When a good customer meets a not-so-good airline

By | February 6th, 2016

Ruth Morrison’s carry-on luggage vanished on her recent flight from Portland to Quito, Ecuador — in part because she was trying to be a good traveler, and in part because her airline doesn’t know how to be a good company.

Morrison’s problem started when, on the Dallas to Miami leg of her journey, she, her husband and two young children volunteered to surrender their carry-on bags after the overhead bins filled up.

I probably don’t need to tell you that families traveling with young kids carry all kinds of mission-critical items in the carry-ons. Diapers. Wipes. Coloring books. Adult beverages. (Only half-kidding about the latter, and if you fly often, you know it. But I digress.)

“Our flight to Miami was then delayed for several hours due to mechanical issues and we missed our connection,” she says.

After arriving in Miami, the Morrisons waited in a long line while their children slept on the airport floor. Then an American representative delivered a double-dose of bad news. First, they couldn’t fly to Ecuador for two days, and it would be on another airline. And second, they could not access their checked luggage for the next 48 hours.

“We were told that they would refund us for any expenses, including diapers, new clothing for the children and toiletries, so we purchased necessities accordingly,” she says. “When we finally arrived in Ecuador, American had failed to transfer our bags and car seat to the other airline. We waited three days to receive any of these items.”

After that, American went into radio silence, she says. And that’s when Morrison contacted us.

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Our advocacy team reviewed her correspondence and found a few troubling items. Technically, American wasn’t ignoring her, but it sent her a series of form responses, which in some ways is even worse. It’s like saying, “We’re listening,” without actually listening.

When her airline finally responded, it was to tell her it doesn’t reimburse passengers for items in their luggage.

In other words, here you have a well-meaning passenger who volunteered to give up her carry-on baggage so that the flight could depart on time. When the trip was delayed, the airline doesn’t even keep its promise to reimburse her for essentials.

Come on.

Here’s what should happen: When passengers are delayed, an airline should be required by law to take care of them. There should be an automatic system that issues a check, card or cash, allowing delayed customers to buy a change of clothes and toiletries.

It’s clear to me, based on the high number of similar cases I receive, that an airline would prefer you to fend for yourself.

Why require a carrier to cough up the cash? Because passengers like Morrison didn’t schedule the flights. She wanted to get to Quito, not Miami. Flying by way of Miami was American Airlines’ idea. Getting her stuck there was the airline’s responsibility, not hers. This is the airline’s mess.

We contacted American on Morrison’s behalf. In addition to the $300 in travel vouchers it offered after her initial delay, and covering for her Miami hotel and meal vouchers as required under its conditions of carriage, American agreed to reimburse Morrison $280 for the incidentals, as originally promised.

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