My American Airlines flight was delayed multiple times, but the airline won’t compensate me

A long string of delays kept Flora Rodriguez-Brown in Dallas an extra night when she was supposed to be airborne on an American Airlines flight to Costa Rica for her vacation. Rodriguez-Brown is a longtime American Airlines customer and was flying first class. So when her flight arrived in Dallas after her connecting flight to San José, Costa Rica, had taken off, she thought that American would help her out with meals and a hotel for the night as well as compensation for the delays. She was wrong.

“I wonder whether my allegiance to American Airlines should change,” Rodriguez-Brown wanted to know.

Airlines are not required to assist customers beyond rerouting them on the next available flights to their original destinations when delays are classified as caused by “events not subject to their control.” So it matters whether a delay is weather-related (which the airline can’t control), or caused by a mechanical problem (which it can). Rodriguez-Brown’s flight experienced both — and the airline was quick to disclaim responsibility for providing her with any assistance.

When Rodriguez-Brown arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport to board the first leg of her flight, a gate agent told her that her flight was delayed. According to the agent, an early morning storm had forced the pilot to divert the flight to Milwaukee. Because Rodriguez-Brown had a layover in Dallas of more than three hours before her connecting flight to San José was scheduled to depart, the agent told her not to ask to be rerouted on a later flight departing from Miami. Rodriguez-Brown took the agent’s advice — to her regret.

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The flight was delayed several additional times, because of weather conditions and air traffic issues. Finally, the passengers were allowed to board, by which time the estimated time of arrival in Dallas would leave Rodriguez-Brown 90 minutes to make her connection.

Then the pilot announced that the plane had a mechanical malfunction. There was another long delay before the plane finally took off. But when it landed, Rodriguez-Brown’s connecting flight had departed 40 minutes earlier.

Rodriguez-Brown deplaned and was given a passenger itinerary that showed that the next flight to San José would not depart until the following day. She asked a gate agent for a hotel and meal voucher as well as compensation for the delay. But the gate agent refused, claiming that the portion of the delay resulting from inclement weather (113 minutes) was longer than the portion resulting from a mechanical malfunction (71 minutes). Therefore, claimed the agent, American Airlines would not offer any compensation.

Rodriguez-Brown asked to speak to a supervisor, but the supervisor refused to meet her, stating that the no-compensation decision was final and instructing her to return to the airport the following day to rebook her flight to San José. The gate agent refused to provide Rodriguez-Brown with a boarding pass for the flight. A customer service representative did provide Rodriguez-Brown with the boarding pass, but also refused to provide her with any compensation, hotel or meal vouchers.

Stuck in Dallas for the night with no help from American Airlines, Rodriguez-Brown booked a room at a Marriott hotel for the night for $170 and spent $41 for breakfast and dinner at the hotel out of her own pocket. She returned to the Dallas airport the next day to board the flight to San José, which was also delayed. No explanation was given for the delay.

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Rodriguez-Brown then contacted our advocates, asking: “Does American Airlines owe me compensation for the [more than] 24 hours’ delay for my flight to Costa Rica? Should they offer me compensation for hotel and food expenses? I also would like to know how they came up with a 113-minute weather delay and a 71-minute malfunction delay.”

Unfortunately for Rodriguez-Brown, American’s conditions of carriage make clear that:

American Airlines will provide customers at the airport and onboard an affected aircraft with timely and frequent updates regarding known delays, cancellations and diversions and will strive to provide the best available information concerning the duration of delays and to the extent available, the flight’s anticipated departure time.
We are not responsible for any special, incidental or consequential damages if we do not meet this commitment.
When cancellations and major delays are experienced, you will be rerouted 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.

So all Rodriguez-Brown could expect from American Airlines was to be rebooked on the next available flight because the weather delay was longer than the mechanical delay.

But Rodriguez-Brown decided to send a letter of complaint to American Airlines anyway. Using our executive contacts for American Airlines, she wrote to Sean Bentel, vice president of customer relations, and Kerry Philipovitch, senior vice president of customer experience.

She received a response from a representative of American, acknowledging that the delays were triggered by inclement weather, which is not subject to American’s control. However, American’s representative expressed sympathy for Rodriguez-Brown, and as an exception to the airline’s normal policy of noncompensation for weather-related delays, added 10,000 miles to Rodriguez-Brown’s AAdvantage account.

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Rodriguez-Brown is satisfied with this resolution. And we’re gratified that we helped her to help herself.

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

  • SirWIred

    I don’t know why AA thinks she isn’t due what they’d normally provide for a Mechanical (which is a hotel and meals.) Yes, weather delayed the plane for quite a bit, but in the end, if not for the mechanical delay, she would likely have made her flight. The fact that the weather ate into her generous cushion is irrelevant.

  • finance_tony

    Am I reading it wrong?

    “The flight was delayed several additional times, because of weather
    conditions and air traffic issues. Finally, the passengers were allowed
    to board, by which time the estimated time of arrival in Dallas would
    leave Rodriguez-Brown 90 minutes to make her connection.”

    That was before the mechanical delay.

  • SirWIred

    What it’s saying is that if the flight was NOT mechanically delayed, the estimated arrival time would have been 1 1/2 hours before her connection.

  • finance_tony

    You’re right. I read it four times as she would have been 90 minutes LATE. Brain fart.

  • Steve Rabin

    I still think she should push this one. It is typical airline BS. They will do everything to blame weather or ATC so they don’t have to pay off. Even with the weather delays she would have had 90 minutes to make her connection, more than enough time. But the mechanical pushed it over the edge apparently, so it really is this one that made her miss her connection.

  • Bill___A

    The weather didn’t cause her to miss the connection, the mechanical problem did. It is my understanding that if mechanical problems cause the delay, the airline must pay.

  • MF

    Any logic but “airline money-grab logic’ would suggest that the weather delays did not doom the connecting flight, but the mechanical delay at the end was the ‘coup de grace’ that caused the missed connection. It is irrelevant hand waving to cite the earlier weather delays, unless you are the airline…

  • Alan Gore

    Is there a standard for what happens when a delay is both for weather/ATC and mechanical issues, or does AA get to make it up as they go?

  • Lindabator

    FAA has set the standard, which is why they have a time breakdown as shown

  • Lindabator

    no – FAA clearly shows flight delay times, and she had several before the mechanical breakdown, which is how they list 113 vs 71 minutes

  • Lindabator

    SEVERAL weather issues at her origin AND connection, as well as ATC, then the mechanical – so thy look at the time each was responsible for and if weather (113) beats mechanical (71), yep, she would not have made the flight and is not due anything

  • Lindabator

    113 minutes of weather delays vs 71 minutes mechanical means she did NOT have enough connecting time for an international flight connection (90 minutes)

  • Michael__K

    she did NOT have enough connecting time for an international flight connection (90 minutes)
    So then how do you explain the fact that I can go to and book a 48 minute connection at DFW on this very route?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Except, without the mechanical, she would have made the connection.

  • KanExplore

    If she says she is satisfied there’s not much point in continuing to beat the dead horse. I too think that the weather delays still left her in position to make the connection, and it was the mechanical that created the missed connection. I also think that given the badly devalued state of AA miles the compensation was minimal.

  • Alan Gore

    But does the FAA specify that if it was a mechanical delay that pushed a connection into the ‘impossible’ zone, that AA can still claim that having a previous weather delay be a majority of the total delay time is an excuse for not compensating? Or are these fine points just left up to the whim of the airline?

  • joycexyz

    But, by airline double-speak, if the delay were caused by the mechanical problem alone, she would have made her connecting flight. Ridiculous!

  • The Original Joe S

    that’s correct. and once again someone sides with the dirtbags against the customer……

  • cscasi

    Great question.

  • Annie M

    This is why I don’t use AA unless there are absolutely no other choices. They seem to have the worst problems with flights and excuses. She would have made the 90 minute connection IF the second flight didn’t have a mechanical issue. I don’t understand why it took them so long to even determine there was a mechanical issue if the plane had been sitting at the airport during all the other delays she experienced.

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