Why won’t American Airlines pay me for my new flight?

American Airlines canceled Gabriel Baisan’s return flight because of a shortage of crew members. With no American flights available until the following day, Baisan was forced to book a flight on Southwest Airlines. He could not miss another day of work.

Baisan is asking American to reimburse him for a portion of his ticket on Southwest. American’s answer? No.

Baisan has been a loyal American Airlines customer for 24 years. He chooses to book his flights on American because of the “quality of service [he’s] come to rely on.” Even though his return flight was canceled on this particular trip, he was still “highly satisfied” with American’s service — until now.

When Baisan found out his flight was canceled, he asked American if it would book him on another airline, since it had no flights available. American would not. His ticket on Southwest cost $58 more than his original fare on American. Baisan submitted a request for a refund in this amount, but American denied his request.

“Furthermore,” Baisan added, “if I had taken the offer extended to me by your representatives and stayed in Phoenix, American Airlines would have incurred higher costs booking me a hotel than what my replacement ticket cost.”

American issued a $60 refund for the unused portion of Baisan’s original ticket but would not offer any compensation for his added expenses on Southwest. American followed through on its contractual agreement, according to its terms and conditions.

When cancellations and major delays are experienced, we will attempt to reroute you on our next flight with available seats. If the delay or cancellation was caused by events within our control and we do not get you to your final destination on the expected arrival day, we will provide reasonable overnight accommodations, subject to availability. If a flight is adversely affected by events beyond our control, you are responsible for your own overnight accommodations, meals and incidental expenses.

There are no federal laws regulating flight cancellations in the United States. Each airline determines how it will treat passengers in the event of a cancellation. Any additional compensation is optional. In this case, American would have covered Baisan’s lodging expenses, which is more than some airlines would do.

Typically, when a flight is canceled, the airline will rebook passengers on the next available flight in the same class of service. Some airlines may put passengers in a higher (or lower) class of service, if the original class is filled. When passengers are downgraded, they can expect a refund for the difference. If the rebooked flight is unacceptable, passengers have the right to a full refund for the remaining value of their ticket.

If the reason for cancellation is within the airline’s control, it may offer compensation in the form of a hotel room (if an overnight is required), meal vouchers, and/or transportation. There may be stipulations on how long the delay needs to be before compensation is offered. Weather-related delays or force majeure events will usually result in the passengers having to fend for themselves. No compensation is required.

Some airlines may rebook passengers on another airline if asked to do so. This, however, would be a rare exception and not the rule. Passengers should feel free to present alternatives to the airline if the rebooked flight will cause a hardship. The airline may or may not comply. If passengers choose to book their own flight on another airline, the original airline will not reimburse them for any portion of the new airfare.

Baisan contacted Elliott.org for assistance in getting a refund, but we were unable to intervene on his behalf. American fulfilled its obligation when it offered to put him on the next flight or refund his money. Our advocates suggested he utilize Elliott.org’s company contacts for American Airlines to request a travel voucher. This turned into a Case Dismissed.

American apologized to Baisan for his inconvenience and reiterated that he was a valuable customer. Although from Baisan’s perspective, he’s a customer that American just lost.

Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie’s most recent book is “Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad”. For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing.

  • Bill___A

    Most companies have processes and procedures for dealing with irregular operations. We my or may not agree with all of them, but if they are fair and comply with the law, I don’t think we should get too upset if they don’t work out exactly the way we want them to.

    Although in our eyes, we see that it “should be easy” to make an exception, exceptions cost money and they can get ouf of hand.

    Would I stop doing business with a company I’d been with for 24 years over $58? No. because I would have received way more positive experiences with them and would let the $58 slide. If it were a company that I didn’t like in the first place, that’s a different story.

    Sometimes, I think one needs to get things into perspective. If you’re going to abandon someone after decades over $58, what other issues do you have?

    Admittedly it would be nice if the laws changed, but they didn’t. And so it goes.

    Why waste so much time over $58?

  • finance_tony

    Thanks for writing this. There are a lot of sucky things about airline contracts , but if this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, I’d have to question my “loyalty”!

  • Rick Cricow

    I have decades and high status on UAL. I’d be upset at this, I get upset at many things they do but Bill A is right, you have to weigh the overall good against the bad.

  • y_p_w

    Almost every company sets its terms such that save gross negligence, there will be no consequential damages save what’s offered by a warranty or contract.

    If my car breaks down, a carmaker is not going to reimburse me for the cost of getting to work. That’s just the way the marketplace works, and I really don’t see any airline as being any different. If you’re really worried about missing work, plan to get home a day earlier.

  • SierraRose 49

    Like Arnie said, “I’ll be back!” And just like Arnie, Mr. Basain will book with AA again. AA knows it, because Mr. Basain is connected to AA, not just by his 24 years of loyalty, but more than likely by a few loyalty perks that I doubt Mr. Basain will toss into File 13.

  • Jeff W.

    The article contains too much hyperbole. If we are to believe that Baisan is going to stop flying American after 24 years of loyalty over one canceled flight and $58, then I have a bridge to sell you.

    If this was one event out of several, then yes, he would be right to question his loyalty. But up until this one event, he was “highly satisfied” with AA. If he really needed to return home, then he may have had better luck if he had chosen an alternate airline that AA will interline, such as United. Southwest does not interline with the other US carriers, which probably led to the denial

    But if Baisan wants to cut ties with AA, that is his right. I would really hate to be a Mrs. Baisan. “I know we’ve been happily married for 24 years, but you burnt the meatloaf. I am outta here!”. Seriously, his flight was canceled and he was able to get home the same day on a different airline and it only cost him $58. That is a victory in and of itself.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Is it clear that this is over $58 and that is the additional amount the ticket cost over the $60 that AA refunded the OP, or could the AA ticket have been $300 and the Southwest ticket was $358, and he incurred a cost of $298 after a $60 refund by AA? I still agree that if he was otherwise satisfied with AA, $298 probably is too small an amount to avoid the airline, but it may not just be $58 (or it may, I can’t tell from the column).

  • michael anthony

    There are dozens if reasons why someone must get home to work and doesn’t travel the day before. Of course flying you take a risk, but it may be someones only option.

    There are plenty of businesses that have a work environment of punishment, even for things out of someone’s control. And a number of people face pretty severe penalties for any infraction. Yes, most of us wouldn’t want to work in such places, but many people dont have the luxury to change jobs easily.

  • Lindabator

    then you DO have a choice – and fly home earlier — you can expect to have it both ways


    Had a good laugh at planning to get home a day earlier. Two months ago I actually booked my flight to get home a day before I actually needed to be there. I wanted an extra day to relax, catch up with a few things and be rested for an early morning meeting on a Monday. Unfortunately, my airline had other plans and my flight was cancelled for mechanical reasons. The airline rebooked me on the first available flight the next day and provided a hotel voucher. Bad weather delayed departure and I did not get home until 130 AM on the day of my early morning meeting. A day earlier is not always a guarantee.

  • Noah Kimmel

    Always hard to tell when someone gives a timeline of loyalty. Not to diminish the OP, but it is generally known that carriers won’t do this. If they put you on another airline, it is usually something they have to book for you. We also don’t know if he chooses AA because of service or price and convenience. I have done business with plenty of companies for 20 years, but doesn’t exactly make me loyal or a high value customer.

    AA did what was expected – offering to re-accomodae him on next flight or refunding his original. Once he chose refund, he shouldn’t be disappointed with the resolution. Never a problem to ask and to try, but sometimes you have to know when to fold.

  • Mel65

    I agree to a point. Weather might happen and they can’t control that; however, I should be able to trust that my multi million dollar a year airline has properly maintained their fleet and has adequate crew to operate it. That is, barring freak circumstance, well within their control and it irks me that they shrug off that responsibility so cavalierly when it adversely affects the customers they’re allegedly serving.

  • It’s interesting to read the responses here. I read the article comprehensively differently. There are two key elements here: 1) A NEED to get back to work (as stated), and 2) rational cost/benefit analysis which conflicted with what was offered.

    First, he states, “Even though his return flight was canceled on this particular trip, he
    was still “highly satisfied” with American’s service — until now.” AND…that reason was… “He could not miss another day of work.” I would say that’s a damn good reason to be immediately soured.

    Which leads to #2: Not ONLY would it have been highly reciprocally loyal to rebook him, but the insult to tolerable injury was that it was actually in the company’s financial interest to DO JUST WHAT HE ASKED.

    I gather that’s the point of this: HE GETS stuff happens. But he had a highly specific need, and it went undressed…EVEN THOUGH it was in their financial interest to do so (not to mention they could resell his seat, for EVEN MORE profit).

    That’s what’s insulting…acting so automotonic to the point of forgetting that you actually serve people.

    What so many people miss on this board is that almost every complaint seems to stem when the insult turns into indifference.

  • I was going to write the exact same thing, but I opted for a different tack on my response.

  • Jeff W.

    Another interesting question: What is the definition of his loyalty to AA? He says it has been 24 years, which is certainly a long time. But is it one or two flights every year for 24 years, or is it having some sort of elite status with AA for those 24 years?

    Flying a few times a year, unfortunately, does not confer any extra considerations regardless of the length.

  • Lindabator

    true – but at least gives you a cushion – had you NEEDED to be at work Monday AM – YOU still would have made it

  • Lindabator

    weather impacts HUNDREDS of flights – they cannot just have crew standing around EVERY airport in the country “just in case” – ridiculous argument

  • Lindabator

    just because he wanted to fly a carrier (Southwest) which works with NO OTHER CARRIER – you expect American to pay him — perhaps he should have asked first, and seen if this was an option? This ridiculous assumption that the company can afford anything you want is just untrue

  • y_p_w

    Well, the extra day gives you a chance in that case.

  • y_p_w

    That’s not how most industries work. Industries that over-hire tend to have prohibitive costs.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve been there. I’ve decided that I couldn’t drive home safely, found s hotel, and waited until the next day to tell my manager. I’ve never had a problem, but it was always when I was salaried.

  • LonnieC

    Except that the very small amount actually makes the OP’s point. AA has effectively told the OP that his many years of loyalty aren’t worth even as small an amount as $58. It’s the small amount that makes AA’s position so insulting.

  • Mel65

    If that was what i suggested it would be ridiculous, but it’s not and isn’t even close. Surely, even YOU understand that not all crew shortages or mechanical issues are related to weathet. Some can be directly laid at the door of poor management.

  • Mel65

    Not sure what over hiring had to do with my point. Airlines can maintain their fleets better. Hence they break down less and delays are minimized. Then crews don’t exceed travel allowances. No over hiring necessary… Just doing what they should be doing anyway.

  • Lindabator

    And which airline did you work for – or how long with the FAA? You are making assumptions not evidenced by years of oversight

  • Mel65

    That makes absolutely zero sense. Maintenance should be an ongoing thing to maintain the aircraft to make sure that they break down as infrequently as possible. Well of course, stuff happens, if they’re breaking down regularly enough to impact travel, somebody is not maintaining them appropriately; that is self evidencing and has nothing to do with my having had to actually work as an aircraft maintainer. It’s common sense.

  • y_p_w

    You mentioned “adequate crew”. The majority of crew shortages are from delayed flights pushing crew past duty time limits. How do you suppose this is handled short of hiring excess crew to be ready to replace shorthanded flights?

    There’s a whole industry around operating efficiently. Excess inventory costs money. Excessive maintenance costs money too. They certainly want to keep them flying and safe to fly, but too much time in maintenance means planes that aren’t available to fly.

  • Lindabator

    ?????? How does a delay due to weather timing out a work crew have ANYTHING to do with maintenance? Apples to oranges – you just are niot making sense here

  • Mel65

    Except that if you had actually read what I wrote, I mentioned that I am NOT talking about weather related delay because those are outside of the control of the airline. I have been talking about delays that are within the control of the airline, such as maintaining their aircraft appropriately, sooooo….

  • wilcoxon

    I still don’t get airline math (or, more precisely, why airline math is legal). If I booked a round-trip ticket and the airline cancels half the trip then the refund should absolutely be for half the money (which almost never happens).

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