“I have never in my life experienced such disregard for human decency”

By | February 15th, 2016

Danielle Williams and her fiance were delayed, and then delayed again, when they tried to fly from Dallas to Jacksonville, Fla., during the holidays.

American Airlines apologized, and then apologized again. But did it apologize enough?

We do a regular feature called Is This Enough Compensation, and this one, though rare in some ways, is frighteningly common in others. For all its wonderful automation that gets planes to and from their destinations faster, airlines still have no way of measuring the human misery they’re causing. If they did, then this case would have never crossed my desk.

As Williams explains, her fiance needed to be at work early, so she booked the first flight out of Dallas.

“We got to the airport by 3 a.m. to return our rental car and were at the gate by 3:45 a.m.,” she says.

It wasn’t enough. The first leg of their flight from Dallas to Miami was delayed, and they missed their connecting flight to Jacksonville. Their troubles were just starting.

“When we finally boarded the plane for Jacksonville, we sat at the gate awhile, then pulled out — but quickly stopped,” she says. “The captain told us there was a mechanical issue and we needed to go back to the gate.”

But no gate was available. So they waited.

Finally, they returned to the gate, disembarked and boarded another flight – only to have it return to the gate again with a mechanical problem. What are the odds of that happening?

American placed Williams and her fiance on a flight the next day, handed them a $7 meal voucher and wished them well. The reason? It claimed their initial delay had been caused by weather, and as such, it wasn’t responsible for providing hotel accommodations.

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I’ll let your tell you the end in her own words:

I have never in my life experienced such disregard for human decency. This wasn’t just a bad airport experience. We didn’t just get delayed because of some rain or weather issue. They caused us to miss work, pay an extra day to have our car at the airport, 30 hours with no sleep, and our dogs stuck at home with nobody to care for them for an entire day.

Plus, we had to pay for several meals ourselves when we should have been home where our fridge and pantry was full of already-bought food. The gate attendants were rude and unhelpful, and the airline itself showed no concern for the difficulties we faced.

Wow. Thirty hours to get from Dallas to Jacksonville. I could almost drive there and back in that time.

From my perspective, and without knowing American’s side of the story, it looks like a massive wire-crossing exercise. They should have taken better care of these passengers.

As is our practice here, we ask the company for its response via the customer. Here’s what American had to say:

We are sorry we didn’t get you to your destination as planned on December 27, 2015 and realize how frustrating this overnight delay must have been.

The on-time departure of our flights is one of our most important service goals. Regrettably, the mechanical issue with the particular airplane scheduled for your flight caused an unavoidable delay and eventual cancellation. Still, we can appreciate how disappointing it must have been to spend your time waiting for your flight to depart.

Additionally, we regret that you did not receive more efficient customer service during your travels. Based on your comments, it appears our agents could have better handled this situation, with the level of respect and care we expect. This is not reflective of our company as a whole and your feedback will be used to help improve our service.

In hopes of encouraging you to continue to travel with us, we’ve added 10,000 bonus miles to your AAdvantage account. You should see this adjustment in your account very soon. You can view your account via AA.com.

Williams wasn’t pleased with the response. She spent at least $700 on meals and accommodations as a result of the delay. 10,000 miles just didn’t cut it. So she told American it wasn’t enough.

The airline converted its response into a $200 flight voucher. “They suggested this might be a better solution for me because it could be gifted or used on someone else,” she says.

“I looked it up,” she says, “and $200 is actually less than what the 10,000 miles are worth in dollars.”

The way she sees it, American said it was sorry and then revised it to kinda sorry.

But from the airline’s perspective, that’s not how it looks. It got her and her fiance to Jacksonville, fulfilling its contract of carriage. What’s more, the contract said it wasn’t liable for overnight accommodations if their flights were delayed because of weather, and technically, the first flight was delayed because of weather. So what’s the problem?

Would you take a $200 voucher for a 30-hour ordeal? Or can American do better?

Did American offer Danielle Williams enough compensation?

View Results

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  • jmtabb

    $700 in expenses for a one day delay?

    I’m guessing that the $700 includes loss of pay for the person who missed a work day, and things like that are never reimbursed. Never. So, figure 1 extra day of car parking, 1 hotel room and a few more $7 meals each and $200 is starting to come close to what the actual costs should have been.

    And according to the information above there was “30 hours with no sleep” – which would imply that no hotel room was purchased either. I’m really curious where the $700 was spent that they think needs to be accounted for.

    Did they get enough? I vote yes.

  • Randy Culpepper

    “She spent at least $700 on meals and accommodations as a result of the delay.”

    I would like to see those receipts, please.

  • Rebecca

    I thought the same thing at first. Then I saw they were in Miami a couple days after Christmas. It may be bit bloated, but Miami hotels aren’t cheap, and I’m sure the rate was high at this time. I’m guessing that it probably was more than $200 at least.

  • Fishplate

    The airline claims that their initial delay had been caused by weather. There’s no evidence given one way or the other. Meanwhile, Ms. Williams claims $700 for an overnight stay. That naturally makes most commenters here skeptical.

    In the absence of any other information, I’d say the airline covered them adequately.

    I also note that American operates four nonstop flights per day from Dallas to Jacksonville. If you have to be at work early, why go the long way through Miami? I’m no expert, but as far as I can tell, the earliest nonstop leaves an hour later and arrives an hour earlier than the closest connection through MIA.

  • KanExplore

    Most people would value the miles at about $200. Whether the miles or voucher are the better deal would really depend on how either might be used by the given customer. It was a terrible experience to be sure, but $700 on meals and accommodations for an extra day?


    Maybe they should have checked with car rental companies for a one-way rental. The drive is about 5-6 hours and the rental would not have cost the $700+ they claim they spent. Plus they would have been at home with their dogs and eating their own food at the end of the day.

  • Pat

    Sorry, Ms. Williams lost me with her comments and the claim of $700 in expenses. She is over dramatizing the situation to game the system to make as much money out it as she can. American could have handled the situation better but so could have Ms. Williams. So I voted the $200 is enough.

  • sirwired

    FF miles have a “wholesale” value of about one penny each. (As in, if you are a bank, brand of cereal, car rental agency, etc., that’s about how much most airlines will charge.) They are worth a lot more if you buy them at full retail from the airline, but that’s nobody buys 10,000 miles that way.

    Also, I’m with the other posters… $700 for food and accommodations? I know Miami can be expensive, but I’m pretty sure hotels near the airport aren’t THAT expensive.

    Lastly, I feel sorry for their dogs; if you are traveling, you should ALWAYS have a backup plan (i.e. make sure the sitter is avail. for another day) if you don’t get home on time.

    Really, it’ll be difficult to tell if this was the result of a game of telephone (somehow a ground stop got interpreted as a mechanical) or if AA really is trying to reclassify a mechanical as a weather delay.

  • cscasi

    However, in the article she states she went 30 hours without sleep, so she must not have gotten a hotel room (who would rent a hotel room and then not sleep in it?).

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The $700 doesn’t sound believable and why was there nobody to care for their dogs? The implication is that the dogs were being watched the rest of the trip so why didn’t they just call whoever was pet sitting and tell them they’d be one extra day?

  • I believe the 30 hours without sleep refers to being up (or sleeping little) to get to the airport for 3:45 AM. I know when I have an early flight, I never sleep well for fear of oversleeping.

  • This story seems to tie into the theme of your prior post: Forced to “upgrade” on a

    United Airlines flight – is this deceptive?

    In that post, I commented on something that is germane here: I specifically refer to bullet #2 of my comments and THEN ask you to reflect on what all the other cruise lines are saying about the cruise liner that took off into the tropical storm, Royal Carribean’s “Vomit of the Waves” Bahamian Cruise” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/passengers-terror-cruise-bahamas-return-new-jersey-article-1.2527748 .

    With today’s meteorological science, weather should 95% of the time, not be a big surprise. Permit me to copy and paste my prior comments about what a ticket should be.

    Quoting: I agree with MF. We should have a clear, legal definition of a ticket:
    1) A voucher for transport from point A to point B;
    2) Delivering the passenger to their destination within 60 minutes of the
    scheduled flight time (let’s face it, with today’s meteorological tools
    pilot’s know their take-off, landing and transit weather pretty well
    before they even get to the airport); so there’s no reason we shouldn’t
    be similarly apprised so we might make other arrangements;
    3) To include all taxes and fees, permitting one travel bag, and one carry-on bag;
    4) Accountable to the rules of the name airline on the ticket (no more code share hocus pocus);
    5) After purchase, no additional fees for intra-class exchanges (e.g., seat fees, check-in fees, etc);
    6) A standardized, minimal seat width and surrounding space (i.e.,
    reclining into your space) that permits the safe evacuation of an
    aircraft in an emergency. (I suspect this flying cattle trucks are so
    unsafe that the fire marshal would shut ’em down if they were on the

    The point being is that weather is a catch all. Why is it that the weather WAS NOT a problem for later flights, but only the earlier one. Did they NOT know that the night before?

    The Weather Excuse is being becoming as overplayed as “the check is in the mail”>.

  • pauletteb

    $700 for meals and one night’s hotel room . . . really? Was such an unrealistic amount part of the cause for AA’s response?

  • pauletteb

    I too have trouble sleeping before an early flight, but that wouldn’t be the airline’s fault.

  • Bill___A

    Had the plane or planes taken off with a mechanical problem, the issue could have been much worse. With flying it is always an issue when there’s a weather problem or a mechanical problem – it is amazing to me that things go as well as they do.

    Sometimes, the part they need isn’t where they need it and the airline has to go through the sometimes incredible expense of flying a simple part or crew to a distant airport.

    Although the goal is to get people home as scheduled, the overriding factor here is to get them home safely which trumps the “on time part”.

    Although I concede it wasn’t very nice of American to give them a $7 meal voucher (how does that happen for two people), I question the calculation that it cost an extra $700 for the day’s delay.

    -When you travel anywhere, particularly by air, and particularly when there are connecting flights, you need to understand that although most of the time it will go well, there is a good chance you can be delayed a day or or two. Employers should be understanding of this, and if they are not, then you need to come back a day or two early.
    -When you have pets at home, you need to make arrangements for them up to and including if you have some sort of issue on your trip. Did the dog sitters have a vacation planned for the next day and had to leave? I don’t understand this.

    -Airport parking can be expensive. If you use it, that’s just how it is.

    Although American could have been a little more generous, there is flight delay insurance, we have the ability to take care of these things ourselves. Some credit cards even supply it for free, which is a good indication of how rare it happens…

  • Bill___A

    14 hours according to google maps. One way car rentals are expensive, imagine if it costs her $700 to stay put, she’d have that $700 plus the car rental fees, plus gas, plus being too tired to go to work the next day, plus if the car got a flat tire, there would be the fee for that, and the list goes on.


    Miami where she was stranded to Jacksonville will not take 14 hours. From Dallas maybe but she was stranded in Miami. Even Google Maps cannot be that wrong. We actually had friends on what I presume was the same flight cancelled in Miami. They found a $250.00 hotel but also found a one-way rental for a bit over $100.00 including the drop fee. So off they went from Miami to Jacksonville and were home for dinner on 27DEC.

  • AAGK

    Anyone who leaves their dogs uncared for for 30 hours is of questionable character. Buy a ticket on the next nonstop to get home to them. Obviously she could afford to front the expense if she booked a 700/night hotel. Had she done this, then I would view this scenario differently.

  • We’re in agreement. I don’t think her previous night’s sleep is the issue, per se. The point I am bringing up is that had they informed her of the weather-related delay, she could have slept in until the alternate flight. That is likely where the 30 hours of being up came from vis a vis the confusion about the hotel (on the night after the travel was to have occurred).

  • John McDonald

    it was December 27 !!!!
    If Americans had more than 2 weeks annual holiday, the holidays as you call them, wouldn’t be so frantic.
    American probably couldn’t put you on another flight, all others including other airlines, were full or oversold.

  • KanExplore

    And watch your base fare rise by 35% to pay for all the “freebies”

  • judyserienagy

    This couple spent $700 overnight? We’ve all been delayed overnight, it’s part of travelling. I recall a New Years Eve at the Newark Marriott and an $80 bottle of White Star, but I surely didn’t expect the airline to pay for it. We considered ourselves fortunate to sleep at a decent hotel where we could get a nice meal and a flight home the next day. I can see the airline giving them short shrift when they read about the $700, that’s quite ridiculous.

  • Éamon deValera

    $700 on meals and accomodations in Miami? I find that hard to believe. $300 bucks I could understand but $700 seems like too much. One has to be reasonable, you can’t stay at the Ritz-Carlton if you’re flying coach and expect to be reimbursed fully.

    I was in Texas at that time as well. On December 27th tornadoes in the Dallas area killed about a dozen people. Her flight was most assuredly delayed by weather. On the bright side she wasn’t dead.

    I don’t really think refusing to spring for a $700 overnight hotel bill in Miami is a disregard for human decency.

  • Éamon deValera

    I have more than 2 weeks annual holiday, but I don’t book a return flight home if I have to be in the office early the next morning.

  • Éamon deValera

    There were tornadoes in Dallas at that time. If only there were some official government office who kept track of meteorological conditions……

  • Éamon deValera

    MIA to JAX is 6 hours tops.

  • Michael__K

    What a coincidence… tornadoes on December 26th killed almost as many people.

    If the OP’s aircraft couldn’t reach Dallas, then that might be explained by the tornadoes. But her aircraft reached Dallas on the night of Dec 26 — after the reported tornadoes had passed. Which doesn’t rule out weather but it does rule out the tornadoes.

    AA’s written correspondence — and also the captain’s announcement per the OP — both reference a mechanical issue.

    There would be no need to debate the cost of the hotel bill if AA followed it’s Customer Service Plan for overnight delays within their control.

  • Michael__K

    She booked a pre-dawn >>Sunday<>Monday<< morning.

    You allow how much more than 30 hours for an 1100 mile flight?

  • Michael__K

    She was flying predawn Sunday AM to arrive at work early on >>Monday<<.

    And three of those four nonstops from DFW to JAX (if she was originally on one of those) were cancelled on Sunday Dec 27 2015.

  • Éamon deValera

    About 18 hours. To be properly refreshed and ready to be at the office I like to return home two days before.

  • Steve Rabin

    a bit melodramatic, are we?

  • 42NYC

    i’m suprised to see the bulk of the voters say ‘no’ while most of the comments say ‘yes.’ End of the day they got to their destination safely so a full refund is out.

    While I can certainly appreciate an AA travel voucher seems anoying to an infrequent traveler its still valid for travel and is basically as good as cash if theyre going to be flying again in 2016.

    Technically they are due nothing (original flight MIA->JAX was on time) but i can see why AA should want to do ‘something.’ However $700 is absurd. I’m sure hotels are pricey in Miami during Xmas week but certainly an airport Hampton Inn isnt costing more than $250 a night. A couple of meals, free hotel breakfast and a day of airport parking at JAX and were at $300.

    Also, if getting home that night was so crucial, could they have taken AA to Savannah, Orlando, Melbourne, Daytona Beach, etc…. and cabbed it from there? Sure that takes time and money too but they would have at least gotten home that night and at work the following morning.

    and finally……..I know most people dont buy travel insurance for a Holiday trip to Dallas (i’ve only bought it for large international trips) but certainly it would have helped in this situation.

  • 42NYC

    AA ultimately got them to their destination safely, which is what they agreed to when they bought tickets. Thus, AA technically owes them nothing. Any goodwill gesture is just that, a goodwill gesture. If due to the delay the OP opted to drive home, or fly on another airline then yes a refund is reasonable.

  • BMG4ME

    It really isn’t the airline’s fault if a flight is delayed because of weather. Depending on how much business you give them and how nicely you ask, it is possible to get them to pay for a hotel stay. I have a rule now that if I can, I travel the day before I need to get somewhere, even if I don’t need to be there until the following afternoon. I once had an evening flight for a meeting the next day in the afternoon. I nearly missed that meeting because of the evening flight being canceled and the earlier flights that I was offered instead also getting canceled. As for meals, I would pay good money to be able to get nice meals in an airport. Keeping kosher, if I’m really lucky if I can get a kosher frozen yogurt. Otherwise if’s coffee, soda, chips, pretzels and candy bars (unless I am at one of the New York or Washington DC airports where they sell kosher snacks).

  • Michael__K

    If you check flightstats, every nonstop during her ordeal was either cancelled or delayed many hours beyond her eventual arrival

  • I KNOW?!?!? Right? You’d think there would be SOME sort of official government meteorological entity in a government as big as ours!?!?

    Maybe I’ll buy all the airlines a NOAA weather radio.

  • DChamp56

    I’m having a problem with $700 in food and lodging. There are loads of hotels near the airport advertising $149/night with free shuttle to the airport. That leaves $550 for Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe I’m missing something, but $700 seems a lot.

  • DChamp56

    Sorry, meant to type Miami. Hotels there are still from $129 – 250 with free transfers.

  • JewelEyed

    That’s why you don’t fly back home from a vacation the day you have to go back to work…

  • CasaAlux

    Really? $700 for one night hotel and food? Sorry, don’t buy it. I might have some sympathy for her if she was being reasonable.

  • JewelEyed

    If it had been me, I’d have gotten a car rental and driven the 5-6 hours home rather than leaving dogs unattended for that long.

  • JimLoomis

    Well, it was a bummer, all right. But while American could have been a bit more generous, I really wouldn’t say their response was a world’s record for “disregard for human decency”. Stuff happens when you travel, Danielle. When it does, you stay calm and either hunker down or start looking for a Plan B. And, to add my voice to the chorus: $700 on hotel and food?? … and 30 hours without sleep??

  • judyserienagy

    Seems odd that she just didn’t contact the dog sitter and arrange for the extra day. This is truly an ODD story methinks, but maybe she’d never gone on a trip before.

  • joycexyz

    Poor planning on the travelers’ part (flying home just in time to get to work, no arrangements for pets) and inflated expenses ($700???) get no sympathy from me. I think AA was more than generous.

  • mdy2k1

    Eh, the commentators here believe there’s four principles requestors should follow regardless of the merits of the case:
    1) Act responsibility (Trip Insurance, Time Windows, Too Good To be True, Visas)
    2) Cut it with the dramatics
    3) Don’t be greedy
    4) Accept that sometimes “stuff” happens.

    A requester can get away with violating the first principle and still have the overwhelming sympathy of the requesters. Any experienced traveler has taken these types of shortcuts in the past.

    A requester violating the latter principles is usually a warning sign they are looking to game the system. And when you are asking volunteers to do something not-entirely-honest, people will have some objections to it.

    In this case, the requestor has a legitimate gripe, an overnight hotel and a few food vouchers doesn’t seem like too much to ask, and the miles/voucher offer does seem cheap for two adults. The hysterics, lonely dogs! pantry of food! missed work! HUMAN DECENCY!!! and their out of pocket expenses $700, are all invitations for people on the internet to give them the side-eyes (as what the kids today say).

  • Grant Ritchie

    Ha… nailed it. Well said!

  • Lee

    I agree with others; the two issues – the $700 and the dogs being without any care are dramatic and, to me, wholly unbelievable – Someone must have been caring for the dogs while they were away so why not just have that person(s) come back to do so for that one extra day.

    And the $700? Come on. Sorry; the situation is bad enough without adding such over the top claims to make one’s case.

    In future – never go home the day/night before you need to be back at work – too much can happen to mess up those plans and stick to facts when relating such an incident and leave the drama out of it.

  • John McDonald

    $200 is too much. Should have given her nothing. Weather effects travel, period. She’s alive isn’t she ?

  • Carchar

    We just got a few more inches than originally predicted because a fast-moving storm decided to stick around a little longer than expected. I don’t think weather prediction can be that accurate all the time. I was on a flight last August where we pulled away from the gate and had to wait almost 3 hours on the tarmac before leaving. We were given free entertainment, which was satellite TV, because of the wait. I tuned immediately to the Weather Channel and the meteorologists seemed very surprised at the violent microbursts that had suddenly formed near the airport. This is not excusing the overused weather excuse. I’m excusing the weather predictors.

  • Michael__K

    She flew back pre-dawn on Sunday Dec 27 AM to go back to work on Monday Dec 28….

  • Michael__K

    Easy to say when you haven’t gone 24 hours without sleep– at that point undertaking a 6 hour drive can be very dangerous to her life and to the lives of others.

    If one knows in advance they will be delayed that long then that may be an easy decision. But often times the projected delay times reported to passengers are rosy and unrealistic and a 2 hour delay turns into 4 hour delay, which turns into a 6 hour delay, etc.

  • Tim Mengelkoch

    “I have never in my life experienced such disregard for human decency”. Oh come on, there are many tragedies worldwide that are more serious than this. And who leaves their dogs home alone when flying?

  • Travelnut

    I was flying back home on the 27th myself, from LGA and connecting through DFW. I had to spend two more days in Manhattan (tough luck that! lol) and it still didn’t cost $700.

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