Why won’t American pay for my Delta flight?

When Brianna Ryan received notice that her American Airlines flight was delayed, she worried that she wouldn’t have time to make a connecting flight. According to Ryan, an American customer service agent promised that if she booked a new flight on another airline, American Airlines would pay for it. But when she sought reimbursement for her new airfare, American denied her request.

Ryan’s story underscores the necessity of carefully scheduling flight legs to allow sufficient time to make connections — and to get any promises made by an airline agent in writing, along with their full names and contact information.

Ryan paid 40,000 AAdvantage miles to fly to Beirut to volunteer at a refugee camp. For reasons unknown to our advocates, she booked an itinerary that required her to fly on American Airlines from Minneapolis to LaGuardia Airport in New York and connect to a flight departing from JFK Airport to Amman, Jordan. From there, she was scheduled to take a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight to Beirut. She did not book a return flight to the U.S.

Upon receiving an email from American Airlines that her flight to New York was delayed, Ryan wondered if she would have enough time to get to JFK to make her connection. In accordance with instructions in the email to call American Airlines immediately, claims Ryan, she contacted American’s customer service and spoke to an agent named Pamela. (She didn’t get Pamela’s last name.)

Pamela told Ryan to book a flight on Delta to JFK and make her connection, and to file a claim for reimbursement with American Airlines for her Delta airfare and luggage fees:

At this time I thought she was so helpful and clever. [She] gave me the Delta flight details and phone number, and specific instructions on how to execute this travel and then submit my receipts and get reimbursed later. She absolutely assured me it would be reimbursed (after I asked numerous times). She was very confident that this was what I must do and was the best option.

Ryan proceeded to follow Pamela’s advice and paid $700 for a ticket on Delta and luggage fees for a flight to JFK, which, she contends, deprived her of sufficient funds to return home to Minneapolis and kept her stuck in Lebanon. But when she filed a claim for the $700, American Airlines refused to pay it.

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“I am ultra-careful with my money and would never have spent that money if I knew there was even the slightest chance I wouldn’t [be] reimbursed! I really trusted the agent who seemed so knowledgeable and helpful in solving the flight delay and rebooking issue,” claims Ryan.

But therein lies Ryan’s problem. In addition to booking a connection that required transferring between airports, she trusted the agent so completely that she failed to get any confirmation of the agent’s promises in writing — promises that American Airlines doesn’t actually make in its contract of carriage, which provides 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.

In extreme circumstances, it is possible that a flight will cancel while on the ground in the city to which it was diverted. When this happens you will be rerouted on the next American flight with available seats, or in some circumstances on another airline or some other alternative means of transportation. If we are unable to reroute you, reasonable overnight accommodations will be provided by American, subject to availability.

Unfortunately for Ryan, there is no provision in American’s contract of carriage for reimbursing airfares on other airlines or incidental expenses after a passenger cancels a leg of a flight following an announced delay. Nor does any other airline reimburse such expenses.

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After American Airlines denied Ryan’s claim, she asked our advocates to help her secure a refund of the $700. (Executive contact information for American Airlines is available on our website.) We reached out to American Airlines to see what light it could shed on Ryan’s cancellation and request for a refund.

We learned that Ryan’s original flight to New York was delayed by only 30 minutes and arrived at LaGuardia Airport with sufficient time for Ryan to make her connection and that she had been awarded 12,000 frequent flyer miles as a gesture of goodwill. In addition, we were told that although American had notes of her conversation with one of its customer service agents, the employee to whom Ryan had spoken was not named Pamela, and that there was no indication in the notes of any instructions to Ryan to purchase a ticket on Delta.

During this call, according to the agent’s notes, Ryan requested that the balance of her trip be protected from cancellation: “[Passenger] called and will be flying on a Delta flight to JFK and will still be traveling on AA flight.” American Airlines agreed to protect the remainder of her itinerary, although normally the airline would have treated her as a “no-show passenger” when she failed to take her originally scheduled flight from Minneapolis and canceled the balance of her trip.

Our contact at American Airlines does not believe that the airline’s agents would have given Ryan erroneous instructions to book a flight on another airline. Because there is no supporting evidence for Ryan’s story and she did fly the rest of her itinerary, American considers her case closed.

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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.

  • John Baker

    I voted no simply because I find her story implausible. I’ve never known or heard an airline say to book another flight and they’d refund it. It opens them up to way too muck liability. I have heard of airlines finding flights or booking another for you but never saying “book anything you want and we’ll pay for it.”

  • BubbaJoe123

    Couple of things could have happened here:

    Option 1: Brianna misunderstood the AA rep.
    Option 2: The AA rep said what Brianna is claiming he/she said, and AA isn’t following through.
    Option 3: Brianna is lying about what the AA rep said.

    Really a case where having a recording of the conversation would be very helpful. AA says they looked at the notes – does this mean there’s no tape of the conversation?


    Unlikely that this happened the way the OP said. Delta, in a widely publicized move, severed its interline agreement with AA several years ago. I find it very unlikely that a AA rep would tell a passenger that they would reimburse the cost of a ticket on an airline with whom they do not have such an agreement. This story does not seem plausible to me at all.

  • Nathan Witt

    The actual departure time of Ms. Ryan’s originally-scheduled flight to New York is a bit of a red herring if in fact AA contacted her to say that the flight was delayed and instructed her to call in. But this is one in a series of letters to Elliott.org where travelers spend their own money, expecting reimbursement from the travel provider. Don’t do that. Had AA intended to pay for transport on another carrier, the agent would have done that without Ms. Ryan having to pay for it. It’s called interlining. And remember that any promise not in writing isn’t a promise at all. This is why the “chat with us” contact function on many corporate websites is invaluable. The chats can be saved and used later if the company doesn’t follow through.

  • Kairho

    As an AA award was used, all three segments would have been on one AA PNR/ticket. Thus it would have been on AA to make everything right. It looks like the writer booked the DL flight on her own rather than letting AA handle things. She is indeed lucky they let her board in JFK. Nothing is due her.

  • Joe Julio

    And even if they did on some rare occasion, it would be doubtful a front line phone representative would be authorized to do that.

  • whatup12

    and while unlikely to be related to the story, it seems like she is a student at AUB (ie, going to study) rather than travelling to Beirut to volunteer at refugee camp. Using the extra sob story of purpose of story cheapens it in my eyes….

  • finance_tony

    So when you compile your complaints about the worst or most complained-about companies, do you count stories such as today’s and yesterday’s — where the customer obviously “misstates” the situation or is otherwise trying to money grab — as “strikes” against American Airlines?

  • finance_tony

    And with interlining, wouldn’t AA itself book the flight and not have the customer purchase it??

  • Joe Wojnowski

    In my experience, the airline tries to re-route you or if pushed, to book you on another airline. Telling you to purchase an new ticket on another airline and be reimbursed, seems improbable.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Simply implausible. The agent MAY have said something to the effect of “you are welcome to contact customer service” but to promise reimbursement, no way.

  • Bill___A

    If there is a problem with the flight, let the airline handle the bookings. They have the ability. They can just go on their computer to do it, they don’t have to tell you to go book somewhere else. Something very strange about this whole setup.
    It is unfortunate when misunderstandings happen.

  • C Schwartz

    yes the ticketed carrier has to “endorse” the ticket to the new carrier — this has happened to me with serious delays/cancellations.

  • Annie M

    Several years ago, Delta stopped a reciprocal fly agreement with AA. I find it impossible to believe that an agent would have told her to book her flight on Delta and she would be reimbursed.

  • Michael__K

    but never saying “book anything you want and we’ll pay for it.”
    Of course no one claims they said that in this case either. The OP writes that she received specific flight details and a phone number for booking it.

  • Michael__K

    I find it very unlikely that a AA rep would tell a passenger that they would reimburse the cost of a ticket on an airline with whom they do not have such an agreement

    Except there’s apparently no airline they have an agreement with that serves the route in this case. Delta has 10+ nonstops per day. Sun Country (early AM) has the only other one.

  • Lindabator

    Plus the fact that AA and DL have no ticketing agreements and do NOT validate tickets to each other, it makes no sense at all

  • Lindabator



    But that does not mean AA would agree to pay for a ticket on a carrier with whom they have no agreement. The OP appears to have made this decision herself. A friend here in ATL could not get AA to put her on DL when her flight had a significant delay. AA told her DL will not allow it.

  • Michael__K

    Delta won’t allow AA to endorse tickets over, but that doesn’t mean AA can’t offer to reimburse passengers in specific cases. It would be unusual, but then again it’s not very plausible either that she would shell out $700 for a new ticket and make up a story to seek reimbursement even though she knew she wouldn’t be reimbursed, and even though AA/RJ would have been responsible for re-accommodating her if she spent nothing and mis-connected with her original itinerary.

  • greg watson

    another ‘no show’ by someone….for some reason………smells fishy……….have to take responsibility for your own poor decisions…

  • MF

    Another case where the PAX recording the call ‘for quality & training purposes’ (she could train them to pull up the recording & verify the contents of the conversation). Why don’t our smart phones allow recording of phone calls? (yes, yes, I know the answer, but fixing state & federal laws would keep the consumer from being klucked by scammy CSR’s)

  • jerrymandel

    You say to get promises in writing. Silly advice. How do you get written promises from a telephone conversation?

  • joycexyz

    I have my doubts this “agent” was with AA–especially since they can’t locate said agent. Was the OP using an OTA??? The whole thing sounds very peculiar.

  • joycexyz

    At the very least, you get the agent’s full name and employee number–some way to identify him or her. And ask for an email confirmation of the promise.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Her first mistake was to use two airlines and two different airports to connect from/to (on the same day no less) to get from A to B to C. She is obviously an inexperienced traveler but I say this in fairness as not everyone can even know all of the ramifications of this scenario. I’m sick to death of “agents” that give out wrong information – what kind of “training” (or lack of) do airlines give today to their agents that withhold this very important fact or feel like they can just make it up as they go along ?? – you don’t buy a sweater at Macy’s, wear it, lose it or destroy it and then walk into JCPenney and verbally expect them to refund your Macy’s sweater, sight unseen no less. The only worse thing that could have happened is that she booked through Expedia or the like. Why would any agent tell someone all of this ???
    Also as others have already stated, Delta has not been honoring AA tickets for over a year and have made that known so certainly AA agents would have to know this.

  • cscasi

    It is most obvious that if these promises were made by some American agent named “Pamela”, nothing was entered into s. Ryan’s PNR. And, as was also already noted, a regular agent would almost certainly require a supervisor to approve that. But, it is interesting that in her PNR, it was noted, “During this call, according to the agent’s notes, Ryan requested that the balance of her trip be protected from cancellation: “[Passenger] called and will be flying on a Delta flight to JFK and will still be traveling on AA flight.” American Airlines agreed to protect the remainder of her itinerary, although normally the airline would have treated her as a “no-show passenger” when she failed to take her originally scheduled flight from Minneapolis and canceled the balance of her trip.” With that being in the record, it makes me wonder if she was promised what she stated about being able to file a claim for the cost of her Delta flight. On the other hand, I guess anyone can file a claim for anything. But, that does not necessarily mean it will get approved and paid. This just did not turn out in her favor.

  • Noah Kimmel

    can’t use an OTA for a mileage ticket

  • C Schwartz

    One should not make a connection from LGA to JFK (or EWR or vice-versa) without at least 6 hours in between.
    It can take 30 plus minutes just to get luggage. This year has also brought a lot of construction to LGA — and this has caused massive traffic jams just to get to and from the terminals — people have waited up to an hour in traffic to leave or arrive to the terminal after exiting the Grand Central Parkway. And I have not even mentioned the delays that happen at LGA, often Air Traffic Control. I would not advice any passenger to book such a ticket.

    I suppose that the fact that this was an award ticket that may have made routing options more limited, it is too bad that the traveler could not get a MSY to ORD on AA and ORD to AMM on Royal Jordanian,

  • BubbaJoe123

    Phones certainly allow the recording of calls. Dozens of apps to do just that…

  • BubbaJoe123

    Reaccomodating or refunding.

  • BubbaJoe123

    6 hours is ludicrous. Four is ample, and three is fine 95pct of the time.

  • C Schwartz

    3 hours is cutting it far too short if one has checked luggage. It can take 30 minutes for luggage to show up. With the current construction the traffic is terrible. Also taxi stands have been removed so there are more people waiting. The shuttles between the airports say it takes 45 to 60 minutes to get from LGA to JFK. A taxi could make it 25 to 30 minutes if there is zero traffic — ie 3-4 am.

    The problems with getting to the terminals at LGA have been in the news and I have experienced them. Also I am speaking in terms of practicality. Today the delays at LGA for arriving aircrafts is 30 minutes. What are the statistics, that over 25% of arriving flights are delayed at LGA? Construction will be ongoing for the next 4 years at LGA.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Four hours gives you:

    30 minute arrival delay
    30 minute baggage delay
    90 minute transit from airport to airport
    Arrive 90 minutes before your flight

  • C Schwartz

    Some people like to cut it close. Others do not. With the construction delays people have waited up to an hour for a bus or taxi. Earlier this year I waited 45 minutes for transport just to leave the main Delta terminal and I was flying without baggage. Also if a person is flying Economy on an international flight arriving at the airport 90 minutes in advance is again cutting it close. Yesterday the TSA line at Terminal 4 at JFK was over 40 minutes (630 pm).

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