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American bumped their four-year-old and then it downgraded the rest of the family

How egregious can an airline’s actions get before it fails to deliver on its contract?

That’s what Gloria Howard wants to know in our latest tale from the help forum.

The normal disclaimer applies here: We have neither asked nor received a statement from the airline about this.

It all started with a little pixie dust. Howard and her husband decided to take their grandsons, 4 and 8, on a Disney cruise. To add to the fun, they purchased four first-class, round trip tickets from St. Louis to Miami on American Airlines.

Sounds like a perfect trip in the making.

But the magic faded shortly after arriving at the St. Louis airport. Due to maintenance delays, the family was moved from one flight to a later flight, and then back to their original flight. In the middle of that, they lost their first class seats and had to ride in coach to Miami.

It only got worse. Somewhere in the airplane shuffle, their luggage didn’t make it and they went two days without it.

You would really think that American couldn’t possibly mess up their trip home worse than their trip down. But for once, they exceeded expectations.

Howard tells the story the best.

When I left the Miami International Airport, we were all four still on the same flight record with seats 2 a,c,d and f. However, on the Saturday before our Sunday flight, the cruise line checked us in.

I got back to my stateroom and looked at the boarding passes, there were only three. There was no boarding pass for Ryder, our four-year-old.

We started working on this problem Saturday afternoon on the ship. We were still working with American Airlines trying to get this taken care of while we sailed out to international water.

They finally told our purser that Ryder had a seat blocked for him and we would need to go to the ticket counter to get it.

That’s right. AA had decided that their four-year-old grandson didn’t need to fly home with the rest of the family.

The situation only got worse at the airport.

Well, my gut feeling caused me no sleep Saturday night and we left the ship early to get the boarding pass. Once at the ticket counter, the agent stated there were no seats available, I would have to check in with the gate agent, who is not available until an hour before flight.

We went downstairs to the gate and spoke with the agent that was working another flight out of our gate. She stated that the flight was overbooked and perhaps I could get something done through customer service.

I left my husband and grandsons at the gate and off to the customer service desk I went. I stood in line. Once I got up to the desk and explained my situation, they stated there was nothing they could do when a flight is overbooked.

I asked to speak with a supervisor. Amilia came down about 20 minutes later and was very rude and hostile. I asked her to look at my flight record and the printout we had, she said no. She was not looking at anything and said there was nothing that could be done.

I then asked to speak with her manager.

He was nice, looked over my paperwork and stated that the computer will pick out the passengers when a flight is overbooked. He did get us another seat in coach.

American’s response to not delivering the first class seats they paid for, much less the horrible service? $165 per person in vouchers for the trip down and $250 in vouchers for Ryder for the trip back.

So, the airline’s response to not providing the service you contracted for is … airline funny money.

Now, the difference in airfare between their first class airfare and the coach airfare when they paid it — not the airline’s funny math trick where they subtract your first class airfare from the full coach or walk up fare — plus the vouchers would have been fair.

Vouchers are for customer service errors like rude, hostile employees, but not for when you fail to provide a contracted service.

Howard sent American a registered letter, but the company has so far spent its time making excuses and refusing to provide anything but vouchers.

I’m not sure how anyone at American can say it’s acceptable to bump a four-year-old from a plane. I’m not sure how anyone at American can find it acceptable to repeatedly downgrade a family on their vacation.

But maybe you can help us understand. Join us in our help forum to help us help Howard resolve this.