A flurry of pleas for help and then…crickets

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By | February 22nd, 2017

When Mona and Bruce Rowe’s American Airlines flight to Tokyo is diverted, American offers 20,000 frequent flier miles as compensation. But the Rowes want reimbursement for their train tickets and hotel as well. Can our advocates help them get it?

Question:My husband and I were flying on American Airlines from Chicago to Tokyo for a special trip as I had just completed cancer treatments a few weeks earlier. Our flight was diverted to Nagoya, some five hours from Tokyo. When we landed in Nagoya, we sat on the tarmac for five hours before being allowed to deplane. The airport closed at 11:30 p.m. An American Airlines agent offered us reimbursements of up to $150 per person, but made it clear that we were on our own as to traveling from Nagoya to Tokyo.

We eventually purchased high-speed train tickets for Tokyo in Nagoya, but by the time we reached Tokyo we were unable to use our prepaid hotel reservations there. This was not what we had in mind to celebrate my cancer-free status.

When we complained to American, the airline offered us only 20,000 frequent flier miles for our inconvenience. They’ve been unresponsive ever since. We need them to reimburse our train tickets and hotel costs. Can you help us get reimbursement from American Airlines for these expenses? — Mona Rowe, North Potomac, Md.

Answer: What you endured certainly isn’t my idea of a cancer-free celebration. At the very least, American should have given you an explanation for the delays. It could also have helped you reach your final destination.

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When your complaints to the airline were met with silence, you might have escalated them using our executive contact information for American Airlines, which is available on our website.

When our advocates reached out to American Airlines on your behalf, we learned that your flight was rerouted because of a “force majeure event” — windy conditions in Tokyo prevented a number of flights, including yours, from landing there safely. Thus your flight was rerouted to Nagoya. American Airlines should have communicated this to you when it was happening.

American Airlines’ International General Rules, which apply to your flight, indicate that

AA [American Airlines] may, in the event of a force majeure event, without notice, cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight or the right of carriage and determine if any departure or landing should be made. In such event, liability is limited to
1. Refund, in the original form of payment and in accordance with involuntary refund rules, any unused portion of the ticket, and
2. Any liability provided by the Montreal Convention, subject to the terms, limitations, and defenses set forth in the Montreal Convention.
As used in this rule “force majeure event” means:
1. Any condition beyond AA’s control (including, but without limitation, meteorological conditions, acts of God, riots, civil commotion, embargoes, wars, hostilities, disturbances, or unsettled international conditions), actual, threatened or reported or because of any delay, demand, circumstances or requirement due, directly or indirectly, to such condition; or
2. Any strike, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor-related dispute involving or affecting AA’s service; or
3. Any government regulation, demand, or requirement; or
4. Any shortage of labor, fuel, or facilities of AA or others; or
5. Any fact not reasonably foreseen, anticipated, or predicted by AA.

Unfortunately, these rules allow American to refuse to compensate you for the expenses you incurred in getting to Tokyo and for your lost hotel prepayment.

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Although a third party paid for your airfares, you might have benefited from travel insurance coverage, which would have reimbursed your expenses when your flight was diverted and you lost your hotel prepayment.

Also, there were some other issues with your case. It’s important to pick your battles when asking a business for help. But your complaint to American Airlines contained a number of minor issues, such as your flight not having two blankets and pillows, cold windows and only two drink services in economy class, that were unlikely to move the airline’s customer service department to view your case favorably.

Despite these problems, our advocates asked American Airlines to look into your case. But we never heard from its agents — or from you — as to whether they responded to your request for more compensation. We would have appreciated the courtesy of knowing whether our advocacy on your behalf yielded any results. It’s ironic that after you complained about receiving the silent treatment from American Airlines, you’re now giving it to us.

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