American flew me to Dallas and then canceled my onward flight. I want a refund

Samuel Lisenco needed to go to Texas for a wedding, so he booked a flight on American Airlines with a connection in Dallas. But crew scheduling issues caused American to cancel his onward flight, and he ended up back home.

He wanted a refund, but American wouldn’t give him one. He didn’t give up, though — he engaged in self-advocacy and achieved a satisfactory outcome.

Let’s let Lisenco set the scene:

I booked a flight from Newark, N.J., to Odessa, Texas, with a connecting flight in Dallas. I flew from Newark to Dallas and learned that the flight to Odessa was canceled because of a lack of crew. I was stranded in Dallas and had to turn around and go back home to New York.

I missed my best friend’s wedding, lost my prepaid hotel and wasted my airport parking fee. I asked American to reimburse me for the entire flight and my expenses, which totaled $831, and it refused. It insisted that because it flew me to Dallas and back, I would only be entitled to reimbursement for the missed connection. This was the cheapest part of the flight. American wants me to pay for a round trip flight to Dallas, that I didn’t book.

According to Lisenco, American referred him to its conditions of carriage, which are written to strongly favor the airline over its customers.

Lisenco’s bought a round-trip ticket to a specific destination for a special occasion, and he didn’t get there. And he had to pay for the ticket and all other non-refundable costs associated with the canceled flight.

As Lisenco puts it, “Basically, I paid for a ticket to fly to Dallas, eat lunch in the airport, and then fly home. American stranded me in Dallas and then billed me for it.”

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When an airline flies a passenger to their connecting city, cancels their onward flight and then returns the passenger back home, it is typically referred to as a trip in vain. We frequently have written about our readers’ experiences with this type of “trip” and their struggles to obtain a full refund.

Although there is not an official trip in vain policy written into American’s contract of carriage, we were prepared to advocate with the airline for Lisenco’s full refund. However, he wasn’t quite done trying to get a satisfactory resolution on his own.

When he first engaged in self-advocacy and contacted American, it would only refund the leg of the trip that he didn’t take. American’s agent referred him to its conditions of carriage, which provide that schedules are not guaranteed and that it is not responsible for any costs arising from the deviation.

However, Lisenco was persistent, and American offered to deposit 10,000 AAdvantage miles to his account. That didn’t satisfy him because the additional miles wouldn’t be sufficient to book a future domestic round-trip flight. So he continued to self-advocate, escalating his complaint by contacting the company executives listed on our website. He also could have posted his question to our help forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts. They may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with the airline.

Around the same time as Lisenco contacted our advocates for help, American responded to his escalated complaint. He told us that American agreed to issue him a future travel voucher for the full value of his ticket. It also let him keep the partial refund and the 10,000 AAdvantage miles.

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Lisenco was persistent and courteous. This was self-advocacy at its best.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • Alan Gore

    Trip-in-vain treatment applies if he summarily decided to give up after reaching Dallas, but there’s some missing information here. Upon getting to Dallas, LW was owed an onward flight either on AA or whatever other carrier was going that way. Since the Lubbock flight is probably once a day at most, he could have been routed to Amarillo and then rented a car. Were there no flights on any carrier to either place all day?

  • Bill___A

    When going to important events, one needs to plan for these things and leave enough time for it. When there isn’t enough time, then something happens and it becomes a pointless trip. Go earlier to weddings.

  • The Original Joe S

    In CONUS, if you have enuf time, DRIVE! Don’t trust the airlines – they’ll shaft you and weasel out of responsibility.

  • MarkKelling

    I don’t understand why the passenger didn’t just rent a car and drive the rest of the way (after making sure his return ticket on the flights would not be cancelled, of course). It is only 4 – 5 hours from Dallas to Odessa. If I was in that situation and really wanted to be at the wedding, I would have. But then he is from New York City and many people there don’t drive or even have a driver’s license. Greyhound would have been another option.

  • MarkKelling

    AA (Mesa Airlines operating as) seems to be the only airline that offers non stop flights to Midland, TX from DFW which is as close as you can get to Odessa. They fly 5 times a day most days. United makes you go through IAH (still quicker than driving!). I can’t imagine that all the seats on AA were sold out for the next flights. He must have picked a flight that got him there just in time for the wedding. Bad planning.

  • Tanya

    The flights may have been all sold out. It depends on the day and time of flight. With the oil industry back up, it is not uncommon for these smaller planes to sell out.

  • jm71

    This seems like a pretty clear cut “trip in vain”, and I wouldn’t be satisfied with a travel voucher; I think AA owes him the full cash amount of the round trip ticket (plus transporting him back to the origin, which they did). I would have involved the credit card company in this relatively quickly.

    However, combined with the partial cash refund and 10,000 miles, this may be a good deal.

  • Extramail

    I will never understand why, if I pay in cash (or credit card), why I don’t get my refund in cash. If you want to offer me 100% of my cash back or 125% in a travel voucher, I’ll take the cash every single time.

  • jim6555

    The rental car solution would work for the majority of travelers, but some travelers don’t have driver’s licences. There are a large number of people who live in the New York City area (where the LW is from) who have never needed a driver’s licence because they rely on buses, subways and taxis for their transportation. There are others who have licences but are unable to rent a car because of poor driving records. Because a solution would work for you, don’t assume that is will work for everyone else.

  • joycexyz

    The AA agents are not travel agents. They have tunnel vision when it comes to delayed or cancelled flights–no way, shrug shoulders.

  • joycexyz

    Sometimes it’s not possible to allocate more time (e.g., work schedules). Going to a wedding is not like planning a vacation, where you’re in charge. Too bad he missed the wedding, but at least he got the most he could out of AA.

  • Kerr

    Agreed, but traveling a long ways for a same day event (if that is the case) is asking for trouble.

  • Kerr

    That’s a 28+ hour drive. Retired folks are usually the only ones with that much time on their hands.

  • Lindabator

    specially to a destination with limited flights

  • Lindabator

    it is 5 1/2 hours between Dallas and Odessa – where the heck do you get 28????

  • Kerr

    28+ hours to drive from NYC to Odessa. Original Joe is the one who advocated driving.

  • MarkKelling

    I mentioned the part about NY City residents and driving licenses.

    And I didn’t assume anything. Just mentioned things I would try if I was in that situation not saying that any of them would have worked for the OP or me. Would it have been better if I inserted the words “try to” in several additional places?

  • Bill

    That’s a little unfair! You are correct, they are NOT travel agents. But to say they have tunnel vision suggests they are not capable of being helpful. Most times I see agents (ticket, gate, or customer service), there is a line. People get agitated when standing in line, so agents (airlines, stores, etc), typically try to resolve your immediate concern as quickly as possible to help other customers. A travel agent might have 45 minutes to sit at a desk and consider options for your situation. A gate agent has 45 seconds, and 45 angry people behind you.
    As travelers, we do ourselves a favor by finding a (reasonable) solution and THEN asking the agent to help enact it. It takes little effort to walk to the display board, or get on (airline).com and see when the next flights are. if those won’t work for you, figure out what you expect the agent to do and then ask nicely.

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