The storm clouds on the horizon signaled not just another delayed flight. They also should have served as a warning to Eleanor Jean Schmidt that a prolonged, unpleasant, and ultimately fruitless attempt to seek compensation for the delays lay ahead.
Schmidt was scheduled to fly from Philadelphia to Brussels on American Airlines. American’s treatment of Schmidt and her fellow passengers was, as Schmidt describes it, “horrid.”
Unfortunately, American refuses to offer Schmidt or the other passengers any compensation because there are no federal laws requiring airlines to do so for weather-related delays, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
We’ve seen a number of air passengers unsuccessfully seeking compensation for horrible air travel experiences resulting from weather-related problems. Since airlines have no control over weather-related issues, they benefit when they can attribute delays and cancellations to inclement weather as opposed to mechanical delays, for which they are legally required to compensate passengers. And unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do for passengers when their bad flight experiences result from weather-related delays or cancellations. Schmidt is no exception.
Her American Airlines horror story began two months before the scheduled due date, when her flight was rerouted. Schmidt was originally scheduled to return directly from Brussels to Philadelphia on American Airlines.
Then she learned that because American was no longer flying directly into Brussels, she would have to fly from Brussels to London’s Heathrow Airport and then back to Philadelphia – and it would cost her an additional $118 in airport taxes. American agreed to refund Schmidt the airport taxes, but then wanted her to pay $130 for a new ticket.
Then she was billed $166 for the new ticket – and refunded only $171. She had been forced to pay an additional $125 out of her own pocket because of an administrative decision by American Airlines, for which she was not responsible.
“American rerouted me, thus prolonging my trip home by multiple hours and waiting,” she says. “Why should I pay for this increased hassle? And why this constant back and forth?”
Good question — and Strike One for American Airlines’ customer service. And little did Schmidt know that the problems with her flight were just beginning.
On the day her flight was scheduled to depart, it was delayed because of bad weather. Then there was an announcement that the plane needed additional fuel, followed later by an announcement that there was also a mechanical problem.
Schmidt and her fellow passengers had waited on board the flight for four hours for takeoff. They were permitted to deplane and return to the terminal, where they waited for another three hours before American Airlines announced at 2 a.m. that the flight was canceled.
While on board the plane, the passengers were served two glasses of water and one small packet of cookies. After deplaning, they were provided with one can of soda and $13 in meal vouchers, but no restaurants in the airport were open. They were provided with no meals or other food or drinks during seven hours of delay.
American was able to accommodate all the passengers on a flight the next day, but provided them with no assistance in finding hotel rooms for the night. They were told to sleep in the airport. Schmidt took a cab back to her hotel and returned to the airport the next day, at which time the flight was able to take off for Philadelphia.
Schmidt complained to American Airlines about her experience, requesting compensation for the delays, lack of food and taxi fares. (Executive contact information for American Airlines appears on our website.) An agent of American replied:
I can assure you that our official records indicate that the cancellation of Flight 750 was caused by weather conditions. I understand you were informed of a maintenance issue being taken [care] of while you were waiting. When aircraft are delayed we may take that time to repair small items, not essential to the safety of the flight, which have been waiting for repair. … However, we consider what set the off-schedule event in motion and advise our customers accordingly.
When your flight is canceled due to weather, safety is always the number one priority. Our reports indicate storms were affecting the northeastern U.S. that evening which caused issues with many flights. When weather is affecting an area, additional fuel may be required to fly around storms in an effort to provide a smooth, and safe, ride for our passengers.
We agree that any delay of this nature would clearly have been more tolerable if we had been able to serve meals onboard. Since we did not know how long the flight delay would last, we do not typically have a full meal service for fear of not being ready to proceed immediately at whatever time the weather clears. In that situation, our takeoff could be further delayed while readying the cabin and collecting trash items from everyone onboard.
To which Schmidt responded:
Do you honestly believe what you wrote?
We were IN the airport for THREE hours before the flight was canceled. At 11 PM there was certainly some food source — cookies, crackers — ANYTHING to stave off our EXTREME hunger that could have been organized. All we received during this period was ONE can of soda.
The poor young children on this flight — including one baby — had to suffer along with the grownups. I repeat, your treatment was a SIN! — an insult and inhumane.
You will NEVER EVER see me again on one of your flights!
(Words in all caps in the above quotation appear as per the original text.)
Frustrated by her experience, Schmidt then contacted our advocates for assistance. But we can’t help.
American Airlines’ International General Rules Tariff, which applies to Schmidt’s flight, indicates that
AA may, in the event of a force majeure event, without notice, cancel, terminate,
divert, postpone, or delay any flight or the right of carriage and determine if any departure or landing should be made. …
As used in this rule “force majeure event” means:
Any condition beyond AA’s control (including, but without limitation, meteorological conditions, acts of God, … actual, threatened or reported or because of any delay, demand, circumstances or requirement due, directly or indirectly, to such condition; …
Any government regulation, demand, or requirement; or
Any shortage of labor, fuel, or facilities of AA or others; or
Any fact not reasonably foreseen, anticipated, or predicted by AA. …
Lodging passenger will be provided one night’s lodging, or a maximum allowance for one night’s lodging as established by each location, when an AA flight on which the passenger is being transported is diverted to an unscheduled point and the delay at such point is expected to exceed six hours during the period 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. …
Extraordinary circumstances: AA will provide such amenities as are necessary to maintain the safety and/or welfare of certain passengers such as invalids, unaccompanied children, the elderly or others to whom such amenities will be furnished consistent with special needs and/or circumstances.
It could be argued that these provisions indicate that American should have provided Schmidt and her fellow passengers a hotel room or allowance. And Schmidt, who is 80, might have qualified for additional amenities.
And although American’s agent indicated that the airline typically doesn’t serve meals during long delays, this is one instance when adhering to the letter of legal requirements and failing to give passengers delayed by seven hours anything more than a few drinks and cookies constitutes a serious customer service error. Strike Three, and, as Schmidt noted, the airline is out because she has no intention of flying on American Airlines again.
But as we’ve frequently noted, using all caps in text is considered the equivalent of shouting. That’s a no-no when requesting help or filing a complaint, as is issuing any type of threat. While Schmidt’s frustration with American’s lack of assistance is understandable, shouting and declaring that she would never fly on American Airlines again was not likely to move the airline to offer her any compensation for her experience. And it didn’t.
American Airlines struck out with its service to Schmidt, but there’s nothing we can do for her. Thus her story is a Case Dismissed.