on, she would have.  But you’re most certainly not going to wear a cocktail dress on an airplane and juggling multiple bags can be more than a little tedious. 

    As for “travel insurance”, why should she spend another dime to insure a service that she’s already paying for?  Instead, maybe we should all consider that it’s not an unreasonable expectation that the airline does the job they’re being paid to do.  Travelers shouldn’t have to insure against an airline’s lack of performance.  They don’t in almost any other business transaction, so why should airlines be treated as an exception?

    In this case, if I were her, I’d file a lawsuit in small claims court.  She has the proof, the receipts, the submitted lost baggage form…it’s going to be pretty cut-and-dried in front of the judge.

  • Walt Blackadar

    Elliott, $175 for two days isn’t much at all.  If she’s attending a wedding, she needs something presentable – likely a cocktail dress or a very sharp suit, shoes, hose, etc.  Depending on what size she is, she may also need alterations so that the stuff fits.  All in all, $175 for clothing for two days that includes a formal event is pretty damn cheap.

  • John Baker

    I wondered how much she paid for a service (baggage) that she didn’t receive?
    Obviously AA owe her something for the direct expenses that she paid due to their error. Usually I’m a “should have bought trip insurance” guy but not here. She paid AA to fly her bag with her and they didn’t. They owe her for the expenses she incurred.

    Having said that, unfortunately Greg House seems to be more right than wrong when it comes to “all people lie.” I can understand the need for original receipts. My 8 yo can scan a receipt and change a $10 bill to a $100 or $110 bill in minutes. If she submitted everything they required, she should have been paid.

  • Steve R

    All of those suggestions are good ideas for helping to ensure that your important clothes don’t get lost…but I don’t think that absolves the airlines of responsibility. I think $175 is very reasonable for this situation.

    Let’s not forget that she most likely paid American Airlines a baggage fee *specifically* for transporting her bags on time, which they failed to do.

  • cjr001

    This is why claims against the airlines and TSA (for theft) are down: because the flaming hoops you have to jump through just aren’t worth the effort, and they know it.

  • Carver


    Dude, that’s just nuts.  Of course a wedding deserves special consideration.

  • Carver

    Shipping clothing, if possible, is a great idea.  At my sister’s wedding, she took possession of the bridesmaid dressing and shipped them to the wedding location to ensure that they all reached together and that no one forget anything.                                    

  • Carver


    I once had to catch a plane immediately after court.  Court ran really  long and I couldn’t make it homer to grab my suitcase.  I had to spend a surprising amount of money to replace everything for just a two day trip.  You don’t realize how much the little things that you normally bring with you can really add up.

  • Anon

    the real question is did she have to pay the baggage check fee in order to ante into the game?

  • L2y2

    A formal dress, shoes, a handbag, toiletries, makeup (any makeup at a counter in Macy’s is expensive and a necessity, yes, necessity!) can easily exceed $175 and in NOT unreasonable. American should process the claim and foot the bill…..

  • Rosered7033

    I understand the need for sending original receipts, but I hate to release them on the possibility that the clothing is defective or has other issues that require it to be returned.  Some stores will issue a “gift receipt” that can be used to return an item, but it has no printed dollar value on it.  And stores, of course, will not issue two original receipts.

  • Brooklyn

    After many, many horrible experiences, I gave up flying on American and United about 5 years ago.  I’ll pay more, make multiple changes – whatever it takes.  Perhaps it’s time to organize an official boycot.

  • Zeke Kersey

    This is a classic example why passengers should keep all info related to their airline complaints and, as much as possible, do it by email or letter. If Jennifer has enough documentation she should really consider filing a claim in small claims court at this point. This incident seems to be made for that. Perhaps if more passengers start doing that, then the airlines will start to pay attention and actually honor their contracts of carriage.

  • CheeseheadChick

    I think that if their baggage handlers don’t get the bag on the plane and to the destination at the same time as the passenger, that stupid fee should be refunded on TOP of any additional monies they need to pay out.  I agree that $175 for a formal event is absolutely reasonable.

  • Mc5552968

    Original receipts?  And then what happens when they conveniently “lose” your paperwork?  They can then say “no, because we require original receipts.” and you are stuck because all you have left are copies!  You want to see original receipts?  You come to my house and view them.  Look but don’t touch!

  • Tom

    I want them to take care of my bags whether I’m going to a wedding or just on a business trip. I expect equal treatment.

  • Bob

    She’s already paying an extra fee specifically to cover the transport of her luggage. Because they charge for the luggage transport service, airlines have a duty to get it right or make the customer whole. 

    Airlines seem to want it both ways, to get to charge for a service, but then just deliver it on a halfhearted basis. This is BS, in my opinion.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Once after  spending a week in Club Med of Columbus Island
    I flew from Club Med San Salvador of the Bahamas to Miami, American Airlines left my luggage back in the Bahamas. I asked for amenities (its was handle out immediately) and AA tell me I were allowed up to 75$/day until my luggage arriving in Miami and delivered to me in my Hotel. My luggages were delivered 3 days later in my Hotel in Fort-Lauderdale. On my way back to Montreal, at check in Miami Airport I show them the paper that I am untitled to 225$ (3×75$) for refund. They ask me for receipts and I show them a stack of receipts I spend in Miami and Bahamas. They take any receipts they needs even the ones I bought thing in Bahamas, they don’t care, just to make to sure they have more than 225$. The agent gave me the cash on the spot, before I leaved for Montreal.
    I think being AAdvantage Gold member help to resolve quickly the inconvenience.

  • guest

    Glad I do not fly American!!

  • flutiefan

    while American should not have rejected her claim outright (unless she, in fact, did not have receipts), i do have a hard time believing she was promised $175.  i’ve worked in baggage service, and that is far above normal allowances.

  • Carver

    Again, makes no sense.  Of course, I expect a certain level of competence regardless.  But if its a special occassion or special circumstance, I expect them to move heaven and earth to find my my stuff

  • Mark K

    “Obviously, if she could have carried her stuff on, she would have.”
    Why is this obvious?  Nothing was stated about her carrying anything on the plane or being told she couldn’t. 
    I have flow many times when brides were getting on the plane carrying their wedding dresses because they didn’t trust the airline to get the dress to their destination if they checked it.  I see no reason why this person didn’t carry on her outfit she was planning on wearing to the wedding.  The last time I went to a wedding my tux was packed in my carry on and was never more than 10 feet from me at any time during the trip.  Any time I travel if I have clothes I must wear at the destination  I carry on as much as I can since I simply don’t trust any airline anymore to deliver bags no matter how much I paid them for the “service.”
    But I am not blaming the OP, the airline is at fault for not having the bag there at the airport as they should have.  At the very least, all airlines should refund baggage fees when bags don’t arrive with you at your destination.  And I feel the restriction of only original receipts for reimbursement is a bit much.

  • Mark K

    In this case, she wore whatever she bought to the wedding so the “defective or has other issues” probably doesn’t fit the situation.  She could have returned it immediately and came up with an excuse the store would have accepted to get credit.  But then she could have taken a copy of the receipt for those items returned and filed with the airline to get double credit.  Not saying this is what the OP tried, but I know not everyone out there is honest about these things.

  • Mark K

    I expect the airlines to NOT lose my bag in the first place no matter what the reason is I am flying.  Then they don’t have to spend effort in finding it.  That makes everyone happier.

    And it doesn’t matter what the reason is you are travelling.  It sure makes no difference to the airline.  There is nothing that makes your bag any more important than any other bag on the same flight or any other flight that airline operates so any lost bag is treated like any other lost bag – they find it at some point in the future or they don’t.  If you (and I mean the generic you, not you Carver specifically) choose to check something that is vital to your existance (meds, life support machinery, hand painted picture of your cat, whatever) and the airline fails to deliver it, you should have known better.  Not saying it is right, it is just the way it is.

  • Rosered7033

    Yes, most clothing does not have issues, but some do.  Understood about honesty – that’s what most of these threads are about – honesty and integrity, and what happens when things go awry.

  • emanon256

    I couldn’t agree more.  I think a photo copy should be enough.

  • AKRaven

    I typically avoid American for many reasons (and they USED to be one of my preferred airlines – a decade ago).  But, I had to fly them on a recent flight from Chicago to DC and developed the following hypothesis.  Their issue is too much automation has resulted in the loss of connection with the customer.  (Seriously? Using a video to do the safety briefing or tell me when we’ve passed above/below 10,000 feet?). Certainly seems to be the case here where “technicalities” are being blamed versus simple common sense and courtesy. 

  • TheInfamousJ

    Why can’t she wear the cocktail dress on the plane? When my father got married and I was his bridesmaid, you can bet my dress was carried in my arms the entire way, and the cocktail dress was on my bod. I don’t see how a skirt makes you more or less able to handle luggage.

  • Rosered7033

    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Why take a chance that your dress will be in less-than-pristine condition for the wedding?  I’ve worn drinks, food, smudges from make up and suitcases on flights, and not all were caused by me.  Last thing I’d chose to do is to wear something elegant to travel in and expect to arrive looking as good as I did when I left my house.

  • Carver

    Mark k

    I think we need to bring this back to the original issue which Tom suggested that if a bride were upset that her weddding dress was delayed, she was a bridezilla.

    It boggles the mind that we would engage in a mind game where the bride’s wedding dress going missing is the same as my luggage filled with dirty clothes going missing.

    The consequences are fundamentally different.

    While it is nice to say that one should never check anything important, the reality is that you are given a finite amount of carry on space and if you exceed that you must check the luggage.  Its not like you can even purchase additional carryon space.

  • MVFlyer

    So now we pay for the privilege of losing our luggage…

  • RaeA

    Why shouldn’t one be allowed to submit claims electronically and get an electronic receipt for submission of required documents? Oh yes, that’s right, they couldn’t claim to have lost the paperwork. 

  • Linda Loudermilk Tomberlin

    As usual, I’d like a third option.  She was offered (or says she was) far more than is customary.  I was on a business trip from DFW to Charlotte once, where I was stuck on the tarmac for three hours, and then they lost my bag for more than 24 hours.  I was sent a $25 check.  I was pleasantly surprised to have gotten anything!

  • seanyb

    when it comes to $175 to keep a customer, do the right thing.

  • Mbods2002

    I can’t tell you how tired we are of all the bad service and disrespect going on in our airports today.  That’s why we refuse to fly anywhere now.  It’s drive or not go.

  • Raven

    I’m also willing to bet American charged her to check the bag. Did she at least get that money back? Maybe a voucher for the fact that they “mishandled” it to begin with?

  • Rosered7033

    Agreed, especially since they took in $580 MILLION in baggage fees last year…

  • DorianZuleta

    That is so chicken sh*t..

    Stuff like that drives me up the wall. In this day and age, it’s the little things that will keep a customer or lose a customer. Idiots and ignorant companies are my biggest pet peeve..


  • DorianZuleta

    “my manager told us that we should wear our suits when traveling as well as carry another suit with us as our carry-on luggage in case if our checked luggage got misplaced.” -smart manager-
    but who wants to travel in a suit??

  • Lorraine345mz3465

    Yes finally a website that wants to bring back customer service

  • Skip

    Dorian, I always wear a suit when I fly. I’m from an era when one always looked their best when traveling, especially by air. It bothers me to see folks sitting in business class looking like they just came from the gym.

  • SaS

    That’s why I stopped flying American YEARS ago.