An American Airlines agent switched my ticket to a different airport and forgot to tell me

When Kriengsak Athikomvittaya traveled from Japan to Bangkok, Thailand, he was not expecting his trip to cost an additional $280 for a cab ride between airports in Tokyo. The American Airlines agent who changed his ticket didn’t mention that his new flight was at a different airport than the one he’d originally booked.

Athikomvittaya’s story is a warning to air passengers to check their reservations multiple times before heading to the airport. Otherwise, they may find themselves paying more out-of-pocket than they expected – because they’re in the wrong places at the wrong times. And, like Athikomvittaya, they’ll have little, if any, recourse, should that happen.

Athikomvittaya had booked a ticket from Haneda Airport in Tokyo through American Airlines on its code-share partner Japan Airlines. He later determined that he needed to change his flight to one that departed a day earlier. He called American Airlines to rebook the flight. The agent to whom Athikomvittaya spoke rebooked him on a flight departing from Narita Airport, instead of Haneda Airport. But she didn’t tell him of the change. Athikomvittaya requested an email confirmation of his new booking but didn’t receive one.

When he arrived at Haneda Airport, he discovered that his new flight was scheduled to fly out of Narita Airport. Japan Airlines arranged transportation for Athikomvittaya to the bus terminal, where he learned that he did not have enough time to take a bus to Narita before his new flight was scheduled to take off. Japan Airlines then helped Athikomvittaya find a taxi to Narita, which cost him 29,810 yen ($280).

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“If the AA representative [had] told me about the airport change or sent me an email confirmation, I would not have had to go to Haneda and take the taxi from Haneda to Narita which cost me a lot of money and emotional stress,” says Athikomvittaya.

When Athikomvittaya arrived at Narita Airport, he called American Airlines to notify the airline of its agent’s error and to ask for compensation of his cab fare. He was asked to email American’s customer relations department, which he did.

But the customer relations department denied Athikomvittaya’s claim. The agent responding to Athikomvittaya misunderstood the nature of his request for compensation:

Thank you for contacting us. We are sorry there was a misunderstanding about the type of ticket you were holding and the associated fare rules when you spoke with our reservations personnel about changing your ticket.

Although our reservations specialists are directed to ask pertinent questions, when you have a paper ticket, it’s not always possible to determine if an additional fare collection will be necessary without looking at the actual ticket. Therefore, we depend on the expertise of our airport agents to make the final decision.

It doesn’t make it any less frustrating to endure added expenses, after making a change to your itinerary, only to find out that your new flight is departing from a different airport. Rest assured, the details you have provided will be instrumental in helping us improve our service. We use a sophisticated database that allows your specific comments to inform individual discussions with our people as well as identify overall areas that need more attention.

When your itinerary was changed, it no longer met the restrictions which were necessary for the original fare. On that basis, the additional fare collected was correct. I must respectfully deny your request for any type of compensation.

Athikomvittaya posted in our forum about his case. Our forum members advised Athikomvittaya to use our contact information for American Airlines to write concise, polite letters to higher-ranking executives of the airline about his case, starting with the lowest-ranking executive and allowing each a reasonable amount of time to respond before escalating his complaint to the next-higher-ranking executive on our list.

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But when the only response his letters received from American Airlines was a letter that reiterated the airline’s denial of his claim, he turned to our advocates for help.

Although American Airlines’ International General Rules do not address situations like Athikomvittaya’s, where the airlines’ failure to communicate a change in the airport of departure for a voluntary change in flights results in a passenger’s incurring incidental expenses, our advocates reached out to American Airlines on Athikomvittaya’s behalf.

American’s executives did not respond to Athikomvittaya’s letters, so he filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The BBB responded that it could not help Athikomvittaya recover his cab fare.

Unfortunately, after Athikomvittaya complained to the DOT, our advocates were no longer able to assist him. We can only warn our readers to check their flight reservations closely and repeatedly before leaving for the right airport. Otherwise, their cases, like themselves, may not leave the ground.

Should airlines be legally responsible for passengers’ incidental expenses resulting from communication failures that are the airlines’ fault?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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