Allegiant Air cancels flight at the last minute. Chaos ensues. Is compensation due?

Dawn O’Brien and her family planned to fly from Cleveland to Hilton Head, S.C., for a family function. But Allegiant Air had other plans.

As they entered the terminal in Akron, Allegiant notified them by text that their flight had been canceled. Let me repeat: Allegiant notified the O’Briens that their flight was canceled.

Or was it rescheduled?

It may seem like semantics, but this difference, plus a misunderstanding, forced O’Brien to take an expensive, unscheduled tour of northern Ohio. This case also made our advocacy team wonder if there’s a difference anymore between canceling and rescheduling a flight.

“Representatives at the Allegiant counter told all the passengers that the flight was canceled and not rescheduled and that the next flight out (same time next day) was full so we would not be able to get on that flight,” O’Brien related. They said we should make alternative arrangements and submit receipts for reimbursement.”

With seats selling quickly, and with five people anxious to get to Hilton Head, O’Brien paid $2,190 for an American Airlines flight from Cleveland Hopkins, which is 54 miles away. While these intrepid travelers were nine hours late for their family function, at least they were able to make it to Hilton Head.

The problem came when it was time for O’Brien to seek reimbursement from Allegiant for her American Airlines tickets, as well as for her return transportation from Akron to Cleveland to retrieve their car.

“We submitted a claim which Allegiant said should take four to six weeks to resolve,” O’Brien said. “We wrote letters over several months following up on our claim.” Four months after she made her initial claim, Allegiant responded that the flight was never canceled, that it was rescheduled, and they would not pay O’Brien’s extra costs.

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It turns out that O’Brien was notified later in the day, after they already had departed Akron for Cleveland, that the flight was indeed rescheduled for the next day. But O’Brien claims this was after she had already made other arrangements, at the suggestion of the Allegiant representatives in Akron, to fly with American.

“If Allegiant had notified us that they were even working on rescheduling the flight when we arrived at Akron, we would have waited for that outcome,” O’Brien told our advocate. What were they to do?

There are federal guidelines related to airline delays and cancellations on the Department of Transportation website. The website states, however, that there is no rule forcing airlines to reimburse you for a new ticket with another airline:

If your flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you on their first flight to your destination on which space is available, at no additional charge. If this involves a significant delay, find out if another carrier has space and ask the first airline if they will endorse your ticket to the other carrier. If your flight is experiencing a lengthy delay, you might be better off trying to arrange another flight, as long as you don’t have to pay a cancellation penalty or higher fare for changing your reservations. If you find a flight on another airline, ask the first airline if it will endorse your ticket to the new carrier; this could save you a fare collection. Remember, however, that there is no rule requiring them to do this.

But what if your flight is rescheduled and not canceled? This was the issue that kept O’Brien from being reimbursed for her American tickets when she returned. And the miscommunication made things worse.

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We have advocated on our website about airlines’ responsibility to get travelers to their destinations in a timely manner.

“We would like them to acknowledge that they did indeed cancel this flight,” O’Brien says. “They left many angry passengers scrambling to get to Savannah. By the time they decided the flight was ‘rescheduled,’ we were already on our way to Savannah.”

After she was rebuffed by Allegiant, O’Brien turned to our advocates, who suggested that O’Brien post her story to the forum on our website. However, she didn’t.

Allegiant eventually refunded $452 (the cost of the first leg) and gave each of the five travelers a $100 voucher for future travel which O’Brien claims they never will use. But she is out $1,738 and wants us to help.

O'Brien did not take our advice by posting to our forums. Should we advocate for her with Allegiant Air anyway?

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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.

  • sirwired

    Allegiant didn’t HAVE to do anything besides put her on the next flight on Allegiant with available seats to her destination (or issue a refund.) BUT, since they DID promise to reimburse for her alternate transportation, they should do so.

  • Hanope

    I’m a bit confused as to what costs they were seeking to get “from Akron to Cleveland to retrieve their car.” I thought their new flight was from Cleveland, and didn’t they just get back into their car, in Arkon, and drive to Cleveland?

    I think Allegient owes them, but good luck in getting anything out of one of those ‘super low cost’ airlines. Still, looks like we need to start video taping agents when they give the information as to cancellation v. rescheduling.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Serious question… what is there to advocate?

    When the original segment was “cancelled” the OP could have waited for the next available flight. Obviously on an airline with limited flight schedules, this may take a while. Allegiant also does not have any interline agreements, so you’re at the mercy of their limited flight schedules. Alternatively, if Allegiant is unable to accommodate then they will offer a refund of the segment, which they have already done so.

    The OP is fortunate that he didn’t have the returning segment cancelled, especially if he was marked as a “no show” on the outbound segment.

    I have never encountered a situation with ANY airline that will reimburse you for making your own arrangements on another airline. A $2000 reimbursement may be the right thing to do, but the airlines have every right to tell you to go pound sand.

  • Chris_In_NC

    @sirwired:disqus do you really believe that Allegiant would have promised to reimburse $2000+ for alternative transportation? I don’t believe that an agent would have made those promises.

  • Kerr

    I don’t expect Allegiant to refund anything further, but I’d like to see you advocate just so the airline will clearly state the difference between cancelled and rescheduled, along with their process for this and similar situations. Do they recommend customers to make alternative arrangements immediately? Or simply wait for the airline to make a final determination?

  • Jeff W.

    That becomes the risk when you book on an airline that has only one flight daily to your destination and does not have agreements with other airlines.

    Allegiant did refund the unused portion of the ticket. It is highly unlikely that you will get anymore. The difference between the $452 (+ $500 future travel vouchers) and $2190 for the AA tickets is too wide a gap. You are not going to get anymore from them.

  • sirwired

    Honestly, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be the first time an employee has promised things to customers just to get them to go away.

  • Algebralovr

    The only thing Allegiant was required to do was either reschedule them on the next flight with seats available from Allegiant, or refund. it sounds as though the letter writer received a refund for the leg that was “cancelled” .

    it is about a 12 hour drive to Hilton Head from there. With a 9 hour delay, I’d have seriously considered renting a car one way to get to Hilton Head. It probably would have cost no more than the refund.

  • Bill___A

    An unfortunate situation when dealing with an airline that has limited flights. This needs to be taken into consideration as price is not the only parameter to consider when booking. Through articles and unfortunately, experiences like this, word might finally get out. As to the OP, good luck but this might be a cost of doing business with a discount carrier with limited options.

  • Michael__K

    The cited promise wasn’t for any specific amount and this was 5 passengers so it was $438 per passenger.

  • AAGK

    Take the case. The LW will have a difficult time self-advocating for several reasons: amount of reimbursement; she already accepted those 100 vouchers; and the airline will never want to admit canc v resch.

    The LW also may have misunderstood as airlines do not usually let pax rebook elsewhere, without restriction, and just submit receipts. Since they booked a reasonable, and still inconvenient, alternative they deserve reimbursement and should not had to wait even 1 day for Allegiant.

  • Michael__K

    the OP could have waited for the next available flight.

    Looks like Allegiant operates only one flight every 2 days on this route, even during peak season. So there probably was no next available flight with seats available which departed before they were supposed to return….

    And if they couldn’t accommodate the passengers they should have notified them and offered full refunds immediately for the entire round trip rather than make other promises.

  • MF

    Again, a sub-rosa video/audio recording would resolve the cancelled vs rescheduled question. I suspect that the ‘cancelled, then rescheduled’ dance was a way for Allegiant to weasel out of paying compensation to those they stiffed. If you can’t assume & rely on the carrier’s communication via text or in person, well then their word is worthless, which is pretty much the case here?

  • Nathan Witt

    :…the airlines have every right to tell you to go pound sand.” I agree with you, unless you believe the OP’s assertion that Allegiant told this family that they would reimburse their expenses. If this can be verified in any way, advocacy might be appropriate here. Once a promise is made, it should be kept. And that goes both ways (I’m thinking here of people who agree to cancellation terms and then decide to fight them later on).

  • JewelEyed

    No matter what was said or not said, unless it’s recorded, verbal promises are as only good as the paper they’re written on…

  • JewelEyed

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned this, but knowing that there were only flights on certain days from this location on this airline and there are no interline agreements, you have two choices if you want to avoid a mess if you have a specific event that is the whole point of your trip. #1 Leave early enough that even if you have to wait a day or two, you’ll still make your event. #2 Pick another airline with more flights. It sucks when you have limited options to get to where you wanna go, but it’s just like that for those of us who don’t live in the middle of a metropolitan area. I’m glad they made it to their event, but they very easily could have missed it if there had been no room on the other flight.

  • JewelEyed

    I do have to say though that if I was told my flight was canceled and received an official message from the airline to that effect and then they said it was only rescheduled *after* I left, I would be spitting nails.

  • JewelEyed

    I would have thought that getting a notification that your flight has been canceled would count as a final determination.

  • Rebecca

    Personally, I don’t think it is fair to the folks that DO take your advice and post to the forums to circumvent that process and just do it anyways. I like fair.

    Additionally, the OP stated she received a text stating that the flight was canceled. Wouldn’t this be a good place to start? If the airline is claiming the flight wasn’t canceled, but sent written communication claiming otherwise, I would think that’s very relevant. I have a feeling starting there would clear up at least some of the confusion.

  • RightNow9435

    or driven their own car, since their car was mentioned in the post.

  • michael anthony

    While true, in cases such as this, courts will look at what was most likely said. If the OP said they were promised $5k in credits, the court most likely wouldn’t believe her. What the OP says they were offered is reasonable and likely.

  • michael anthony

    Not everyone has the ability or desire to drive a long distance, unplanned.

    Carriers are one of the few consumer businesses that can take your money and run due to their boatload of policies that almost makes it impossible to get any money back when you’ve received nothing.

  • The Original Joe S

    When you talk to these agents, aim your cellphone or camera at them and record the conversation.

  • The Original Joe S

    People are like little birdies: cheep cheep cheep! So, you get what you pay for!

  • The Original Joe S

    no matter what you do, it’s stacked against you!

  • Chris_In_NC

    The issue with Allegiant Air is that they have no interline agreements with any other airlines, so there the “endorsement” issue is a non-issue. The so called legacy airlines have agreements that they will essentially help each other out, though even some of these agreements are going away. In 2015, Delta and American Airlines terminated their interline agreements.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Many of us say this all the time. The biggest reason I won’t fly Allegiant, the “new” Frontier or Spirit Airlines is not because they nickel and dime your for everything, but because of their LIMITED flight schedules and lack of alternative transportation options if a flight is canceled or if there is bad weather en mass. Same issues may apply for charter flights or if an airline has limited flight schedules (ie once a week flight).

    As has already been stated, the problem with Allegiant is that they often have 1 flight a day and may not fly every day of the week. So, if your flight is cancelled, you have to wait until the next flight with availability. This may take days. Your other option is to have a refund of your flight which doesn’t help you if you need to be there.

    My position hasn’t changed. Under the COC, (and it is stacked against the customer), but until we have similar legislation to EU 261, all that is owed to the OP is a refund of the flight that was cancelled. I highly doubt that Allegiant will cough up $2000+ dollars, because frankly, they don’t care and it is cheaper to blow off the OP than to pay up.

  • Kerr

    Apparently for Allegiant, it does not.

  • Altosk

    Allegiant owes this lady. Make them pay up. Some folks are forum-shy. Don’t hold that against her.

    Also, anyone know what airline refused to let a man board a relocation flight with his toddler that was just a few days over the “2 year” limit, but allowed him to book an infant in arms ticket even asking for birthday information…prompting some random lady to pay $750+ so the family wasn’t separated? Cuz that is going viral on FB and there’s an airline out there that needs a black eye over that.

  • John McDonald

    am only a dumb Australian, but wait a sec, isn’t Cleveland Ohio to Hilton Head about a 10 hour drive ?
    Surely, they could have done this ? Even in 2 x 5 hour stints ? Are Americans getting soft ?

    or driven part of the way & flown on a decent airline like Southwest ? Looking at Southwest route map, couldn’t they have flown from any of 3 airports in area CLE, CAK, PIT(or even DTW) nonstop to Atlanta & then driven just over 3 hours ? You guys have so much choice of airports.

  • PsyGuy

    I vote advocate for them. They really got hosed, and it’s allegiant’s fault. The simple issue is the airline stated one condition (canceled) and then later decided to redefine it as rescheduled. Allegiant needs to clarify their text message and what cancelation means with instructions. These PAX did everything reasonable travelers would think to do.

    On another note, the PAX in this case, under a bit of frustration, really should have taken a deep breath and then gone to Allegiant and either have Allegiant endorse their tickets or get stronger than some counter agents say so to save receipts for reimbursements, because this is a nonsense claim in that saving receipts and being able to submit them for reimbursement doesn’t actually indicate the airline will pay what ever claim for reimbursement is made. It’s like when I say “I’m sorry you feel that way”, I’m not actually apologising for anything.

  • PsyGuy

    We only have the LW’s claim that they were promised that. As I see it, Allegiant got the PAX to absorb their responsibility.

  • PsyGuy

    Oh I believe it, because the agent knows that come months later no one will be able to prove anything.

  • PsyGuy

    Which is zero, because they are verbal.

  • PsyGuy

    Anything over 2 hours and I fly.

  • PsyGuy

    If the police have personal vest cams, why can’t citizens?

  • PsyGuy

    I agree, Airlines will get you there at some point but none of them unless Chris gets them too as a “Good will gesture” volunteer to absorb outside travel.

  • PsyGuy

    Should have, but this is Allegiant we are talking about.

  • PsyGuy

    The problem with that is that gate agents or counter agents promise is meaningless, they can’t obligate the airline to anything, they aren’t authorized to modify or enter into an agreement with a PAX.

  • PsyGuy

    I’d think so too.

  • PsyGuy

    The reality is that when something is important to you, you need to use a better airline. American or even United would have cost a few dollars more and given the PAX much greater options.

  • PsyGuy

    Exactly, the issue is “needing to be there”, if you’re just flying for arbitrary recreation then it’s fine you either get there, or you take the refund and try again next time. For travel that’s critical its not worth saving the few dollars. Even basic economy which which is comparatively priced to ultra low cost carriers would have given the PAX in this case better options for getting out.

  • John McDonald

    yeah you’re kidding right. Look at LAX/LAS. Roughly 4 hours drive & it’s quicker than flying.
    (explained – get to LAX few hours before departure, taxiing to runway(often delays), actual flying, taxiing at LAS end, often delays, wait for bags. Might not be a lot quicker to drive, BUT you then have a car & don’t have to go near the airports.

  • PsyGuy

    I’d has to drive in LA, and drive in LV, and given that everything I’d like to do in LV would probably be safer for the rest of the world with Uber, i might as well Uber in LA to get to the airport as well. Yes, I’d still fly. On Spirit I could do that for about $100 RT.

  • JewelEyed

    I agree, but not everyone can afford to use another airline if the difference in price is significant. That’s why I offered leaving early an alternative. If you can stay with a relative or friend in the area for a day or two, it’s certainly much less expensive than one or more tickets at twice the price you can afford or a hotel stay. In this case, staying with a relative might have been possible because family reunions are often held with one person who is local helping to make the arrangements or even hosting the event at their home or a local venue.

  • Chris_In_NC

    @JewelEyed:disqus But leaving a day early on an airline with very limited schedules and no interline agreement may not be enough. For example if an airline has only 1 flight a day, and the flight is cancelled due to weather or mechanical delays, they airline won’t be able to accommodate everyone on the next flight. It may be 2 or 3 days before they can fly you out. Therefore, if you have to be there (ie a cruise, important meeting, etc), its best to fly on an airline with frequency of schedule.

    I’m not saying that ULCC are a bad idea. If you are a retiree that has a flexible schedule, it works well. But ANY delay or cancellation may be catastrophic. This past January, our flight on Southwest was cancelled due to weather and even with 5+ flights a day, we could not be accommodated for 2 days. We ended up making the drive.

  • JewelEyed

    Agreed, anything could go catastrophically wrong, but if there’s going to be a problem, arriving on the day with no interline means there is NO CHANCE of getting the problem resolved without paying walk up rates to another airline. As opposed to there being some small chance that, with a day or two left to go, you might be able to come up with an alternate plan.

  • PsyGuy

    This is where we differ, often the difference between the ULCC and a legacy airline is a few dollars, literally about $10 if you can’t afford that you shouldn’t be traveling to begin with. I don’t see a reason to leave a day in advance and stay with a friend just to catch a flight, if things are really important if you leave 6 hours before your flight departs, even with major delays you are still fine, and I can just as easily power nap in my car for a few hours if I get there really early.

  • JewelEyed

    I would think that depends on where you’re departing from. I have found the price difference between one airline and another, even among legacy carriers, to be sometimes well over $100 per ticket. And I didn’t mean to stay with a friend near the airport, but to stay with a friend near your event to be sure that you’re already there ahead of time, and so you also have time to try to figure out another way to get there if your flight is canceled. Maybe I was just unclear about that part. I’m not sure.

  • Noah Kimmel

    while I dont know what happend in this particular situation, I have also seen the opposite happen too – people mishear / misunderstand / misremember.

    An agent could say they don’t reimburse and someone presses for a different answer and they say “you can try to send it in but we dont guarantee it” and then suddenly someone hears “lets go buy whatever it takes as they said they would cover it”. Maybe only some expenses are covered – i.e hotel if mid-trip.

    When flying allegiant (or spirit), always get trip insurance, always leave margin of error for disruption, and always get alternative things in writing — if you are laying out extra money, be prepared to lose it!

  • The Original Joe S

    Like I said, RECORD IT.

    I remember one instance where I told a woman in a dept store something, and then she tried to claim I didn’t tell her what I told her. I record now.

  • Lindabator

    merely go to the counter or call directly – they cancel their segment and issue the other airline’s ticket. Have to have this done for my clients when the occasion pops up

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