When a good customer meets a not-so-good airline

Ruth Morrison’s carry-on luggage vanished on her recent flight from Portland to Quito, Ecuador — in part because she was trying to be a good traveler, and in part because her airline doesn’t know how to be a good company.

Morrison’s problem started when, on the Dallas to Miami leg of her journey, she, her husband and two young children volunteered to surrender their carry-on bags after the overhead bins filled up.

I probably don’t need to tell you that families traveling with young kids carry all kinds of mission-critical items in the carry-ons. Diapers. Wipes. Coloring books. Adult beverages. (Only half-kidding about the latter, and if you fly often, you know it. But I digress.)

“Our flight to Miami was then delayed for several hours due to mechanical issues and we missed our connection,” she says.

After arriving in Miami, the Morrisons waited in a long line while their children slept on the airport floor. Then an American representative delivered a double-dose of bad news. First, they couldn’t fly to Ecuador for two days, and it would be on another airline. And second, they could not access their checked luggage for the next 48 hours.

“We were told that they would refund us for any expenses, including diapers, new clothing for the children and toiletries, so we purchased necessities accordingly,” she says. “When we finally arrived in Ecuador, American had failed to transfer our bags and car seat to the other airline. We waited three days to receive any of these items.”

After that, American went into radio silence, she says. And that’s when Morrison contacted us.

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Our advocacy team reviewed her correspondence and found a few troubling items. Technically, American wasn’t ignoring her, but it sent her a series of form responses, which in some ways is even worse. It’s like saying, “We’re listening,” without actually listening.

When her airline finally responded, it was to tell her it doesn’t reimburse passengers for items in their luggage.

In other words, here you have a well-meaning passenger who volunteered to give up her carry-on baggage so that the flight could depart on time. When the trip was delayed, the airline doesn’t even keep its promise to reimburse her for essentials.

Come on.

Here’s what should happen: When passengers are delayed, an airline should be required by law to take care of them. There should be an automatic system that issues a check, card or cash, allowing delayed customers to buy a change of clothes and toiletries.

It’s clear to me, based on the high number of similar cases I receive, that an airline would prefer you to fend for yourself.

Why require a carrier to cough up the cash? Because passengers like Morrison didn’t schedule the flights. She wanted to get to Quito, not Miami. Flying by way of Miami was American Airlines’ idea. Getting her stuck there was the airline’s responsibility, not hers. This is the airline’s mess.

We contacted American on Morrison’s behalf. In addition to the $300 in travel vouchers it offered after her initial delay, and covering for her Miami hotel and meal vouchers as required under its conditions of carriage, American agreed to reimburse Morrison $280 for the incidentals, as originally promised.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Fishplate

    If you have my bag and won’t return it for two days, how is that not theft?

  • judyserienagy

    This is a stunning story that all of us can relate to. Airlines need to hire, train and motivate people to take care of passengers in a situation like this. Dopey employees who can’t read and just roll out boilerplate emails need to find other jobs. We see in the forums nearly daily examples of downright insulting responses from airlines to people who have been wronged. There’s just no excuse for it.

  • Alan Gore

    I hate to do this as much as any of you company people, but if they only way to make the airlines play fair is to bash them over the head with regulations, then so be it. Compensation for delays and lost bags, minimum seat width and pitch, fee control, hotel accommodations when needed. Write your candidate.

  • Bill___A

    Rather than having regulations in each country, there should be another “Warsaw Convention” sort of things. As to American, that’s just dumb. Enforce your carry on regulations properly so that people don’t have to surrender their bags. And yes, it is your job to make sure there is enough room in your planes for it. Cramming all those seats in there means you have to make the right amount of overhead space available too.

  • Altosk

    If airlines would actually enforce their carry-on regulations, people wouldn’t be forced to gate-check their carry-ons. Better yet, bring back 1 free checked bag and see how fast planes load. WN has something going for itself in that regard.

    Also…now that our airlines really have no competition since they just keep absorbing each other…it’s time we repealed stupid cabotage laws. Yeah, I wanna fly Cathay Pacific as a domestic carrier thankyouverymuch.

  • Lee Delong

    My name is Charles Pantino. I’ve an ongoing issue with AA for injuries sustained by my wife during an around the world trip to her home country of Thailand. Going in I knew what AA continues to reinforce, their rank and file care as little about the passenger (Customer) as their management. Not a shred of respect for the handicapped or ADA (which is the law.) That’s why I arrived at the ticket counter with doctor’s notes, a security clearance from our County Sheriff. The name and number of a supervisor for when they tell me they don’t have one, nor one to call. None of which do you any good if the haters at the ticket counter won’t look at them and also tell you they don’t care about them. This being said, to two people in wheelchairs. Fishplate , it isn’t theft, but it is a violation. It relates closely to what became at cause for my beloved Mrs injuries.
    Start throwing some of these people in jail where they belong. Our USA airlines are the most aberrated on God’s green Earth. They don’t get enough sleep because who could sleep after such treatment to human beings.

  • Lee Delong

    Maybe it is illegal detention of property, but probably not.

  • Lee Delong

    Write your candidate.

  • Fishplate

    This would be a good idea, if I thought my candidate actually cared about what I thought. There’s certainly no evidence of that.

  • Carchar

    Vote for the candidate you think will actually, at least, try to represent the flying public.

  • joycexyz

    I’m always interested in the “free market” advocates who vote NO after reading the most egregious misbehavior on the part of the airlines. Clearly, those people have never had a problem–YET. I’ll bet they change their tune when something like this happens to them.

  • jim6555

    Then vote for his/her opponent and send a note to the opponent explaining why they received your vote.

  • Peter

    Giving up your hand luggage to be “a good passenger” is rarely a good idea. Making a decision with a minimal upside and a significant downside sometimes doesn’t end well.

  • Ianto Jones

    Hello – were you able to reach anyone here on this site directly ? Leaving a comment here is not the same as using the contact-us links on the site, when requesting assistance or advice.
    (I’m just a reader/poster, but it doesn’t look from here as if you contacted Elliott.org via the channel that might be able to assist or advise you.)
    Sorry to interject, all best to you and your family.

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