Do I deserve a refund for a lightning strike?


After a lightning strike zaps Brittany Burns’ vacation, she tries to secure a refund for her airline ticket. But is she entitled to it?

Question: I’m trying to get a refund for a flight from Dayton, Ohio, to Kingston, Jamaica, via Philadelphia. We flew the first leg of our flight, but on our stopover, American Airlines announced that all flights to Jamaica were canceled because of a lightning strike.

I called our travel agent, who assured me we would definitely be eligible for a full refund. We contacted American Airlines and it booked us a flight back to Dayton for later that day. We spent an entire day in Philadelphia.

When we returned to Dayton an American Airlines customer service agent said, “They let you fly out this morning? I don’t know why they would have done that.” So American was well aware that we wouldn’t get to our destination.

To top things off, our luggage didn’t make it back to Dayton either. We booked a trip to Mexico and left the following day flying Delta this time. We went to Mexico for the week and tried to have an enjoyable time.

I’m still fighting for our refund. My travel agent tells me that the insurance agency is trying to get money back from the airline for the flight we shouldn’t have been on and American says they haven’t been contacted by the insurance company. What in the world do I do? — Brittany Burns, Batavia, Ohio


Answer: If your agent told you that you were eligible for a refund, then you should get a refund. But you shouldn’t be the one on the phone with American Airlines. Your travel agent should be. After all, you purchased a travel insurance policy and hired a qualified travel advisor, who assured you everything would be taken care of. And that’s exactly why you hire a travel agent — so that everything is taken care of.

Related story:   Hey American Airlines, here’s your $25 -- I hope you’re happy

Instead, your agent delivered excuses. First, there seemed to be some confusion about which of your two policies covered you. Then there was another delay because of a hurricane. And finally, there was some confusion because even though American knew you’d never make it to Kingston, it still let you on the plane.

That’s a lot of excuses, but who hires an agent to do that? You wanted — and deserved — a solution.

Here’s the thing: American didn’t fulfill its contract of carriage, which was to transport you from Dayton to Kingston. But if it had wanted to, it could have refunded only the unused portion of your ticket, which, after using its funny math, would have been a few dollars. I’ve seen that too many times.

So, your agent was both right and wrong. Yes, you should have been eligible for a refund, but American probably wouldn’t be giving you one.

Here are the American Airlines executive contacts. A brief, polite email to one of them might have made a difference. Or not.

My fearless advocacy team contacted the airline on your behalf. Your refund is en route.


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.

  • Lindabator

    I hate to hear stories like this – bad travel agents give us all a bad name. Frankly, this should have been an easy fix with their airline sales rep. Sad.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Why does this story name the airline, but not the travel agent, who’s the one who really fell down on the job?

  • RichardII

    A “trip in vain” is normally refunded in total, even though it may not be contractually required. Then, given the airline’s statement they never should have been boarded on the first flight, the trip in vain argument becomes especially compelling. The TA should know this and should have made that case. This never should have become an insurance claim. Time to find a new TA.

  • Michael__K

    Why should this have been an easy fix? AA has previously told the Elliott Advocates that they don’t give refunds, only vouchers, for Trips in Vain.
    And we’ve seen plenty of other passengers who had great difficulty getting anything at all for a Trip in Vain on AA.

    http://www.elliott.org/the-troubleshooter/trip-vain-ends-unpleasant-surprise/
    http://forum.elliott.org/threads/american-airlines-screwing-me-over-i-have-pictures-to-prove.2909/
    http://www.elliott.org/the-troubleshooter/trip-definitely-vain-now-refund/
    http://forum.elliott.org/threads/american-airlines-ruins-a-family-vacation.1824/
    http://forum.elliott.org/threads/american-airlines-debacle.6829/

  • RichardII

    actually, in three of the cases you noted the pax did receive a refund. In one case, the issue was more complex, involving a pax rerouted in another carrier (united), and in the last case the pax received vouchers in excess of the value of the fare and was happy with the outcome.

    We can debate about whether the “fix” might have been easy or not. But, since the TA never made the call, we will never know. I don’t see how we can fault aa for not doing something they were never asked to do (at least according to the story).

  • Michael__K

    The passengers went through a lot to get anything, the one who got a refund got it as an exception after Advocates intervened, and he was entitled to a refund for other reasons anyway (“the flight was canceled for reasons within the control of the airline and there were no other fights available“)
    How do you know the TA didn’t make lots of calls and/or write repeatedly and hit the same brick wall as other passengers we’ve seen?

  • thinfool

    Was it a lightning strike or a hurricane?

  • RichardII

    I try to limit my comments and opinions to information that is reported in the original story. So, I cant really speculate as to what else the TA or LW might have done.

  • Michael__K

    You wrote “the TA never made the call” and I did not find where this is reported in the original story.

  • Annie M

    It’s too bad you can’t post the names of the travel agency involved. Then their awful customer service would be unmasked and perhaps help someone in the future.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree…how can ‘market forces’ force this travel agencytravel agent to improve their customer service and etc. if they are not disclosed in the article? Without disclosing the name of the travel agencytravel agent, this site is allowing poor customer service to continue…letting unexpected travelers to encounter this same level of service in the future.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree. Here are my thoughts on the possible reasons:

    1) AA probably isn’t going to come after this site if the information is erroneous, inaccurate, incomplete, etc. in a libel lawsuit; whereas, a small travel agency or a travel agent will sue the site because their businessincomeetc. would be probably be greatly affected by erroneous, inaccurate, incomplete, etc. information in the article. As a long time reader of this site, facts are not disclosed in the articles; facts are not checkedconfirmedcollaborated…whatever, the OP says, it is taken as the gospel; OPs failed to disclosed all of the facts; OPs lied about the facts; etc.

    2) It seems to me that some of the writers for this site is just attacking big companies, capitalism, etc. based upon their political beliefs, agenda, etc. Granted, there are businesses that don’t do the right things. Capitalism isn’t perfect (what is?) but it much better than socialism and communism…ask the folks that are starving in Venezuela, North Korea, etc. The solution isn’t a centralized government controlling the market, running businesses, etc.

  • IGoEverywhere

    All that should have to happen is filling out a couple of forms. And all proof of what happened. The agent will need 30-45 minutes with the client. The agent needs to contact and fill out a claim with the insurance company AS WELL AS fill out a customer complaint / assistance form with the airline. The airline know nothing without both parts of the claim, their and the insurance company’s. It generally takes 5-8 weeks for a settlement. I have never heard of a decent agency making the client do this work. They make a lot of commission on that insurance policy. It is easy work, and 95% of the time, there is no further action required. For the other 5%, there is work to be done.

  • jim6555

    If the “writers for this site” are attacking big companies, it is because they deserve it. For example, the site receives almost double the complaints about American Airlines than about United Airlines. The two airlines are almost the same size. There are also a great number of complaints about Spirit Airlines, a carrier that transports a small percentage of the passengers that American carries. This blog goes after AA and Spirit with equal force. Both seem to be doing things that get their customers upset and demanding redress for the wrong that has been committed. There are other air carriers, both large and small, whose names are rarely mentioned here. Those carriers like Delta, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska make sincere efforts to bring about satisfactory resolutions to customer problems.
    I’ve been a reader here for about six years. From what I can tell, this site is apolitical. If you perceive that asking companies to do the right thing is an attack on capitalism, your’re wrong. For our society to function, there must be some constraints on capitalism. If these constraints were not there, people would lose confidence in the system and would be fearful of spending money for anything but the most basic necessities.

  • cscasi

    Got them as an exception or not, the fact is that those three did get them.

  • Michael__K

    None got a refund without either Elliott.org’s direct intervention, or without escalating through every single Executive Contact all the way to the CEO.
    Obviously this is an “easy fix!”

  • The Original Joe S

    moral of the story: Avoid this airline

  • The Original Joe S

    Capitalism isn’t perfect (what is?)

    My boss!! He was a PERFECT *******!

  • The Original Joe S

    It was a Bitty Twister!

  • Michael__K

    Agreed. Observe however that this is generally the only airline which goes from DAY to KIN with just one stop. Aren’t oligopolies great?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    What did AA did to be included in this article but not the travel agent who failed in this situation? I am all in for exposing companies that don’t do the job; that deserves it; etc. I think that the readers that have posted comments about the name of the travel agent not being disclosed is a valid point.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    AA didn’t refund a passenger after failing to transport them to the agreed upon final destination. We have no information on the action/inaction of the travel agent, who would not have been liable for AA’s failure. How’s that?

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