Bumped from my flight to Palm Beach — why won’t American pay up?

After Samantha Gomez is denied boarding on a flight from Philadelphia to Palm Beach, Florida, she asks her airline for compensation. Why won’t it pay?

Question: I recently booked a one-way ticket on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Palm Beach, Florida, through Travelocity.com. The flight was oversold, so the airline put me on standby for another overbooked flight on the same day and arriving in Orlando, Florida — more than two hours away from my desired destination.

I did not get a seat on that flight either, and could not travel. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Passenger Bill of Rights, I am legally entitled to 400 percent of my original ticket price because the flight that American tried and failed to get me a seat on was over two hours past my original arrival time.

My original ticket price was $177. In addition, I paid $19 for flight protection, so the airline should be refunding my ticket regardless. I was packed and ready to go, I couldn’t make my trip, and I lost hundreds of dollars in prepaid expenses because of American’s mistake, and now it is refusing to reimburse me for anything.

I sent multiple emails and kept being denied reimbursement. American is breaking the law by denying me a refund. I want the legally required amount due to me: 400 percent of $177. I also would like the $19 in flight protection refunded, since that apparently means nothing to the airline. — Samantha Gomez, Coatesville, Penn.

Answer: Overbooking, or selling more tickets than seats, should be illegal. But in the upside-down world of the airline industry, it’s a common and accepted practice. The only things stopping an airline from overselling more seats are Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations that require an airline to fork over a refund, and then some, if it can’t get you to your destination.

Related story:   Missed flight, maximum fee

Your rights are outlined in the DOT’s brochure — FlyRights — which you can find online.

American Airlines should have offered you a written statement describing your rights and explaining how it decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. You were entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. Based on your correspondence, it appears that you received none of those things, which is a clear violation of DOT regulations.

You could have sent one last appeal to American Airlines (I list the executive contacts on my site). You also could have filed a complaint with the DOT online.

I contacted American and your online travel agency, Travelocity, and got to the bottom of the mystery. Travelocity’s records suggest that you missed your flight, not that you were involuntarily denied boarding. But your online agency contacted the airline to see what its records say, and after some back-and-forth, American agreed with your conclusion that you’d been denied boarding. American paid you three times the value of your ticket, in accordance with DOT regulations.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • sirwired

    We are missing the one detail of how soon she presented herself at the gate for boarding. We can guess that she was on-time, since AA eventually paid, but they also might have paid just to make this go away…

  • Don Spilky

    That’s a new wrinkle… Airline marking PAX as “no show” to avoid an IDB claim. Yet another thing we need to be aware of when at the gate!

  • MarkKelling

    In this case it was the travel agency that had her listed as a no show, not the airline. How would AA have put her on standby for the Orlando flight if they had her listed as no show? They would have just ignored her at the point she would have been tagged a no show and never would have done anything to try and get her close to her original destination.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Overbooking, or selling more tickets than seats, should be illegal.”

    While I’m totally fine with increasing the IDB penalties, eliminating overbooking would lower overall industry efficiency, raise prices, and leave consumers worse off.

    Most overbooking doesn’t result in anybody getting bumped (voluntary or involuntary) and the vast majority of bumps are voluntary (which leaves passengers BETTER off, since somebody is taking compensation that’s worth MORE to them than traveling on that specific flight).

  • Alan Gore

    This one looks like Travelocity’s fault in misclassifying LW as a missed flight. A direct booking would not have resulted in such a runaround.

  • Don Spilky

    The airline had her listed as no show and sent that info back to Travelocity.

    “some back-and-forth, American agreed with your conclusion that you’d been denied boarding.”

  • Noah Kimmel

    its also a silly oversimplification. Many times, oversells can happen for other reasons like equipment swaps or need to deadhead crew on a flight to operate another later in the day, particularly in IROP situations

  • AAGK

    It’s not new. Airlines will try and get away with marking a pax as a no show in a wide variety of scenarios. It’s def something to be aware of. I have been marked a no show on flights I took, as well as flights that I properly cancelled so that when I called to rebook with my credit, it was missing.

  • Travelnut

    “American paid you three times the value of your ticket, in accordance with DOT regulations.”

    What happened to four times the ticket price? I thought the correct amount was four times. Here is a paraphrase of the regulation: “If the substitute plane will get you where you’re going one to two hours late on U.S. domestic flights or one to four hours internationally, the airline must pay you double the cost of your one-way fare, up to $675. If you’re delayed more than two hours domestically or more than four internationally, or if the airline doesn’t make substitute arrangements, the overbooked flight compensation doubles, with a $1,350 ceiling.” https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/06/19/overbooked-flight-not-get-bumped/

  • cscasi

    That’s why I almost always check in online 24 hours before. That way I am no where near the bottom of the list of those checked in when they start looking for people to deny boarding to because of oversells. And, I am not one who goes to the airport without a seating assignment having already been issued (like when I purchase the ticket). Never faced a IDB in the almost 50 years I have been flying.

  • greg watson

    just another honest mistake ?…………..me thinks not

  • joycexyz

    Diabolically clever! I guess from now on we need to get witness statements. But I’m puzzled as to why AA would out her on a flight to another destination–Orlando rather than West Palm Beach. Granted, it’s in the same state (Florida), but more than two hours drive time apart. Were they going to transport her to West Palm Beach? Doubtful. Is this permissible? Did she agree to this?

  • PsyGuy

    Very true, this was about $600 for them so it’s not a huge claim.

  • PsyGuy

    Better have video or a photo of you checking in by the right time too, otherwise it’s your claim against the airlines records.

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