Should I have rejected this case?

By | March 1st, 2012

I’m trying something a little different today. I’m presenting you with a case I’ve decided not to get involved in. Did I make the right call? If not, I’m willing to revisit it. (By the way, I’m using first names only for reasons that will become clear later on).

Rekha is an “outraged” American Airlines customer, and she wants me to help her get compensated. But I can’t.

Here’s what happened to her: She and her family were booked on an itinerary that started in Austin, Texas, and ended in Bangkok.

It didn’t happen quite like that.

American called us 7:35 a.m. and told us our flight to Dallas has been canceled and if we take next flight, we will miss our next connection. This would seem rather an understandable switching but I do believe it’s malicious.

Malicious? I was curious to hear why she thought American had canceled their domestic leg.

She says her parents were on the same itinerary the previous day. American also had a schedule change. Fortunately, they called the airline and persuaded it to keep their international leg.

“Conclusion to draw here is, American is cancelling flights and selling flights that don’t exists and American Airlines had no intention of honoring their contracts,” she told me.

Um, I don’t know about that.

But I do find it suspicious that there are two cancellations on the same flight in 24 hours.

The only remedy American is willing provide is put us on a 7:45 p.m. flight, which would have us arrive in Bangkok almost 12 hours late.

We have hotel bookings that they are not willing to compensate for, not to mention valuable vacation time we are wasting.

Did I mention this is our honeymoon?

No, not until now.

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So how can the airline fix this? “I would like American airlines to stop practicing such shady practices and not victimize and antagonize customers,” she told me. “I want at refund and apology.”

Here’s how I responded to her:

I’m sorry to hear about this. When American cancels a flight, you can ask for a full refund or a flight of its choosing. If you want a refund, you should be able to get it.

But Rekha and her husband had already flown to Bangkok, of course. I didn’t want to tell her – and maybe I should have just come out and said it – that a refund wasn’t possible. (An apology? Maybe. But American would probably just apologize for her “inconvenience” which is an empty apology, at best.)

Rekha responded that she believes she’s entitled to a comparable flight or a “token” gesture for her troubles.

“I am thinking about pursuing this issue in small [claims] court,” she says. “Do you think that is a good idea?”

I told her I didn’t think so.

She wasn’t happy with that answer.

I paid premium prices to get right schedule and then they went ahead and reschedule every flight without any explanation whatsoever.

They have put us through earlier flights, later flight and long layovers.

It’s always too late to get refund and book another flight. I see serious misconduct in their business.

I haven’t responded to the last accusatory email. I don’t think she wants an answer, only to vent about the way she’s been treated.

She’s right, of course; you should expect an airline to honor its schedules and apologize if your flight changes. Even a simple “I’m sorry” would have gone a long way.

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But Rekha was pushing a bankrupt airline to refund the entire fare, which is something the contract of carriage doesn’t require. And to be honest, American did get her to Bangkok. Just not how – and when – it said it would.

I’m dismissing this case without taking it to American. Yes, it shouldn’t have rescheduled the honeymooners and their parents, but in the absence of a contractual requirement or federal regulation, it doesn’t owe her a refund.

I can’t bring myself to nudging American into offering one.

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