This passenger says she was involuntarily denied boarding — American Airlines disagrees

Kim and Joe Christiana were headed home to Baton Rouge, La., from their son’s wedding when they got an unexpected change in their itinerary.

Kim received a text message from American Airlines stating that their flight from Boston to Washington was delayed and that they would miss their connection to New Orleans. The automated system notified them that they would be rebooked on a later flight from Boston through Charlotte that would not get them back to Louisiana before 1 a.m.

The Christianas decided to head straight for Logan Airport. On the way, they called American and found out that there was one seat left on a 5 p.m. flight that would get to Washington in time to make their regularly scheduled flight to New Orleans.

“We had not arrived at the airport so I didn’t think I would be able to make that flight,” Kim Christiana told us. “I didn’t want to separate from my husband and was just happy we had a flight home.” Nevertheless, Kim decided to leave her husband with their luggage and take the flight to Washington, with the hope of catching the originally scheduled flight to New Orleans and getting home on time. Upon landing in D.C., Kim discovered that the New Orleans-bound flight also was delayed and that the connecting aircraft would be her originally-scheduled plane from Boston.

“I was devastated,” Christiana lamented. “I told the American representative what had happened and he told me to call customer service. I called and was told I would have to submit an email about my issue. A representative from the airline heard me and said ‘you were probably bumped because they overbooked and didn’t want to have to offer compensation to someone to give up their seat.'”

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Now Christiana wants to be compensated for being involuntarily denied boarding, or “bumped,” from her original flight.

Thanks to new regulations, the cost to airlines for bumping passengers has skyrocketed, and Christiana wants American to pay up — to the tune of $5,000. Christiana’s math seems to be a little fuzzy. According to the Department of Transportation’s website, compensation maxes out at $1,350 per passenger, so $2,700 is the maximum Christiana could have collected as compensation for “bumping.”

But were the Christianas really involuntarily denied boarding? There are specific criteria that determine whether someone is “bumped.”

Kim Christiana could have taken up this issue by emailing American Airlines’ executive contacts but instead reached out to our advocates.

We contacted an American Airlines representative, who responded that the Christianas were not bumped and that it was a combination of air traffic and timing that led to Kim making her connection.

The flight was originally delayed due to Air Traffic Control delays in the Northeast. Passengers were rebooked automatically…no flights were oversold at all. The flight to Washington from Boston accommodated standby customers, and the flight to New Orleans was only 50 percent full.

Even though the first flight might have been linked, we always have the ability to swap aircraft in our hub. The records I see is that they were working to move the New Orleans flights to a different aircraft. The first flight was delayed first, which is the reason our automated system ran, and rebooked passengers who might misconnect.

Even though both their original departure flight from Boston and connecting flight in Washington were scheduled and eventually flown by the same aircraft, American could have swapped aircraft for either flight. For this reason, American’s automated system rebooked the Christianas when the first flight was delayed. Since they were rebooked due to a possible misconnection and not due to overbooking, they are not due compensation.

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Nevertheless, the same American Airlines representative issued the Christianas a $200 voucher as a gesture of goodwill.

Were the Christianas given enough compensation?

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Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

  • finance_tony

    Too much compensation, IMO. Sounds like a money grab. All the verifiable evidence mentioned (especially the fact that no oversold situation remotely existed) lines up with AA. The only “evidence” that the OP has is a phantom conversation, which itself doesn’t make sense:

    I called and was told I would have to submit an email about my issue. A representative from the airline heard me and said ‘you were probably bumped because they overbooked and didn’t want to have to offer compensation to someone to give up their seat.’”

    A “representative” heard you how? In what capacity was this “representative” working? Ground staff? Baggage handler? Gate agent? You were on the phone. Unless you had engaged this other AA “representative” at the same time you were on the phone, then this person was not a “representative” of the airline, nor was s/he privy to the details of your plight….if the conversation happened at all.

  • Bill___A

    I had to read this twice. What happened, she got home at a normal time and her husband with the luggage got home at 1 am? You can either have a cooperative relationship with your suppliers, or an adversarial relationship with them. I prefer the cooperative relationship and it has generally worked for me, so far. This issue she’s raising, sounds like she does not wish to remain an AA customer. I’m actually surprised that the planes make it as often as they do, given the many variants. I am not totally pleased with the way the airlines cut costs, but inasmuch as getting a plane from A to B to C, when adverse conditions happen, they seem to get through it one way or another. I tend to cut the airlines some slack.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I swear, people here think there is a department whose job it is to go and screw customers — and not whole plane loads, just one person at a time.

    Sadly, things happen. In IROPS (irregular operations usually due to weather) aircraft and crews are constantly re-routed to try and minimize impact on customers and the larger operation. In this case, it seems there was an unfortunate optimization which delayed the first flight and not yet the second despite routing being the same plane, leading the customer to accept a re-schedule that was not necessary.

    That being said, it was trip home from wedding, they didn’t miss the wedding. AA was trying to be helpful. Sometimes changes in IROPS are gambles. $200 is plenty generous

  • Annie M

    Good catch.

  • pmtmia

    Comments like “I was devastated” should be reserved for other issues, not missing a connecting flight and arriving home safely hours later than expected. An inconvenience yes, but not “devastating”.

  • pmtmia

    It’s amazing what effort it takes for a plane to depart on time. Throw in some weather and mechanical issues (it’s a machine) and wow, airlines manage it and try really hard!

  • C Schwartz

    Yes some random “representative” just happened to overhear and offered their informed opinion, having the flight manifest at their fingertips — sure I believe that– oh wait I don’t.

  • ajaynejr

    The airline was trying to “protect” your itinerary from being spoiled too badly by a missed connection, but, unlike in some elite programs, the airline would not keep your original flight reserved for you and also reserve a place on the next flight in case you did miss the connection. It’s one or the other. How would you have felt if the airline kept your original reservation intact and you did miss the connection and the next available flight was after noon the next day?

  • Chris_In_NC

    Was the original flight a 1-stop direct flight? If not, then the OP has no case, because it was an unfortunate coincidence.

    The automated system has no way of predicting what is happening downstream. It just knows that the original flight is delayed and a connection will be missed.

  • Kevin Nash

    OP’s flight pattern was BOS (6:00 PM) – DCA (8:36 PM) – MSY (10:34 PM arrival) based on OP’s claim that she attempted take the last seat for a “5 p.m. flight that would get to Washington in time to make their regularly scheduled flight to New Orleans.”

    The only flight pattern through Charlotte that could have been re-routed for OP was BOS (6:40 PM) – CLT (9:15 PM) – MSY (11:53 PM arrival). That flight gets them in New Orleans not that long after their original flight and OP wouldn’t have had to abandon her husband and her bags.

    Sounds like OP created her own mess.

  • The Original Joe S

    I know people who work in that department. They are recruited from the big box warehouse store workers whose job it is to move all the stuff around in the store so you can’t find anything where you last saw it, and, you hopefully will buy MORE stuff not on your list. [ You DO go to there with a LIST, don’t you? ]

  • jsn55

    It can be so disheartening to read about travellers who think ‘someone’ should compensate them for an inconvenience. The vouchers were a nice good will gesture and should be appreciated as such.

  • IGoEverywhere

    This sounds like an oops and deserves no compensation. American had an issue, Kim and Joe reacted to the options offered and made a choice. The more I fly, the more that learn that the customers in line are always there with advice and knowledge with all of the incorrect answers. “The flight was overbooked, so you were bumper”. No she was not. They made a choice to accept schedule changes offered by American. The fact that the schedules changed again, has no bearing on being bumped. This case should have been “Dismissed”, but you styill do a great job.

  • joycexyz

    Akin to “my vacation was ruined” because of…(choose some insignificant glitch)…and I want my money back. Oh, and don’t forget to add double the amount for pain and suffering.

  • CycleAZLindyB

    Long time reader, but don’t recall if I’ve commented before. OP says “I was devastated”. Comments like this make me so angry. She’s so very lucky that this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to her. “Devastated” is when your 13 year old gets a cancer diagnosis, your 15 year old beloved cat dies suddenly, you get diagnosed with a long term, painful chronic illness and your whole life changes. She got way too much compensation IMHO.

    ( BTW…..Cancer cured, kitten adopted, still trying to find a new normal living with chronic pain).

  • Bill

    Yeah, I read this three times trying to figure out how or where she was “bumped” or “denied boarding”. AA reached out to say, “We think you have a problem coming, and here’s an alternative”. How tragic!

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