Should my airline compensate me for a lost cruise?

By | September 17th, 2013

Andrew Gentry/Shutterstock
Andrew Gentry/Shutterstock

It started with a simple misunderstanding.

Christine Lagasse and her companions had checked in for their early morning US Airways flight from Manchester, NH, to Philadelphia, enroute to a Caribbean cruise. They walked to the gate indicated on the boarding passes they’d printed at the airline counter.

Or so they thought.

“Our boarding passes showed that our gate was number 9,” she says. “We were all sitting there wondering why there weren’t many people around and when it got to be 4:50 a.m., we didn’t see anyone at the podium.”

That’s because their gate had been moved, minus any announcements. By the time they discovered the change, it was too late.

“I ran over to the gate, only to see that this was now our flight and it was sitting there, but the ramp was slowly moving away,” she remembers. “I was so shocked and started to panic, but there wasn’t anyone at the podium, so I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. Then, all of a sudden a woman came through the door and I hurriedly told her that we needed that plane.”

The US Airways employee ordered Lagasse and her friends to sit down and wait for her to finish some paperwork relating to the flight they’d just missed.

“I told her she had six passengers that were going to miss that flight, leading to a missed connection and then a cruise ship in Florida,” Lagasse says. “She acted like it was no big deal.”

Being brushed off by an airline employee — ordered to sit down and shut up like that — happens every day. But US Airways gets more than its fair share of complaints about that kind of behavior. No doubt, the gate agent didn’t want to argue with Lagasse and get talked into allowing her to board the flight. She wouldn’t have had an on-time departure.

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Also, missing the cruise? Not her problem! She knew full well that US Airways wouldn’t compensate Lagasse and her family for missing a vacation.

Lagasse, it should be noted, is not an experienced air traveler. She flies “maybe once a year,” she told me.

US Airways rebooked her and her party, but what a mess it turned out to be. Four of them were put on a flight to Fort Lauderdale via Washington and two flew to Fort Lauderdale via Chicago. The Chicago passengers made the boat, but the ones flying through DC didn’t because of a mechanical delay, she says.

In order to catch up to their cruise, the four stranded passengers had to pay for a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and fly to Curacao to catch the ship, which set them back another $1,300 per couple.

They complained to US Airways. Here’s how it responded:

I am sorry you and your co-travelers were unable to travel with us as originally scheduled from Manchester and the way this was handled by our personnel; given your description.

It is unfortunate you may have not heard the gate change announcement in Manchester and you were unaware your flight was boarding. Once a gate change is made an announcement is made to inform of the change. In addition, the airport monitors indicate the most up-to-date information for flights, such as newly scheduled departure and arrival gates.

Furthermore, if you’re not checked in and present in the boarding area at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time, your reservation may be canceled. Your seat is released to another passenger, and you will not be eligible for denied boarding compensation. In the future, please be aware that pilots have the discretion to depart 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.

The airline offered each passenger a $50 voucher. Multiple appeals to US Airways to offset the cost of the delay were met with the same response: no.

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Lagasse wants me to help her get her money back.

Here’s the thing: If US Airways told her to go to gate 9 and she did, and if it made no announcements of a gate change, then who’s responsible for her missing the flight? Did you say US Airways? I’m skeptical that they made no announcements, but it’s possible.

On the other hand, US Airways’ policy on this is clear. She needed to be checked in and at the right gate, or she would lose her seat.

So, in one sense, both parties are right. In another sense, they are wrong.

I think Lagasse could have done more to ensure she was at the right gate when things seemed too quiet. Looking at the departures board might have been a good idea. Similarly, US Airways gave her a boarding pass with the wrong gate and then, after failing to deliver her to her destination on time, told her she was on her own.

Should I try to get more than a form apology and an unusable voucher for these passengers?

Should I mediate Christine Lagasse's case?

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