I was downgraded to business class and I want full compensation!

By | March 28th, 2017

Kenneth Giambrone’s months-long case against American Airlines for an involuntary downgrade has just ended, thanks to the help of our advocates and our forum — to his immense satisfaction.

Giambrone’s problem is an exercise in perseverance and exhausting all channels of filing claims and escalating complaints. And unfortunately, it’s also a case study in how not to communicate with people who are trying to help you solve a problem.

This long story began when Giambrone and his wife, Janet, flew to Rome on American last year. They had used frequent flier miles to book tickets in first class, where they expected to be seated during their return flight. But when they checked in to return home to Chicago, they had boarding passes for business class seats instead.

American had substituted a different aircraft from the one originally scheduled for their flight, whose configuration had a business class section but not a first class. According to Giambrone, American did not advise them of the downgrade until they arrived at the airport in Rome.

The Giambrones dug in their heels: under no circumstances were they willing to fly in business class. As Giambrone put it,

We offered to change routings, make connections in different cities (increasing total travel time significantly), fly on AA [American Airlines]’s different “partner” carriers ([British Airways], [Iberia], Finnair, etc. and pay their fuel charges which we didn’t have to pay with AA metal), even fly on a different day (and overnight at our own expense) in order to be accommodated in a First Class cabin — and fly on AA metal — which is what we were entitled to.

But American Airlines’ agents declined to accommodate the Giambrones by rebooking them:

All these suggestions were refused out of hand. We were going to fly business…right then and there…whether we like it or not. And AA wasn’t going to do anything to change what they’d already made their minds up that “we” were going to do.

So the Giambrones flew in business class on that flight, which was comparable to first class. It had flat beds and the same level of service that they could have expected while seated in first class on the aircraft type originally intended for that flight. American refunded the Giambrones the 12,500-mile difference between first class and business class and offered an additional 7,000 miles per ticket. But they were not happy.

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After the flight, Giambrone posted in our forum under the name “LiliasPasta” (leading some of our forum advocates to mistake him for a woman). His desired resolution for his case was the following:

I would like only what American promised us, what we paid for in miles back in February (before they raised redemption levels), and what they subsequently deliberately took from us without our consent and through their own action: namely, two one-way First Class tickets from Europe to North America … or, the equivalent of those two tickets in the CURRENT number of AA miles necessary to purchase the same again (85,000 per person) is acceptable to us. They have refused, offering only 12,500 plus 7,000 “to make us go away.”

As of this writing, the forum thread has reached nine pages.

The forum advocates advised Giambrone to write polite letters to the American Airlines executives listed in our contacts section, allowing each one a week to respond to his letters before escalating his complaint to the next-higher-ranked executive.

Unfortunately, Giambrone’s letters did not move American to offer more compensation.


Giambrone believed that because his flight originated in a European Union country, it was subject to Article 10 of the EU 261 regulation:

If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, it shall within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), reimburse … 75% of the price of the ticket for all flights [longer than 3,500 kilometers], including flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments.

But American Airlines disagreed with this interpretation and stuck by its original offer of 12,500 miles for the downgrade and bonus of 7,500 miles, which Giambrone labeled “worthless”:

This is incredibly frustrating!

After writing on Sept.13 to the address you suggested in your post (AA.ECClaims@aa.com) and referencing EU261 along with the links to EU 261 you provided, and having received no response after 10 days, I asked this forum what to do.

It was suggested I begin to “go up the chain” beginning with the first name on the list.

I did so, writing on Sept. 23 to the first gentleman on the list.

Today, I received an email — not from the address I had written to originally (AA.EUClaims@aa.com) — nor from the address of the first gentleman on the list.

No…instead I received an email from (you guessed it!) the exact same AA Customer Relations address that initially refused to give me anything remotely approaching compensation (until I bitched) back on Sept. 6!!!

In other words, I was receiving a reply from the EXACT SAME PEOPLE (or department) who I have been having the problem with and who caused me to seek help in this forum in the first place!!

Is AA truly this “effed up”???

Writing to the AA “EU Claims” address (as you suggested) because I didn’t get a satisfactory resolution from AA Customer Relations (which is what caused me to seek out help in this forum), then writing to the first name on the list after getting no response from AA “EU Claims” (also as you suggested), and this is what I get???

A response from the same jackasses who I dealt with originally before seeking help from this forum?

At this point it is impossible for me to tell if this asinine “let’s-pass-the-buck” response is AA’s “EU Claims” doing or “the first name on the list’s” doing.

Does it matter? Evidently not.

This accusatory, aggressive attitude alienated the forum members. They advised Giambrone that because he had paid for his tickets with miles rather than cash, it would be difficult to enforce a claim for more compensation, particularly under EU 261. In addition, they warned Giambrone that pushing the issue with American Airlines, particularly if he took this same attitude in his communications with its executives, might lead American to close his frequent flyer account and ban him from future flights.

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Instead, they suggested, Giambrone should file a claim with the European Union. But they told him that the European Union could only sanction American Airlines with a noncompliance fine for its breach of EU 261. It could not force American to issue him any additional compensation.

Giambrone filed the claim and received a response from the European Union indicating that the claim had been passed to ENAC (Ente Nazionale per l’Aviazione Civile), the Italian civil aviation authority. He asked if our advocates “have any pull with the European Union” — to which the answer is no.

When three months passed with Giambrone hearing nothing further about his case, he then turned to our regular advocacy team, which reached out to American Airlines.

American agreed to refund Giambrone 75 percent of the cost of the miles required to fly from Europe to the United States.

What course of action should American Airlines have taken to resolve Kenneth Giambrone's case?

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  • The Original Joe S

    I’ll ALWAYS side with the OP against a recalcitrant airline. If they weren’t dirtbags, OP wouldn’t have had to go here at all.

  • The Original Joe S

    I thought he was quite civil in describing those jackasses……..

  • BubbaJoe123

    This was a pretty straightforward case. It was an involuntary downgrade, and under EU261, if you’re involuntarily downgraded, you’re entitled to a 75% refund of your fare. EU is clear that, whether you pay in miles or not, you’re entitled to the 75% back. Good that he got it, even if his approach to AA wasn’t ideal.

  • Bill___A

    AA should abide by the law and not have to be nagged to do so.

  • MF

    Seems like the airline industry is experiencing or preparing for a slowdown & are getting more lenient with their policies, like beginning to offer free food as a perk. I would guess that this case may be a bit of this trend?

  • Daddydo

    There is a point that is not being completely addressed here. If you were talking cash, most of the points are valid. This is a mileage purchase with different rules that were agreed to when signing up with frequent flier status. The airline also publishes a gazillion page set of rules about their rights to substitute aircraft as they see fit. I see the final result as AA caving in order to make this go away. Mileage is free to the airlines, you just have the time to negotiate for it.

  • BubbaJoe123

    1. The EU261 rules are NOT different for mileage. If you’re involuntarily downgraded on a flight leaving the EU (or on a flight to the EU on an EU carrier), you’re entitled to a refund of 75% of the cost of the ticket. If that was paid in cash, then in cash. If in miles, then in miles.
    2. That said, there’s no US law prohibiting AA from giving you the miles back, and then cancelling all your miles and closing your AAdvantage account. Not a good PR/customer satisfaction move, but not illegal.

  • John McDonald

    is there any difference between international business class(when there is no 1st class) & 1st class on an American airline ?
    U.S. airlines are the last resort for most people.
    A storm in a teacup.
    This guy seems to think he is a VIP. If an airline doesn’t have the cabin designated 1st class, he wanted to be rerouted onto a flight that wasn’t nonstop ? If this guy for real ?

    In Australia, we would just call him a “princess” & tell him to go away. We are far less PC than Americans.

  • John McDonald

    75% of what ? He didn’t pay anything. Points/miles have no monetary value whatsoever.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Actually, I doubt he thinks (or is) a VIP. A VIP flies first class all the time and doesn’t consider it special, and wouldn’t even blink an eye at business class if it was substantially identical. The OP probably never flies first class, saved (maybe even, dare I say it, scrimped), and just wanted what he’d been promised and payed for. Doesn’t sound like a princess to me.

  • John McDonald

    but is there any difference between bus & 1st on these flights ? Who would even consider going 1 stop, when nonstop is sitting right in front of you ?

  • PsyGuy

    Now we have adults with Special Snowflake Syndrome. I miss when flying even economy was an exercise in class and sophistication, not because of the service but the quality of the people were better, at least they knew how to talk to one another civilly.

  • PsyGuy

    Points are exactly worth ~0~, 75% of zero is zero.

  • PsyGuy

    If I was AA and that CSR that’s what I’d do.

  • PsyGuy

    i really don’t understand the issue and desire for airline food, you realize it’s airline food? It’s marginally one degree better than school lunch back in primary school.

  • PsyGuy

    Then AA can abide the law and cancel the LW’s miles account.

  • PsyGuy

    It wasn’t a downgrade though, it was the same quality and level of service they would have experienced on their original flight and equipment, but by a different name.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed

  • PsyGuy

    We call them Snowflakes in the States.

  • PsyGuy

    From the description the Business class service sounds comparable to first class service.

  • John McDonald

    check in person, should have simply crossed out the word business on their boarding passes & written in 1st

  • John McDonald

    what law ? There is now law for frequent flyer tickets.

  • PsyGuy

    Exactly

  • BubbaJoe123

    No, it wasn’t. For int’l routes, AA has planes with three classes (First, Business, Coach), and planes with two (Business and Coach). They were booked into Flagship First (on a three class plane), and were provided Flagship Business (on a two class plane). That’s a downgrade. Now, Flagship Business is very nice, and the difference between that and Flagship First isn’t huge, there is definitely a difference.

    https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/experience/during-your-flight.jsp?anchorEvent=false&from=Nav

  • BubbaJoe123

    75% of the miles he paid. EU 261 applies to award tickets as well. There’s an argument (not sure it’s ever been tested in the EU courts, as far as I’m aware) that the pax are entitled to cash compensation, either 75% of what the ticket would have cost, had it been paid in cash, or 75% of what it would cost to buy the number of miles used for the ticket.

  • The Original Joe S

    sometimes yes. My favorite eliminated 1st, but their business is very nice. Don’t think they have flat beds tho….

  • The Original Joe S

    I agree w/your assessment. Absolutely.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Curious how you can say that without knowing the customer’s value to AA.

  • The Original Joe S

    so they say.

  • The Original Joe S

    and if he paid for first, then he got cheated. even tho he paid with “miles”.

  • The Original Joe S

    complain and get scrood? Don’t fly w/them no mo……

  • PsyGuy

    The only difference I can tell is that flagship first has a bigger/better amenities kit, and a pair of PJ’s.

  • The Original Joe S

    most airline food is as you say. My fav line has decent chow.

  • The Original Joe S

    But if it were EU, then it’d be illegal. So, punish the guy for wanting what he signed up for?

  • The Original Joe S

    so THEY say. Points are worth a flight, and how much is that? legal fiction?

  • The Original Joe S

    Like Rodney Dangerfield to Kurt Vonnegut in “Back to School”?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Plus better seats, plus better food, plus better service. There must be some difference, b/c AA is charging $2300 more for First vs. Business on a JFK-LHR roundtrip.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a2ee2a10739a8356b5e5ff498a540fa04f361483431c4ab7cc6cf23c46d45d03.png

  • The Original Joe S

    For $2300 more, you should get……

  • James Dworak

    Let me understand the terminology , they technically still flew first class as it was being called business class and for that that complained? Interesting the 3 questions were equally divided.
    I recently flew on points in business class and I was told when booking, if another level of person, i.e. Paying more money, needed the seat, we would be put back in economy and get nothing for the points, United .

  • PsyGuy

    I looked at the seats in the link they didn’t really look better to me, they both lay flat. Honestly, the flag first seats look like it was taken in someone’s office cubicle with a cabin chair photoshopped in.
    Better food how? I read the menu, it’s different but it’s still made in an industrial kitchen that produces what is essentially a microwave meal.
    Better service in what measurable way? You ask for something they bring you something, I don’t see how the service especially with this being AA gets appreciably better. I’ve flown AA a lot, and I’ve flown at times in business and first and the only real benefit is the space and the lie flat seat. If your getting those the rest of the flight experience is inconsequential.

  • PsyGuy

    Points are worth whatever the airline says they are worth, you claim they are worth a flight today and that maybe true but the airline can wipe them away tomorrow leaving you with nothing., and there would be nothing illegal or wrong with their right to do so.

  • PsyGuy

    No punish the guy for being being obnoxious.

  • PsyGuy

    Which line is that? I haven’t tried everything, but the best I’ve had would get beaten hands down by most of the to-go menu you can get in the airport terminal. I’ll take a NY, steak sandwich on sourdough rye with swiss and peppercorn steak sauce or a lobster poor boy both for about $15 over whatever microwave surf and turf they serve in FC for $1,000 or more extra anyday. For that matter I can get a bento box for about $8 that’s better than the sushi and Japanese meals I’ve been served in any class on a flight.

  • PsyGuy

    Some customers need to be fired.

  • PsyGuy

    Not really, bad customers just aren’t worth it and air travel is a necessary part of business life. The reality is if a customer even if they are an executive that brings millions in revenue to an airline behaves poorly, they the customer is going to be the one without anyone that want’s to transport them, well before the airline is hurting for passengers.

  • PsyGuy

    The space and the lie flat availability is really the only significant difference I’ve seen, if you have that the rest doesn’t matter very much.

  • BubbaJoe123

    While I agree that, in reality, there isn’t a huge difference between business and first (nothing like the difference between business and coach), there is a difference, they are entirely separate classes of service, and AA charges materially more for first than business. Paying for First, and getting Business, is a downgrade. Full stop.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Air travel is a necessary part of business life. That said, there are a lot of choices in many cases. For example, I spent over $20k with DL last month (two R/Ts to the West Coast, and one to London, all in J). For all of those flights, I could just have easily taken AA or UA (or BA or VS for the London trip).

    Unless these customers were abusive to staff (which I don’t see evidence they were), I wouldn’t fire a customer for wanting what they’re legally entitled to.

  • joycexyz

    Absolutely! To quote: “the Giambrones flew in business class on that flight, which was
    comparable to first class. It had flat beds and the same level of
    service that they could have expected while seated in first class on the
    aircraft type originally intended for that flight” So where’s the beef? Oh, wait, it wasn’t called “First Class.” Sorry, but I can’t be very sympathetic, especially since AA gave him some compensation.

  • Mark

    They should have had no trouble refunding 75% of the points if that was the case :)

  • Mark

    Yes. The flight was covered under the EC 261 regulations, which stipulate the compensation you’re due in the event of a downgrade.

    There has already been a precedent set that in the case of points flights, 75% back of the points paid is due.

  • The Original Joe S

    Because they are dirtbags, and they are for the same reason a dog scratches behind his ear.

  • The Original Joe S

    Then let’s punish many of the posters on here.

  • The Original Joe S

    I ain’t gonna tell ya. They don’t advertise. They don’t have to. They are small, safe, and nice. The flights to their home plate for Christmastime are booked up by 31 Jan each year. I don’t want everybody filling up the seats so that I can’t get on.

    Here’s a hint: Dey’re not dem bad red chinks on the mainland, dere, Edith. Dey’re dem good yellow chinks on Taiwan!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDMQPfGYTwU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDMQPfGYTwU

  • The Original Joe S

    You’re not being very empathetic.

  • The Original Joe S

    I get a business class-type seat. Not quite as plush as business, but a lot cheaper. I’ve accustomed myself to
    -Wheels Up
    -Shoes Off
    -Blanket over
    -Wake me when the chow comes out!
    -Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • The Original Joe S

    But you ain’t in the States. U R in Nippon!

    My sweetie-pies just arrived from Narita today. Straight to Joe’s Pizza for lunch!

  • Maxwell Smart

    know what this guys needs. A kick in the head, to knock some sense into him.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Your perceptions (or mine) are beside the point. The OP clearly perceived a difference. Indeed, if the OP was willing to suffer in a way that I never would (choosing a 1 stop over nonstop) just to get first class, clearly OP perceived some value attached solely to the name “first class”. Didn’t get it, paid for it, should be reimbursed for what the airline didn’t provide.

  • Maxwell Smart

    1) airline could argue the he did get 1st class
    2) points/miles aren’t $$$, so he didn’t pay for it with dollars, only miles, so at most he should have go the difference in miles between 1st & bus back & no more. No cash whatsoever.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    1) No, he got business class not first class.
    2) he paid, don’t exalt form over substance

  • BubbaJoe123

    Definitely a difference between int’l business on a two-class plane and int’l first on a three-class plane. Different seat, different food, different service. For JFK-LHR, AA gets a ~$2500 premium for first vs. business.

  • BubbaJoe123

    He shouldn’t have received any compensation for not getting what he was promised and what he paid for?

    So, if you have a prepaid reservation at a three Michelin star restaurant, and, without asking, they switch you to a notably cheaper two Michelin star restaurant (still an extremely good restaurant), and didn’t offer a refund, you’d be fine with it?

  • BubbaJoe123

    So wanting to receive what you paid for is now being a “Special Snowflake”? Wow.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “The airline also publishes a gazillion page set of rules about their rights to substitute aircraft as they see fit.”

    That doesn’t include the right to downgrade people without compensation.

  • PsyGuy

    No doing it the way the LW did was whiney.

  • Tim Mengelkoch

    This OP has probably been a complainer all his life

  • BubbaJoe123

    How should they have done it, then, to meet your standards of non-snowflake behavior?

  • Maxwell Smart

    asking more for 1st & getting it are 2 completely different things. Talking to a few airline contacts I have, they both tell me, virtually no one is booking anything but economy & everyone is trying to upgrade. Some airlines are quietly introducing a cheaper business class, so now there might be 5 different business class fares. The cheapest – you have to pay to change anything & no refunds ever.

  • Noah Kimmel

    No! While similar in words (both flat beds, premium meals, etc.) AA does offer a different product called first class from business that costs a separate amount of miles and is a separate experience for international routings. The food and drinks are better, seat even better. While Business is closer to First than Economy, it is still a downgrade. I understand the desire to fly First once and would be pretty pissed if I was involuntary downgraded.

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