Should I have rejected this case?

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.

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.

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.

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Google Plus

  • djp98374

    I have an issue here…..I agree she should have paid more attention.

    Do I need to use an agent to book an inter nation flight from an inland airport…no. I’m capable of doing it myself just fine thank you.

    The last time I tried to book a flight through a travel agent on a domestic flight from DEN to DCA she wanted to put me on a light that would have been DEN-SLC-SEA-ATL-DCA. I respectfully told her no way in he’ll.

    I do know you have to buffer your schedule for the international connection.

    I also know to look for possibly cheaper flights out of airports 3-4 hrs away or say you book flights separately where say yo fly to JFK the day before on airline 1 and then fly rom JFK on airline 2.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Sit down and let the grown-ups talk.

  • Michael__K

    I’m not suggesting a refund.  EU261 is one valid approach.  I’m suggesting/brainstorming another possible approach.

    She claims, she “paid premium prices to get [the] right schedule.” 

    What if the airline was required to report and keep track of the lowest fare they had available for the dates she actually travelled at the time when she booked?  And in a situation like this, you require the airline to refund her (at least) any difference between that lowest fare and what she actually paid?

  • djp98374

    What appears to have been missed is an issue that bridezilla may have failed to mention….

    What I have seen quite often with carriers now is how if they redo their network canceling connection flights and thus rebooking you they tend to be poor in notifying the traveler and being cooperative with the passenger when it comes to the rebooking process.

    If the airline was better communicating to her…this would not have happened.

    The same is true if there is a flight delay and the airline will not explain why.

  • bodega3

    And why should she?

  • KMiller4816

    Of course you should have dismissed this.  They owe her nothing monetarily.  And again you take her word for gospel.  How do you know the airline didn’t indeed apologize?  Based on some of her remarks, I’m guessing they actually did.  Next time do your readers a consumer service and remind them they should get travel insurance – especially for long flight legs and traveling overseas…and a chance to be reimbursed.  “thank you.”

  • KMiller4816

    And the bigger question is, why was this woman traveling on her honeymoon with her parents going a day a head of her?  There lies the greater question. (poor husband!)

  • TonyA_says

    To make it very clear I am a huge fan of EC261/2004 and the subsequent rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

    The Europeans have figured out a much simpler way of COMPENSATING the victim – the passenger him/herself in MONEY (EUROS) and not Mickey Mouse Vouchers.

    What you are recommending is too complicated. Let’s just keep it simple. You screw my flight, you pay me.

    Right now I have to defend the airlines because the law is on their side. Consumers here (USA) get screwed. And if you noticed, you can be stuck in the tarmac and you don’t get paid a dime. The $27,000 fine goes to Uncle Sam not you but YOU SUFFERED.

    I wish Charlie Leocha and Chris Elliott have more followers and can organize something like what anti-SOPA did. Maybe they can get all the advocates together and do a one-day PRO CONSUMER COMPENSATION RIGHTS campaign. I’m sure every passenger flying that day will sign it.

  • TonyA_says

    Don’t forget airlines also have to move and schedule crew around the rules (law and labor agreements). It’s not enough that the airplanes are there. Someone also must be there to fly it. Don’t underestimate this problem. If pilots call in sick or do a slowdown, good luck to you making your schedule. Airlines is very complicated business. Much much harder than blogging. I’m skeptical but I won’t just second guess them automatically.

  • bodega3

    Sadly, too often what we don’t know doesn’t help the OP in our comments.

  • TonyA_says

    Excellent question – do I need an agent to BOOK my flight?
    My Answer – obviously NOT. Anyone can BOOK a flight using an internet vending machine.

    Would I have advised the OP to take the 950AM flight?
    My answer is NO.

    Here’s why.
    Look at the data:

      FLT.NO      LEG      DEP  TR ARRIVAL TR  EQP  CITY   CT  MCT
      #AA 511   AUS DFW    950A    1055A    0  M80
      #AA  61   DFW NRT   1145A  D  415P#1  2  777   DFW   DI   40
      #AA5834   NRT BKK    605P  2 1115P       763   NRT   II   60

    As bodega said, the connection in DFW is legal but not desirable. Why? Because,
    (1) there is no backup flight after this one
    (2) any delay will cause the scheduled connection (50 minutes) to get dangerous close to the MCT of 40 min.
    (3) you might make it but your luggage, not necessarily because the conx is too tight. I would like to see Princess without her clothes in Bangkok (no pun intended).

    Ok so no one is saying you MUST seek expert advice. This is not heart bypass surgery. But as you can see I can whip this thing up in 2 minutes and I have the knowledge and experience in traveling to Asia. I am also connected to the major consolidators who do have BULK fares in that area. You might can learn something from me.

    PS I’m sorry your agent was an idiot. Not all agents are.

    ADDED: Generally, I don’t advice buying separate tickets especially with INTL connections and the NYC area. All you need is a small weather disturbance and you might be a NOSHO for your next flight (separately ticketed).

  • TonyA_says

    Oops.

  • TonyA_says

    Didn’t someone from AA call her at ~7AM in the morning and reaccommodated her for the 740PM flight? What more do you want? Cookies?

  • TonyA_says

    Stefan, I googled your  handle. You are one admirable person. Please keep up the good work. The world needs you. Thanks.
    Sincerely,
    Tony

  • Michael__K

    When I wrote “contingency plans” part of what I was thinking of was having large numbers of employees on call who can be asked to report to work with a few hours of notice.  

    I don’t expect them to have great contingencies for dealing with widespread labor action, but I would think that is normally reported in the news and therefore somewhat less opaque to the public.

  • MarkKelling

    The issue with having “large numbers of employees on call” is those employees need to be paid.  They are not going to sit around for days or weeks and not get paid. And with nearly every US based airline practically bankrupt, where do they get the money for this? It’s like keeping spare planes around to cover mechanical issues. This is a great idea, but where is the money going to come from?

  • TonyA_says

    Michael and Mark,
    If you wanna know what’s happening in AA just read Terry Maxon’s blog

    http://aviationblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2012/02/video-american-airlines-employ.html

    Do not underestimate CREW availability. I have close friends who do this for a living (crew scheduling). Not an easy job.

  • djp98374

    I agree…I would never had book a 40 min layover for a domestic flight going through DFW.

    I also agree in travel like this you should buffer for various contingencies and scenarios.

    A similar comparison is to never book your flight for the same day your cuise departs.
    I also agree the luggage will likely not make the flight.

    I know my background is a lot more than most. My mother was a career travel agent but that was before you could do nothing online.

    I’d also be concerned with the second connection and wonder how frequent flights are if it was missed. A small delay with the flight taking off (surprise there) and you running into stronger jet stream headwinds means you miss the connection.

  • mszabo

    The issue here really is a lack of notice.  I would agree a full refund probably isn’t called for, but I really can’t blame Rekha for taking American’s alternate flight here.  It’s not likely that she would have been able to make alternate arrangements at a comparable cost if the airline cancels anytime within a few weeks of the departure.    I’d say the airline should be liable for the money it would cost to get her to her final destination on time.  

    Since in this case she ended up taking AA’s alternate flight I’d say AA should refund Rekha for the difference in cost between what she paid for the flight, and what it would have cost her to make alternate arrangements to get her to her final destination on time.   Of course due to the somewhat perverted nature of airline pricing this is probably far more money than a simple refund.

  • djp98374

    Though I don’t work for them, I could easily get a job working for the airlines in their flight or screw scheduling departments. My skill set is the same as people who work there.

    What has happened now using the algorithms are that airlines have become too efficient.

    The smallest blip such as a weather delay like a snow storm or a widespread crew sickness will cause nightmares in rescheduling.

    It’s also why its gotten so difficult to rebook everyone if a flight is cancelled.

    My personal opinion if routes are regularly above a critical mat of passengers like saw route a is consistently above 90% capacity the airline needs to add flights or replace smaller planes with larger ones.

  • bodega3

    Perhaps you obtained a buddy pass from someone your relative knew with a carrier, as there are no standby tickets from the TA.

  • TonyA_says

     @Raven_Altosk:disqus @Jeanne_in_NE:disqus @lorcha:disqus
    Unfortunately the reason I became a Seller of Travel (SOT) is because I couldn’t find a travel agent to serve my family’s needs. I have a very large family and we live in multiple coasts and continents. Also they all LOVE TO TRAVEL. Since we had many captured customers in our office (for another business), we simply branched out to selling travel. This was way back when.

    Today, you really need to distinguish between travel booking and travel advise. The booking side is quickly becoming an online vending machine. The advise part is obviously 100% human. But the economic model is still stuck on booking service fees instead of advisory fees.

    Advising AIR travel is very difficult. First you must be a GDS expert. Second, you must have Travel Experience in the areas you are selling. Third, you must have the airlines’ system forms in your finger tips – you need to know who flies where and how. Fourth, you must have contacts in the industry. Fifth, you must be passionate about your job or you won’t last.

    That said I have no clue who are the experts in your hometowns. I hate to disappoint but I really don’t know. And for what it’s worth those decals and badges about so-so member organizations  don’t make one an expert. An expert makes her/himself.

    I have asked Chris for a ASKELLIOTT portal so maybe the TAs here can answer some basic questions.  I’ll do the East Coast and Bodega the West. I’m sorry for volunteering Bodega without asking first. But there is no way to do Private Messaging here. I hope I have answered your question.

  • djp98374

    My impression is that she wasn’t notified of this AA scheduling change but her parents were. When her parents heard they contacted the airline and fixed the change the airline arbitrarily made.

    The daughter either ignored or never received notification.

    One time I was flying on delta where I had a meeting in the am and then flying back home after lunch through Cincinnati. Delta was downgrading cincinati during it’s merger and rebooked me on an m flight. I called them and told them I couldn’t so after about 10 min they found an afternoon flight to rebook me on. This was about 6 weeks before my travel was to start.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I was imprecise with my comments.  A better way of putting it was that some posters imply that by using AA the op was somehow dilatory which I found highly unfair.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I think I am getting hung up on the word cheap.  Cheap and inexpensive are not interchangeable.  Cheap implies a substandard or inferior product or service, e.g. Spirit, Ryanair, etc.  In this case, AA is inexpensive, which is not perjorative the way cheap is.

  • TonyA_says

    Good job djp…
    Just a note – The schedule connection in DFW is 50 mins (1055 to 1145). The MCT is 40 mins. Really too close for comfort.

    In NRT, 1hr50min and 60min, respectively. NRT is a very efficient airport especially between JV partners (AA/JL) and (UA/NH). You will be surprised what the Japanese can accomplish in 60 minutes.

    There is no backup for the 6PM JAL707 flight to BKK. I doubt AA/JL will endorse ticket to DL/UA for 630P flight. Also DL and UA are in Terminal 1 and AA/JL in Terminal 2.

    That’s why I recommend this:

      FLT.NO      LEG      DEP  TR ARRIVAL TR  EQP  CITY   CT  MCT
      #AA 374   AUS ORD    820A    1100A    3  M80
      #AA6093   ORD HKG    220P  5  820P#1  1  773   ORD   DI   75
               *OPERATED BY CATHAY PACIFIC — CX807
      #AA6081   HKG BKK    940P  1 1135P       330   HKG   II   50
               *OPERATED BY CATHAY PACIFIC — CX709
    -OR-
       FLT.NO      LEG      DEP  TR ARRIVAL TR  EQP  CITY   CT  MCT
      #AA 311   AUS LAX    725A     845A    4  738
      #AA6075   LAX HKG   1125A  B  645P#1  1  773   LAX   DI   90
               *OPERATED BY CATHAY PACIFIC — CX885
      #AA6081   HKG BKK    940P  1 1135P       330   HKG   II   50
               *OPERATED BY CATHAY PACIFIC — CX709

  • Lindabator

    If he thinks international airlines don’t cancel flights, he’s NUTS!

  • TonyA_says

    I agree. AA actually codeshares with CX so she could have BOUGHT tickets from AA and flown CX from LAX/ORD onwards. She still would be flying on Asian Airline metal. This lady simply needed GOOD ADVICE.
    Added: AA routes (codeshares) using CX flights will probably be more expensive (booking class and routing limitations)

  • Lindabator

    I know – gotta love Raven!

  • TonyA_says

    Honestly CHEAP is fine. That’s what my customers WANT TO HEAR. When I say in-expensive, they think I said it with a silent “in”. Money is very tight nowadays.

  • djp98374

    40/50 typo…..still for Dallas especially if the Austin flight is on a crop duster thus in a different terminal.

    The efficiency isn’t on japan…..

    At Dallas the takeoff can be delayed 30-45 minutes easily.

    The headwind is stronger that day thus adding 30-45 min to light time. You land in Japan with a 30 min layover…good luck.

    I would be concerned with the ORd flight for the same reason given the layover time in HKG. I would be more comfotable going through LAX.

    The other factor here is season and the chance of weather delays in Chicago.

  • Lindabator

    Thank you!  Does anyone know WHY it was cancelled/delayed?  Could it have been weather?  call 1-800-call-GOD!

  • TonyA_says

    But WHO WILL PAY for the cost of adding buffer and redundancy?
    Cheaper for airline to cancel than pay fines.

  • TonyA_says

    No her parents checked THEIR OWN itinerary according to her. I wonder if she checked hers.

    I check my GDS queues when I wake up, before I sleep and at least every hour in while at work.

    How many TAs still do this?

  • NoJets

    I have worked as a travel agent. I have had agents ask me “what are queues?”

  • NoJets

    Lack of notice? 

  • Michael__K

    Absolutely true that it would have a cost, which is why incentives (carrots AND sticks) might help.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I would gladly trade fares that are (say) 5% higher in exchange for a clear, noticeable improvement in schedule reliability.

    I don’t imagine these employees necessarily “sitting around for days or weeks” BTW.  They could have other (very flexible) jobs.  They could be semi-retirees.  They could already be working for the airline in other roles when they are not called to flight duties (say, doing customer service, IT, reservations, etc.)

    I have no idea to what extent this is already done.  There are probably some obstacles to overcome (including union approval, and practice of skills to avoid rust (especially for pilots))

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LKHWSI5H6XYINENJT6DJ2UX7E4 Wrona

    I’m guessing mszabo is reading the OP as saying this was  a schedule change done months in advance that the OP only found out about day of flight.  If that’s what happened, then yes lack of notice would definitely be an issue. More likely is that this was a cancellation the morning of flight and AA called the OP as soon as they knew about the cancellation.  I’m basing this on prior experience with airline schedule changes & cancellations.   For schedule changes in advance, a notice appears on the reservation (typical) and/or I get an email saying there has been a schedule change (less typical), a phone call is very rare.   For last minute cancellations, I get a phone call and then they work to reschedule me.   But generally when it’s a last minute cancellation it’s a lot harder to get to where I want to go close to my original schedule, because flights are already booked, earlier flights have already departed etc.  Based on all the info in the OP, I’m guessing it was a last minute cancellation otherwise I’m sure AA would’ve found a way to get them on one of the earlier flights pointed out above that would’ve connected them to their original BKK flights. 

  • Michael__K

    Passengers would pay the up front (ticket) cost in exchange for lower back-end cost/risk.  I assume this is a market-driven side effect of EU-261 as well.

    If it’s always cheaper for the airline to cancel, then maybe the rules/incentives need to be adjusted to change that.

  • Robert Gallagher

    I think you made the right decision.

    That being said, the correct business decision for American would have been to offer them some compensation.  They did not, and now they have probably lost a customer.  Maybe that’s why they are bankrupt.

    British Airways did the EXACT same thing to myself and a companion on a JFK to BKK flight.  Cancelled just before boarding and put us on an JA flight that got us there 12 hrs later.  For the trouble, the BA manager at JFK promised us an upgrade on our return flight if there was a seat available.  He lied.  We never got the upgrade. I found him at JFK later and he lied again, this time to my face.

    BA will never get another dime from me. I bash them any chance I get. They are a horrible airline.

    Sometimes you just have to vote with your feet.

  • TonyA_says

    I agree 100%. AA would not call her that morning unless it’s a last minute cancellation AND they did not want her to go to the airport without reaccommodation.

    Although there is a new DOT regulation on this effective last year. I don’t know exactly when that flight got cancelled.

  • TonyA_says

    Believe me these schedules are padded. I’m not that pessimistic on the international sector. I am on the domestic (TC1) sector.

    I would also prefer LAX because there are 3 CX flights out of there a day. (Note I hear it will be reduced.) There is only 1 from ORD. So no backup there. This is what I meant when I said a good TA must know the airlines system form. You need to know how to route you pax.

    That said any international pax must understand the risk of intl travel. Nothing is 100% certain. You only minimize risks.

  • djp98374

    I know they are padded…it’s done so the airlines satisfy to airline metrics done by DOT..in particular the on time arrival and departure metrics. The buffers allows the airlines to artificially attempt to satisfy them…even still these routes are still late.

    I live on the west coast and regularly travel to the east coast so I have seen how late airlines can be…even when there aren’t obvious delays such as weather or mechanical.

    Over longer flights small navigation changes adds up into delays.

    I have had my share of flights where planes had to reroute to a less than optimal path to avoid a thunderstorm..thus I missed my connection.

  • TonyA_says

     are they still employed?

  • NoJets

    They must work the AUS-BKK queues for AA. ;)

  • NoJets

    I read it as AA called her once the flight was cancelled. They could not have have given more notice. 

  • y_p_w

    It might have been.  Once was on Air New Zealand (LAX-AKL-SYD and back MEL-AKL-LAX).  I remember picking up the “tickets” from the Air New Zealand sales office in San Francisco.  I think it was a favor from one of their employees to my relative.  No money changed hands.

    My relative was also a pretty big seller of the former Malasian Airline System (now just Malaysian Airlines) tickets.  We flew from LAX-HNL for free.  Again, I thought it might have been a favor with no money changing hands.  They even let us in business class, although I was stuck in coach for the return flight because the agent at the HNL counter would let me in business class since I was under 21 at the time.  The agent at LAX didn’t really care.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It also occurred to me that the husband may never have been there so they chose to go on the honeymoon. 

  • Joe Farrell

     Should I have rejected this case?

    Yes.

  • Sadie_Cee

    It seems to me that the OP is a very young and inexperienced person and that she has not yet had to deal with many setbacks in her life.  So arrival at her ultimate destination was delayed by 12 hours!  I can promise her that this is not the worst that life has in store for her.  She must learn to deal with disappointment, behave like an adult about it and not like a petulant child.  Despite the best of intentions, bad stuff happens.
     
    This didn’t happen to me, but I was an eyewitness waiting in an airport lounge for my own flight when this event unfolded.  I watched with interest while hundreds of PAX happily boarded a flight from Toronto to Trinidad in July 1990.  Their mood was distinctly upbeat for they were no doubt looking forward to having a really rollicking time.  In less than 30 minutes the same PAX streamed back through the terminal.  It took me a short while to find out what had happened, but I discovered that there was a coup in progress in Trinidad.  Amongst other things, armed rebels had taken over Parliament and looting was widespread. As a result, this flight had been cancelled.  One lasting impression that this incident has made on me is that at the time I didn’t see even one person throwing a tantrum.  As they passed me, they were in the same high spirits as they had been in when they were boarding.
     
    My advice to the OP:  Follow this blog more often and learn about real rip-offs that travelers sometimes experience.  Airplanes have run out of fuel; people have been scammed out of thousands of dollars; have endured substandard accommodation and have even had all their property stolen!  You will see that your unfortunate experience pales by comparison.