Ken Middleton and his girlfriend were flying back to the mainland after enjoying a vacation in Hawaii. At least, they were supposed to be. But their US Airways flight was canceled because of a mechanical problem and they were rebooked on a flight 24 hours later.
Ah, 24 extra hours in Hawaii. What to do? I can think of a few things.
Well, US Airways describes what it should do in its contract of carriage, the legal agreement between Middleton and the carrier.
Oh wait, it’s not there! Looks like, for our convenience, they moved it to their customer commitment, which is a non-binding promise. Here it is:
When a US Airways flight on which the customer is being transported is canceled or causes a missed connection due to reasons within the control of US Airways, creating an overnight stay for the customer, US Airways will provide one night’s lodging. US Airways will pay for:
Hotel room (US Airways will not cover: room service, alcohol, or movies, laundry or other hotel services);
Ground transportation (if not provided by the hotel);
Passengers without baggage will be reimbursed upon presentation of receipts for reasonable incidentals such as toiletries needed until they are reunited with their baggage.
So as I read this, US Airways wasn’t legally required to do a thing for him. (Remember, the promise of a hotel is not written into its contract, but its service pledge.) But it did.
“We were told if we could find a hotel room, we would be reimbursed for the cost through their voucher program,” he says.
Most airlines will issue a voucher to cover the full amount of the hotel and offer a van to a hotel in Waikiki. That’s what happened to me a few years ago when my American Airlines flight burst into flames somewhere over Maui.
“We found a room at $386 per night,” says Middleton. “There was a conference in Honolulu, and nothing else was available. When I requested a refund from US Airways, however, they would only reimburse me $75 for my stay.”
He appealed to US Airways. Here’s its response:
I truly appreciated the opportunity in speaking with you and as stated, I have passed along your desire to speak with a supervisor and they will review the case and if warranted make a phone call, but we cannot guarantee that they will be making a call.
After thorough I have not found any reason to change the original decision and am unable to honor your request to increase in your hotel reimbursement amount.
Mr. Middleton, I’m sorry that we couldn’t reach an amicable resolution to the situation.
Hmm. Did our good friends at US Airways skip a few English classes? Maybe.
In my experience, an airline will offer a voucher for an available hotel, which covers all of your lodging expenses. But who stays in Honolulu for $75 a night? You can’t even find a couch to surf on for that much.
Middleton had to pay $311 because of US Airways’ mechanical delay, and that’s wrong.
At the same time, the way I read the airline’s customer “commitment,” it didn’t really have to do anything to help a stranded passenger. Asking the airline to do something it isn’t required to isn’t the strongest argument, from a consumer advocacy point of view. But I’m not afraid to try.