Is a two-hour delay worth 25,000 American miles?

When Maurice Woolman’s flight from Berlin to Madrid was delayed, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to make his connection to Miami, which was scheduled to take off 70 minutes after his arrival in Madrid.

His fears were justified. The delay lasted for two hours, causing him to miss the connecting flight and business meetings in Miami.

Woolman wanted 25,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles as compensation for the delay. Was he asking too much?

His story begins when he booked his trip through American Airlines, and he discovered that the flights were code-shared on Iberia Airlines. Realizing that his connection time was tight, he asked agents of both American and Iberia if 70 minutes was sufficient time to make the connection. Both airlines’ representatives assured him that it was.

But after Woolman boarded his flight, the airplane taxied to a maintenance gate rather than taking off.

“We were a captive audience,” he says. “We were unable to do much other than sit in non-reclining seats while they made repairs. Our departure was over two hours after pushback from the departure gate.”

When Woolman finally arrived in Madrid, the next Iberia flight for Miami was sold out. He would not be able to fly to Miami until the following day. Iberia provided Woolman with vouchers for a hotel room, meals and transportation to and from the airport.

Woolman also learned that the original connection time was too short: “Navigating the airport, poor signage, using elevators, an underground train, going through passport control, and dodging people in the duty-free shop is a minimum of 90 minutes at the best of times.”

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When Woolman returned home, he asked our advocates to help him get his requested compensation. (Our website contains executive contact information for American Airlines and Iberia Airlines.)

American’s International General Rules Tariff indicates that when flights are delayed,

(a) any carrier causing such delay or in the case of a misconnection the original receiving carrier(s), will transport the passenger without stopover on its (their) next flight, on which space is available, in the same class of service as the passenger’s original outbound flight at no additional cost to the passenger; if space is available on a flight(s) of a different class of service, acceptable to the passenger, such flight(s) will be used without stopover at no additional cost to the passenger only if it (they) will provide an earlier arrival at the passenger’s destination, next stopover point or transfer point, or
(b) if the carrier causing such delay, or in the case of misconnection the original receiving carrier(s) is unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger, any other carrier or combination of connecting carriers, at the request of the passenger will transport the passenger without stopover on its (their) next flight(s) on which space is available in the same class of service as the passenger’s original outbound flight.

Iberia’s conditions of contract provide that:

Carrier undertakes to use its best efforts to carry the passenger and his baggage with reasonable dispatch. Carrier may substitute alternate carriers on aircraft, and may omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. If the passenger should miss a connecting flight due to a reason imputable to Iberia, he or she shall be rescheduled on another flight which will enable them to reach their destination as soon as possible or, in default of this, be reimbursed for an equal amount to the price of the flight they paid, so long as no part of the ticket has been used, or the difference between the price paid and the fare applicable to the legs flown, if part of the ticket has been used.

We advised Woolman to log into his AAdvantage account online and file a complaint, making a short, polite request for compensation and omitting any mention of his lost meeting time, for which no airline, including American and Iberia, would reimburse him. Our advocate also suggested that 25,000 miles was a large amount of compensation to request for a two-hour delay, and that American was more likely to offer 10,000 miles in response to his complaint.

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In addition, we suggested that Woolman seek compensation under EU 261 from Iberia. Passengers delayed on flights subject to EU 261 of over 3,500 kilometers are entitled to compensation of 600 euros ($713).

Woolman took our advice. American offered him 10,000 miles as a gesture of goodwill. But unfortunately, EU 261 allows airlines subject to its provisions to deny compensation to passengers when delays are the result of “extraordinary circumstances.” His request to Iberia for compensation was denied because the delay was caused by “circumstances beyond [Iberia’s] control” (although neither Woolman nor our advocates are certain of what these circumstances were) and because Iberia had provided him with a hotel room.

As a takeaway, if you believe that your connection time is too short, check airport layouts online for the airports to which you are traveling and determine the amount of time you will need to pass between gates. If the time is too tight, adjust your itinerary to allow for possible flight delays and time to move from the arrival gate to the departure gate. And if you need to request compensation, request it from the correct airline and ask for a reasonable amount. Otherwise, be prepared for the airline to deny your request.

Is a two-hour delay worth 25,000 frequent flyer miles?

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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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