A $75 hotel refund after a rerouted flight? C’mon, US Airways

By | January 19th, 2016

Last summer, Nathan Ainspan needed to get from Washington to Albany quickly. His 88-year-old father was in the hospital with stroke-like symptoms, and in desperation, he paid a first-class, walk-up fare for a US Airways flight.

But the flight never made it to Albany. A “weather” delay forced the airline to reroute the flight to Manchester, N.H. And then a US Airways employee made him a promise the airline wouldn’t keep: that it would cover all his hotel expenses while he waited for a connecting flight.

Ainspan sent US Airways the hotel bill, but it refunded only $75 of it. He wants to know if this is enough.

Maybe you can tell me.

First, it helps to understand how this delay happened.

“The flight crew was unavailable for the flight because they were flying another airplane, so the flight departed more than an hour late,” he explains. “The weather was fine in Washington, but there was a light rain in Albany. The rain prevented the crew from landing the plane in Albany and because they were close to exceeding the limit of their flight time due to the delayed departure, the flight was rerouted to Manchester.”

Put differently, US Airways didn’t have a crew (their responsibility). The weather (not their responsibility) and union rules (not really their responsibility, either) factored into the decision to reroute to Manchester.

Ultimately, the delay was flagged as being caused by “weather.”

By the way, that’s how every airline does it, with the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing.

“An employee informed us that because of a conference being held that weekend in Manchester, there were no vouchers available for hotel rooms,” says Ainspan. “We were told to locate accommodations on our own and to submit the receipts to the airline, and that we would be reimbursed for the full cost of the accommodations. I managed to find a room at the Marriott hotel in Hooksett, N.H. It was the closest hotel I could find to the airport that still had a room available. I spent a few hours there before I had to return to the airport to catch my connecting flight.”

When he submitted his expenses, the airline refunded him $75, which appears to be the per diem for hotel expenses in Manchester. His actual expenses: $229.

Ainspan has purchased the most expensive airline ticket on that plane. You would assume that US Airways would give him every consideration.

I thought this was just a misunderstanding — that if an employee told him he’d get his hotel room covered, that the airline would actually do what it said.

I assumed wrong.

Here’s the response from US Airways (technically, American Airlines):

It appears weather was an issue at DCA both July 8th and July 9th. Also shows that the weather system moved up the East Coast, as numerous flights were cancelled for weather July 9th at LGA, for example.

That flight was operated by Republic. This doesn’t make a difference from a customer relations perspective, but just wanted to let you know – I have taken that late night flight to ALB before.

Lastly, the flight was diverted due to weather. As you know, we don’t reimburse for costs incurred due to weather-related issues. Appears we provided $75 re. below.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what a representative said, or what you think a representative said. If the reason for the delay is “weather” you should be grateful for the $75 check.

In this case, I think US Airways is absolutely correct. It didn’t even have to give Ainspan a $75 refund. So thanks for that.

It’s also wrong, because you don’t promise to cover the hotel bill of a passenger flying on a walk-up, first-class ticket and then back out. I mean, isn’t this the airline’s best customer? How much better can it get than buying the most expensive ticket?

So I’m really conflicted about this one.

Ainspan is both right — and wrong. US Airways is both right — and wrong.

But who is the most right — and wrong?

Did US Airways offer Nathan Ainspan enough compensation?

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Posted January 19, 2016
  • Stories like this one prove that flying First does not confer the august privilege that plebeians often assume. Funny math and operational delays reclassified as ‘weather’ stick it to the folks in front, too.

    Their one advantage is that money correlates with better social connections, which can make areal difference in being an effective complainer.

  • Bill___A

    Well, they took him to a place that was full due to a conference, so they should accept some responsibility. Lucky it was only $229, those hotels often jack the rates way high when there is a conference.

  • KanExplore

    Get it in writing. Get it in writing. Never take just an oral promise from someone. Yes, I do think the airline ought to have done better, but it didn’t have to, and without something in writing, there’s no evidence anything better was actually offered.

  • sirwired

    Firstly, flight time restrictions are not because of “union rules”, they are due to rather explicit, and important, FAA safety regulations. (Revised to become more strict after the Colgan air disaster.)

    On the flight classification? Well, the DELAY was due to crew availability. But the DIVERSION was due to weather. I would have tossed a $150 voucher everybody’s way, since the “blame” was split between something within their control vs. out of their control.

    But since full reimbursement was promised, it should be provided.

    On another note, Chris, this article contains a great example of a contradiction often seen in your work. In articles in which a coach passenger is treated poorly you rail about how shabbily airlines treat average schlubs. In this article, you inveigh against the LACK of special treatment shown to a passenger paying the super-ultra-deluxe fare. Which is it supposed to be? Are airlines supposed to provide equal customer service to everybody, or are they supposed to roll out the red carpet for their most profitable passengers?

  • sirwired

    When a flight diverts mid-flight, there usually isn’t much of a choice on diversion destinations. And the decision must be made quickly enough that there isn’t really time to call around to local hotels to check availability. Oftentimes, (although I doubt it was the case here), the decision is made by the FAA, not the airline.

    Heck, sometimes flights must be diverted to airports where the airline doesn’t even operate! That creates no end of fun and games trying to get passengers to their final destinations.

  • David___1

    So, help me with this. Often we have posters saying that we, the consumers, should know all the airline rules, that we need to live with the terms of the adhesion contracts. But if the airline employees, people who should be trained in the rules of their company, can’t get it right, then how should the average consumer?

  • James

    No lounges. http://flymanchester.com/terminal

    Not all lounges are 24/7.

    The aircraft flown from DCA-ALB is a CRJ regional jet. The first class seat adds 8 inches of legroom and 3.7 inches of hip room; how log would you assume the flight from MHT to ALB to last? Here’s a hint: It is 121 miles between the airports. Enough time for “REAL sleep?”

  • Barthel

    It took more time to fly to NH than it would take to fly to Albany, so the crew being close to the limit of their flight time was not really a factor. Light rain in Albany? They can’t land in light rain? It’s too bad we still don’t have the pilots who flew bombers in World War 2. Those guys were capable of some amazing feats.

  • jim6555

    About 3 years ago, I my wife and I were stranded in Manchester due to weather problems. Our flight to Tampa was on Southwest Airlines and was scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm. It was now expected to depart nine hours late at 3:30 am. We had already had a long, hard day so I asked the gate agent if we could be switched to a flight scheduled to leave later in the morning. He was able to do so without additional charge. He then said “go downstairs to the baggage office to retrieve your checked bags and they will provide us with a list of hotels in the area that offer distressed passenger rates”. We got our bags and received the list. The clek in the baggage office told us that the Holiday Inn on the list was close to the airport and had reasonable rates. We called them. They had an available room for $110 including tax and told us to wait at curbside for their van. The van quickly arrived. We had a good night’s sleep and returned to the airport the following morning to board our flight which operated without incident.

  • jim6555

    The airlines have developed a caste system where all passengers are not equal. Usually, the more that you pay or the more often that you fly, the better you are treated. It is not unusual for an airline whose flight has been cancelled or severely delayed to offer hotel rooms to it’s upper caste passengers and nothing to the schlubs (Yiddish word meaning worthless or unattractive people). That’s the way the game is played by all of the airlines except Southwest.

  • jim6555

    There are no lounges at MHT, small airport, limited facilities. Also the flight from MHT to ALB would take about 45 minutes. They are about 150 air miles apart.

  • Bubbles

    Ah got it. Thanks!

  • Bubbles

    Cool, love the snark. Totally helpful! Thanks! It’s just a shame I hadn’t had all that memorized from the start.

  • flyonpa

    MHT Airside closes at about 12-1am after the last SW flight comes in. Reopen at ~5am for next day, The Lounge is a un-staffed room with a few nice chairs in it, I think it has a small Conference table that could seat 4.

  • Skeptic

    If it had been me with a parent in critical condition, here’s what I would have done: Rent car, drive to Albany. Maybe four hours from Manchester NH; likely less time than it took to get to the hotel and check in and check out again and get back to MHT. Deal with airline reimbursement later.

  • AJPeabody

    I am skeptical that the small airport would have a car rental agency open after hours.

    By the way, how did his dad do?

  • LonnieC

    I live about two miles from ALB. Our airport simply does not shut down for a “light rain”. Frankly, we rarely shut down for heavy rain, snow, sleet, locusts, or Armageddon. Something doesn’t ring true here….

  • LonnieC

    Ahhh, Southwest. ?

  • Assuming the trip started in DC, rather than Washington state, wouldn’t this passenger have been better off taking the train to Buffalo? Frequent service and no weather worries.

  • sirwired

    The rain could have made the runway too slick for the weight of the aircraft used. That said, I agree something does sound odd; I’m having a hard time imagining they would use an aircraft on a route that had to cancel any time it rained…

    Maybe there was a stiff tailwind or crosswind too?

  • Skeptic

    MHT is not in the middle of nowhere — it’s pretty close to urbanized areas in southern NH like (surprise) Manchester, Nashua, etc. I’ve picked up a car there a little before midnight local time.

  • LonnieC

    Doesn’t require an amazing feat. Big main runway (Air Force One has landed here), decent secondary, good control tower, lots of gates, etc. Seems like something else may have been the real reason.

  • LonnieC

    A number of major car rentals at the airport are open from 6:00am to midnight or a little after.

  • LonnieC

    Maybe. We get a lot of wind, but planes still land here pretty regularly. And we have a good secondary (east/west) runway as well as the main n/s runway. I’m still suspicious….