American Airlines canceled my flight three days in a row. What does it owe me?

When Andre Yavetsky tried to fly from Chicago to Madrid on American Airlines, his flight was diverted to JFK, and he unexpectedly spent three days in New York. American initially offered him 15,000 miles in compensation, but Yavetsky wants more.

Yavetsky’s flight was originally scheduled to fly from Chicago to Paris, but was diverted to JFK because of a maintenance issue. For three days he tried to schedule another flight that would get him to Madrid, but each one was canceled. On the morning of his fourth day in the New York area, he was able to board a flight to Madrid.

He later reached out to American Airlines, claiming that an agent told him he could receive $1,200 for his trouble.

“I demand a maximum compensation for such a terrible experience,” he says.

In an email, he noted:

The last agent I rebooked the flight with contacted her supervisor and explained to me that I’m entitled $1,200 [sic] for such a sever [sic] case of flight delay/cancellation.”

He also asked to be refunded the $163 he paid to upgrade his seat on the flight, since he did not get an upgraded seat on the flight he was finally able to take.

The U.S. does not have a consumer protection law like EU261, and American refused to give him a $1,200 refund. Instead, it apologized for not getting him to his destination on time, credited his AAdvantage account with 15,000 miles and promised to look into the amount he paid for the seat. Yavetsky didn’t think this was sufficient compensation and wrote to American again. The airline then increased its offer to 40,000 miles.

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Yavetsky still wasn’t happy:

Unfortunately, I still don’t consider this compensation satisfying because of my previous experience with AAdvantage Miles redemption. I know for a fact that 40,000 miles are pretty useless for travel during peak time, as in my case, especially after recent devaluation of American miles rewards (from March 2016).

Because of this reason, last year I canceled my AAdvantage Citi Card after many years of enjoying its benefits after I realized that it was impossible to redeem my accumulated miles for flying during peak times. I have been a frequent flyer with AA and Iberia (especially to Spain) for the last 25 years, and it is frustrating to see deterioration in AA customer care.

I understand Yavetsky’s frustration with being delayed for several days, but as we regularly point out on this site, airlines do not guarantee their schedules and can change or cancel flights at their discretion. And a quick flight search on American’s website does indicate that a one-way flight between Chicago and Madrid can be “purchased” with as little as 30,000 miles, which is only 5,000 more than the last miles ticket I booked to Europe in economy class five years ago.

Rule 80 of American’s International General Rules Tariff does indicate that American will either place a passenger on the next available American flight or book a passenger on another airline, or combination of other airlines. It isn’t clear why Yavetsky didn’t have — or didn’t accept — this option. In one of his emails to American, he refers to other people in his group. If they all insisted on traveling together, already crowded flights are likely the reason for the extended delay in New York.

In the end, American got Yavetsky to his destination, fulfilling its contract. No airline compensates its passengers for lost time or missed events. When questioned about his expenses during the delay, Yavetsky admitted that American paid for his hotel nights and gave him a daily allowance for food and necessities.

American also promised a refund of the amount he paid for his upgraded seat:

Furthermore in light of the details you provided, we are reviewing your record to determine the applicable refund amount for your unused seat. Once the adjustment is processed, a credit will be issued to the original form of payment you used when purchasing the ticket.

Our advocate advised Yavetsky that the seat refund and 40,000 miles is fair compensation. Do you agree?

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans.

  • Bill___A

    It is one of those things that is very unfortunate, but since American paid for the room and expenses, they did what they were supposed to do in this instance. I don’t think the episode is a good thing but at the same time, not much to be done about it really. He got something.

  • Kerr

    Tough to vote as don’t know:
    * Was he traveling by himself or as part of a group? That would affect availability.
    * What was the reason for the cancellations? Mechanical or weather? Three days in a row is pretty extreme.

  • Mel65

    I voted yes, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I understand the airlines’ contracts of carriage basically allow them to yank you around like a puppet; however, four days is ridiculous! Unless, as theorized, they declined to take flights independent of their entire group, that seems an unconscionably long delay.

  • sirwired

    If there was a good reason why he wasn’t on an alternate airline (or routing), then I’d say the compensation is adequate. But if AA insisted that the only way he was getting to Madrid was a direct flight, then more should be due.

  • Joe Blasi

    Madrid is in the EU so he should get cash

  • AJPeabody

    AA isn’t an EU company and flight originated in non-EU country. No compensation.

  • Alan Gore

    We need to know definitively whether or not it was AA that really couldn’t find a flight from New York to Madrid for such an extended length of time. If it was, then LW definitely should get the compensation he was promised. A 4-day delay means you lose all your prepaid hotel bookings at what is probably a busy time of year. He would basically have to go home and try again next year.

  • Dutchess

    I thought this too until I read this:

    “US carriers flying from and within Europe must also abide by them. Just note that flights originating outside the EU on EU carriers are subject to these rules, while flights on non-EU carriers originating outside the EU are not subject to these rules.”

  • IT was stated that the first delay was mechanical that is why it was diverted to JFK

  • Lindabator

    but not the other cancellations

  • Lindabator

    I fear that MAY have been the issue – better to split up and all get there different times, then wait for one flight large enough for your group

  • jae1

    His flight originated outside the EU, on an a non-EU carrier, therefore not subject to these rules.

  • Jenny Zopa

    “Take these 40,000 miles and shove it”

  • DChamp56

    No! He paid in cash, refund should be in cash, not funny-money (airline miles).

  • Patrica

    Legal but hardly fair. No one can ‘return’ nor ‘refund’ his lost three days; no matter how wonderful the hotel nor food . I don’t even mean the lost time in Madrid– the three days of not knowing whether you will fly, not being able to make plans, wasting time that would have been perhaps used purposefully or joyously. THREE days ! Does there need to be a limit on how long the airline can be said to fulfill their promise of getting you to a destination? Do we need a statement “Time is of the essence”?

  • wilcoxon

    American certainly did more than they are legally required to do in the US but it is still horrible customer service (of course, American is known for that). We really need something like EU261 in the US (but no way will we get it with the current President and Congress).

  • Randy Busch

    If I’m remembering correctly hasn’t Christopher, on more then one occasion, said that miles reward programs aren’t really worth anything?

  • joycexyz

    If he were with a group that insisted on staying together, that would certainly limit the options for flights. And were the subsequent flights to Madrid actually cancelled, or were they fully booked? Not enough information.

  • The Original Joe S

    and so?

  • The Original Joe S

    Which is another reason to avoid US-flagged airlines. We have the best laws money can buy…….

  • pauletteb

    I voted yes, especially since he didn’t initially divulge the fact that American provided both accommodations and a food allowance.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s unclear – were they not able to get on a flight for three days (which I find unlikely, unless they were a large group), or were their flights cancelled three times in a row (i.e. booked to fly on Monday, got cancelled, rebooked to Tuesday, got cancelled, rebooked to Wednesday, got cancelled, rebooked to Thursday, actually got to fly)?

  • cscasi

    And so, we don’t. But it was mentioned that there was a group traveling together and perhaps they would not go separately and had to wait until the American flight had enough seats to accommodate them. But, we don’t know for sure.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I agree with many of the sentiments expressed below.
    1. Miles are worthless (see Chris Elliott et. al.)
    2. Four days is too long.
    3. Room and Board is not compensation.

  • Dutchess

    Re-read what I wrote. “flights on non-EU carriers originating outside the EU are not subject to these rules.”

    What part of that wasn’t clear?

  • Carchar

    Are advocates not allowed to ask for further information, when it is needed, and must guess or make assumptions before helping or not helping? It appears to me that advocates have to work with first-draft, original requests only, which is very limiting. There isn’t enough info, so I can’t vote either.

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