Who is responsible for this missed honeymoon to Tahiti?

Miranda Jennings Graham and her new husband, Weston, are today’s poster kids for a missed honeymoon.

The Grahams booked their special vacation on Priceline to Tahiti, traveling via American Airlines from Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Angeles, where they had a connecting flight to Tahiti via Air Tahiti Nui.

But the newlyweds never got a chance to kick back in the South Pacific island famous for its black sand beaches because they didn’t make their flight to Los Angeles.

Miranda contacted our advocacy team seeking $6,200 in reimbursement. In an email, she said the couple arrived for the Nov. 12 flight on time but were told it had been “overbooked.”

Miranda did not have anything in writing to substantiate her claim. The Grahams were put on standby and subsequently boarded a later flight to Los Angeles, but by the time they arrived there, their flight to Tahiti had already departed. Miranda said she and her husband “missed the [Tahiti] flight through no fault of our own.”

Our advocate agreed to inquire further on the couple’s behalf but soon discovered that Miranda’s story didn’t add up. It turns out that the flight wasn’t sold out or overbooked.

Our executive contact at American told our advocate that the Grahams “missed their original flight from DFW-LAX…They didn’t answer, and were not at the gate when we called their names at 6:47 p.m CST.”

That flight departed the gate on time at 6:50 p.m, American said. The Grahams showed up at the gate a minute later and by then the door was closed and the aircraft pushed back from the gate. American Airlines subsequently placed the couple on standby for the next flight to Los Angeles.

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Miranda contacted our advocate a second time and asked if he could intervene on the couple’s behalf with Air Tahiti Nui. Our advocate wrote back and said: “I’m afraid this is not a case we can successfully mediate.”

There are certain airline policies with which all airline travelers should be familiar.

For example, if a passenger doesn’t show up on time for a flight, then an airline can cancel all the other flights on the passenger’ tickets — in this case, the flight from Los Angeles to Papeete, which is located on Tahiti and is the capital of French Polynesia.

Airlines normally won’t reimburse the tickets under these circumstances. A refund is only required when a passenger is sitting at the gate at the required time and the airlines can’t get any volunteers to leave the flight.

We can’t help the Grahams, but perhaps their misfortune can serve as a cautionary tale for other airline travelers, particularly those traveling overseas and have connecting flights to destinations. One of the first rules of air travel is to show up at the gate on time, typically 30 to 45 minutes prior to departure.

As the Grahams can now attest, it’s better to arrive several hours before departure so that you can plan for any unforeseen problems you might encounter prior to arriving at the gate, such as check-in or passing through security.

Michael Hinkelman

Michael Hinkelman is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years experience. He has worked for daily newspapers in Atlanta and Philadelphia, most recently as a small-business columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, before retiring in 2016. In 1993, Hinkelman won a prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for an investigation into the finances of the Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, he was a lecturer in media relations at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. Read more of Michael's stories here.

  • SirWired

    It took a lot of nerve to come back and ask for help with Air Tahiti after almost certainly fibbing when asking for help with AA. I find it unlikely they were told that a flight they missed was overbooked.

  • 42NYC

    Stories like this are why the industry is getting more and more cynical towards travelers complaints. Examples like this are quite common and ruin it for those who have legitimate issues.

  • Mel65

    Wow! Definitely takes some chutzpah to keep trying to pursue this when the facts didn’t back them up. I am curious however, why, as soon as they knew they had missed their first flight, they weren’t on the phone with Priceline or Air Tahiti or whoever asking to have the second flight pushed back as well; they might have been able to make their honeymoon had they taken some proactive measures immediately.

  • Noah Kimmel

    when you say pushed back, I assume you mean rebooked to a later Air Tahiti Nui flight? It would likely involve a change fee + fare difference, but would offer some hope

  • SierraRose 49

    I agree Mel65. Two things struck me about this article: #1. These two are not experienced travelers, especially using an OTA like Priceline for an overseas flight to an exotic location. They got hooked on the price not fully realizing what they were getting or what they had to do if they didn’t get it – either through their own fault (as in this case) or the fault of the airlines involved. #2. They screwed up by being so late at the gate (you could do that in the olden days) and then they were not honest with the Elliott advocates about what happened. That is what truly upsets me.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I feel really bad for the customers. Can’t imagine a ruined honeymoon like this. But it seems to be a constant theme – customer shows up late and wants everyone else to bear the costs, even lying to try and get help vs. being humble and asking for a sympathetic exception or alternative arrangement given the unique nature of a honeymoon trip.

    For important trips, show up early! Heck, for a honeymoon, buy lounge access (or get it with Priority Pass via multiple credit cards, many of which offer minimal trip delay insurance – like the Chase Sapphire Reserve which is great for booking a trip of a lifetime)

    I doubt any gate agent would tell someone the flight is overbooked if the customer is late. Denied Boarding due to overbooking is tracked and has specific policies and government regulations that must be followed (or the airline is fined). If voluntary change, AA would confirm new itinerary prior to taking seats that gets the customer to their final destination. It is not something that is used as an excuse for late customers. AA could have tried to help reschedule the Air Tahiti Nui portion of the trip, even collecting a fare difference and change fee as Air Tahiti Nui is a partner in Oneworld. It would be nice to know if the flights were on AA stock and if they are codeshare or interline. Not sure why they sent her to LAX only to miss the connecting flight and not have another option.

    another cautionary tale, another customer who cries wolf to selfless advocates…

  • C Schwartz

    So they never made it to Tahiti just to LAX and returned back to DFW?

    Haven’t there been several cases now when people are late to the gate and claim overbooked as a reason they did not get on when it reality it was their own fault?

    I think people would be more sympathetic if the travelers would own up to their own mistakes and ask for consideration rather than acting as if it is the fault of others (in this case the airline).

  • Kerr

    They are seeking $6,200+ in reimbursement – Can’t tell if that is for additional travel costs to get to Tahiti or a refund of prepaid expenses in Tahiti.

  • Mel65

    Yeah. They got a standby to LA so maybe they could’ve gotten some accommodation to Tahiti, as well. Sounds like they didn’t really make any attempt to save the trip. Worth a try to salvage a honeymoon… I’d have thought anyway.

  • DChamp56

    Seeing as their wedding was the day before, perhaps they over-indulged and got up late for their trip.
    It’s also around 170 miles from their wedding venue to DFW. One never knows what caused them to be late, but late they were it appears!

  • MF

    It may be a bit harsh to actually say it but – People are only as good as their word, if their word is no good, well then maybe they are also no good. Integrity does not have a 4 digit price tag.


    When the OP contacted the advocates a second time, did she give the actual reason why they were late for the flight to LAX? She was less than truthful on her first contact so I am curious about her explanation on her second contact with you.

  • Michael__K

    The Department regulations say that if a passenger doesn’t show up on time for a flight, then the airlines can cancel all the other flights on the passenger’ tickets

    Which “Department regulations” say any such thing? The airlines’ contracts usually have “No Show” clauses which assert their right to do this and there is no federal regulation which prohibits the practice in the US. (In Germany and Spain, courts have struck down airline “No Show” clauses as unfair contract terms).

  • Michael__K

    I think you have it backwards. If it wasn’t for draconian “No Show” policies and change penalties then many of these complaints wouldn’t exist.

  • Annie M

    Besides fibbing to advocates, she then asks for more again after her lie was revealed? Who arrives that late to their gate?

    No this one didn’t deserved to be helped. Next time she should arrive at the recommended time for a domestic flight – 2 hours before. An expensive lesson to learn.

  • Annie M

    Of course they could have but they would have had to rebooked the tickets and apparently they didn’t want to pay.

  • C Schwartz

    Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 250. 6 (a) which covers oversales talks about contract of carriage and check in … I think that is what is being referred to but not certain.

  • C Schwartz

    Yes I could not tell. Since the passengers were put on a later flight I was not certain if the passengers paid die were put on stand by for Tahiti or just went back. I suspect the advocate may not have spend the time to delve further after finding out the initial problems.

  • C Schwartz

    Rather than edit my post again I will say that I fly EU carriers as much as I can because of the protection for the traveler.

  • Michael__K

    That regulation is purely about eligibility for denied boarding compensation. It says nothing whatsoever on the topic of whether “the airlines can cancel all the other flights on the passenger’ [sic] tickets”

    14 CFR 250.6 – Exceptions to eligibility for denied boarding compensation.
    A passenger denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight shall not be eligible for denied boarding compensation if:
    (a) The passenger does not comply fully with the carrier’s contract of carriage or tariff provisions regarding ticketing, reconfirmation, check-in, and acceptability for transportation;

  • 42NYC

    I dont think thats relevant to this case. This isnt a situation of trying to check a bag and being unable too because its 59 minutes before take off. They werent at the gate when it was time to board, so they lost their seats.

    Certainly you’re not suggesting ‘trying to have an on-time departure’ is a draconian no-show policy. Holding a flight because people have checked in but arent at the gate (maybe they’re a minute late, maybe they’ve lost track of time in the bar) isn’t fair to the other passengers who showed up on time.

    As for change penalties – that also doesnt apply to this case as the pax were accomodated on the next flight out for no additional charge. Further, all airlines sell tickets that don’t incur change penalties and its up to the passengers to decide if they want to buy the more expensive ticket or risk financial penalty if their plans change.

  • Michael__K

    They could have an on-time departure and even leave behind and penalize passengers who miss boarding deadlines without canceling their entire itinerary and pocketing 100% of the revenue and forcing them to buy new walk-up tickets if they still want to travel.
    Accommodating the passengers on the next flight out is nice, but it’s ultimately a useless gesture if your codeshare partner cancels every remaining segment on the itinerary.

  • joycexyz

    They lie and don’t think the advocates will investigate?

  • joycexyz

    Agreed. And then decided to lie about it and blame the airline, and then have Elliott be complicit. Shame on them!

  • joycexyz

    I don’t feel bad at all about people who create their own problems and then try to shift the blame.

  • joycexyz

    It would probably be “less than truthful” (a lie) also. Anything to avoid personal responsibility.

  • cscasi

    Agree. However, do we know that this was a codeshare? It just says Priceline booked them on an AA flight from DFW to LAX and then on a Air Tahiti Nui flight. Were they two separate tickets? Were they booked through AA as a cod share on the second flight? We don’t know.

  • Michael__K

    Priceline won’t sell two separate tickets in the same direction. DFW->PPE had to be on one ticket, either codeshare or interline.
    Priceline sometimes combines two one-way tickets (e.g. DFW->PPE on one ticket and PPE->DFW on a separate ticket). But that would have worked to the OP’s advantage in this scenario, and their “lost honeymoon” suggests that wasn’t what they purchased.

  • Blamona

    Wow they’ve got nerve

  • Lindabator

    they would do the same thing though – no shows mean cancellation of downline tickets – period

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