Why you should avoid buying your airline tickets at aa.CON

Douglas Abbott wants American Airlines to pay for a mix-up he says the airline caused. American says Abbott himself is the source of the problem. So who is right?

Passengers count on getting reliable information from the airline, but do airlines rely equally on the passenger to provide accurate information?

Abbott bought three tickets for his family to travel on May 8 from Chattanooga to Newark, via Charlotte on American. But when they showed up at the airport to check in, he learned that the flight time had been moved from 5:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and the flight had already left.

When an airline changes its flight schedule, of course it has to inform the passengers. American’s customer service plan includes a commitment to “advise you of any changes to your itinerary in a timely manner and contact you via contact information which you provided in your reservations for any changes to flight schedules after booking.” If a passenger provides an email address, American Airlines sends automated emails to passengers to notify them of schedule changes. Abbott never got an email, he says, and therefore didn’t know that he needed to be at the airport much earlier.

Abbott needed to get to his destination, and since there were no available seats on flights leaving Chattanooga that night, Abbott rented a car, drove two hours to Atlanta, stayed in a hotel overnight, and flew out the next morning on Delta. Of course, all of that costs money — $440 Abbott says American owes him.

American says it has an out — it sent Abbott an email about the schedule change as it did for all passengers. It claims the email was sent out not long after he booked his tickets back in February.

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When Abbott complained, American told him there’s a good reason he didn’t get the email: When he booked his ticket, according to the airline, he mistyped his email address. Instead of ending with the extension .net, Abbott entered his email address with .ney.

Abbott doesn’t buy that explanation. He is sure that he received a confirmation email upon booking, but unfortunately, he can’t find it.

An email sent to a .ney address would bounce back as undeliverable. But American’s notification system operates from an unattended mailbox, so nobody monitors for email errors. Abbott says even if he did mistype his email address, American should monitor for email errors and should have called him on the phone to tell him about the schedule change.

When was the last time your airline called you personally about a schedule change? I’m not sure that’s ever happened.

“How many people on that flight had an email returned undeliverable?,” Abbott wonders. “I suspect I was the only one. I think they could also have surmised that .ney should have been .net.”

The whole situation was strange. I contacted American to ask about Abbott’s reservation and to find out specifically what information was entered at the time of the booking. While we don’t always agree about passenger complaints, our contact at American is a no-nonsense kind of person who is also skilled at getting very detailed information about situations. So I knew he’d tell me the whole story.

“I can see when they booked the ticket, they put the wrong email address in. That means they wouldn’t have had even received an email confirmation – which should have been a sign that something was wrong,” our contact wrote. “They changed it to the correct email May 8.”

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American doesn’t make customers re-enter their email address to confirm it was typed correctly. A verification step can slow down the purchase by a few seconds, but would have likely signaled to Abbott that he needed to make a correction.

I asked American if Abbott had provided a phone number with his booking. “It doesn’t appear they provided a phone number,” American explained.

A phone number would have been good — American does provide flight notifications by email, voicemail and text messaging. If you opt into text updates, you can get information right on your phone.

And speaking of phones, couldn’t Abbott have installed the AA app on his phone? The app also provides notifications.

In fact, in this day and age, there are so many ways to find information about your flight that it seems tough to blame the airline for not proactively providing it, in particular when it likely tried to.

When I explained this to Abbott, he was appreciative, but still didn’t understand American’s version of the facts.

“I couldn’t have given them the wrong email address,” he offered. “I received a reminder email to check in the day before the flight.”

Sure enough, Abbott forwarded me the email reminder received from American on May 7 telling him he could check in online. Abbott said he didn’t read that email at the time — but it does include the 4 p.m. departure time.

OK. If you get an email from your airline, you have to read it. A complaint that the airline doesn’t do enough to contact passengers is weakened significantly by someone who fails to open and read airline emails.

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American did offer Abbott a little consolation in the way of a $100 eVoucher. It said the voucher was an exception to its policy and in consideration of the inconvenience caused by a schedule change.

I imagine the mysterious email typo will never happen again to Abbott. And he’ll probably double-check his flight times in the future as well. But it serves as a reminder for all of us to do the same, lest we become a victim of our own carelessness.

Who is right?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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