They blamed “the tower” but we’re out $450 — can you help us?

Georgeanne Kojundic and her husband should have returned home early. But according to American Airlines, “the tower” at Chicago O’Hare Airport forced them to spend an extra night away from home.

As far as airlines are concerned, air traffic delays are beyond their control and therefore don’t require them to issue compensation to passengers for expenses they incur as a result of these delays. But they’re not the passengers’ fault either. Just how fair is it to passengers to delay them, force them to spend money out of their own pockets, and then brush off requests for reimbursement of those expenses?

The Kojundics were returning from a visit to her mother over Thanksgiving. They had booked their return flight home to Austin, Texas, on American Airlines from Richmond, Va., via Chicago. The captain of their Chicago flight announced that they were arriving at O’Hare Airport early.

But upon landing, their airplane sat on the tarmac for over an hour. This delay caused several passengers, including the Kojundics, to miss connecting flights. The Kojundics’ flight to Austin was the last one departing from O’Hare that day. The next flight departed at 6:00 a.m. the next day.

When the passengers were finally permitted to deplane, the gate agents told them that “the tower” was responsible for the delay, not American Airlines.

Because Kojundic is a doctor and had to meet with patients the following morning, she and her husband had to stay at a hotel and pay for meals at the airport, which cost them $450. The gate agents offered the Kojundics a discount off the cost of a hotel away from the airport, but the Kojundics felt that the amount of the discount approximated the cost of transportation to that hotel and chose to stay at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport instead.

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The Kojundics might have appealed the gate agents’ refusal to offer more compensation to higher-level American Airlines executives using our company contacts for American, but they’ve asked us for help instead. They want reimbursement for their overnight charges and an upgrade on a future American Airlines flight. But we’re not sure we can help them get it.

American Airlines’ conditions of carriage provide 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.

American also has a customer service and contingency plan that supposedly provides for tarmac delays.

But the contract of carriage expressly disclaims any responsibility to passengers for expenses resulting from delays, and the customer service and contingency plan does not address them. The only promise American makes to passengers who are prevented from catching connecting flights is to rebook them on the next flight available – which American did for the Kojundics.

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So we’re not sure we can do any better for the Kojundics than the gate agents at O’Hare did.

We’re asking our readers:

Should we advocate for Georgeanne Kojundic with American Airlines?

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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 Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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