What to do when an airline doesn’t follow its own rules

Can you force an airline to follow its own rules? Phil and Margaret Warker wanted to know after a disastrous return flight from Nassau to Washington via Miami. US Airways blamed the weather and offered them a $100 flight voucher for the trouble.

But the Warkers saw things differently. They believe they were involuntarily bumped from their Miami flight, and claim the gate agents in Nassau promised them more compensation. Who’s right?

Let’s hear from both sides, starting with the Warker family. Here’s their initial request.

On our return flight, US Airways lost our confirmed reservation through their own incompetence, so we were involuntarily bumped and we got home two days later after being rebooked on a different carrier, and we had to endure hours of frustration along the way.

There were no weather problems either time and no one notified us about any issues either time. This caused a lot of expense and problem for my family. We had paid more for direct flights and we were treated like dirt, and I am a Gold Star Alliance member.

We expect at least full credit for the fights and the $1,250 times three that we are legally entitled to under your rules.

Here’s US Airways’ response:

I am sorry to hear your flight cancelled from Washington to Nassau on December 25, 2009. The recent severe storms, compounded by the extreme weather across the Midwest, continue to create operational disruption. We apologize for the inconvenience you experienced and regret any negative impact to your personal travel plans.

Our records show your return tickets were used for travel on American Airlines from Nassau to Miami in the coach cabin and from Miami to Washington National in the first class cabin, I am sorry we cannot refund any portion of tickets that were used for travel, the tickets have no value.

To convey our apologies and regain your confidence, we have authorized three $100 Electronic Travel With Us Voucher(s) (E-TUV).

We know that you have many choices when it comes to traveling, and we thank you for choosing US Airways.

To which the Warkers replied:

I appreciate the response but I do believe that we are entitled to more compensation based on your own rules. We were told that weather had nothing to do with the cancellation on 12/25 but that it was due to crew availability. We had not been notified prior nor re-booked and we had to cajole your agent to book us later that day via Fort Lauderdale, and we arrived nine hours late.

On 01/02, we were told that your system had cancelled our reservation and so we needed to spend a full day in Nassau, then 13 hours at the Miami airport the following day. That we were involuntarily bumped was totally your fault and we were told that we would receive vouchers for both trips of $625 each times three so we are entitled to $1250 each according to your rules and this is what the customer service people told us in Miami and Nassau.

We also incurred many additional expenses as a result of the delay (parking, kennel, lost work, etc.) in addition to being completely stressed out in both directions, which impacted the enjoyment of our vacation. I am a federal law enforcement official and this impacted my work schedule.

I have opened an official dispute with USAirways via our credit card company so I hope that this can be resolved more to our satisfaction or we will not pay for this.

As a Star Alliance Gold member who has given your company a lot of business the last several years, I was shocked at how my family and I were treated. I trust that you will reconsider your offer of compensation, and consider full credit for the flights.

What now? I suggested the Warkers contact someone at a higher level at US Airways, which they did.

A few days later, I got the following email from the family:

We wanted to express our appreciation for your assistance in helping us resolve our issue with US Airways. We e-mailed the contact you gave us and after a somewhat testy phone conversation, they acknowledged that we were correct in our assessment of what we were owed – based on their own, published rules -and they paid us $800 per ticket (three of us traveled).

The normal customer service people seemed to have ignored our return trip troubles (where US Airways had cancelled our reservation and not reinstated it then got us home two days later) after they cancelled our outbound flight and had to rebook us, delaying us seven hours (I could have accepted their initial voucher offer if that was the only problem).

In the end, US Airways did the right thing after we got to the right people and relayed the facts. I travel a lot and I have had my share of delays over the years but we felt justified in seeking the compensation we did in this case. The US Airways customer service people on the ground in Nassau and Miami were also very good to us once they were aware of our plight. I guess the lesson is that if you know you are right, keep pursuing things until the remedy is satisfactory, and your advice and help was invaluable.

I’m happy to have been able to help, and pleased that US Airways did the right thing. But what made US Airways change its mind? Was it the appeal? The threat of a dispute? Maybe Phil Warker’s elite status? Or, did they invoke my name on the phone and suggest I’d write an article if US Airways didn’t fold?

I don’t know. I do note, however, that Warker’s email address ends in dhs.gov — that would be the Department of Homeland Security, the folks who also brought you the TSA. Perhaps US Airways just wanted to stay on the government’s good side.

There’s another possibility, of course. Which is that the Warkers were right, and that US Airways suffered from short-term memory loss. Either way, their conclusion that persistence pays when you’re in a dispute with an airline over its own rules, is valid.

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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