Help! American Airlines canceled my flight but won’t cover my expenses

By | January 6th, 2017

Dale Reed’s American Airlines flight is canceled because of weather, but then reinstated. Should the company cover his hotel costs — or is that a lost cause?

Question: I was scheduled to fly from Washington to Chicago on American Airlines recently. The night before my Friday flight, I went online to check in and noticed that my flight had been canceled. During the next five hours I tried repeatedly to get hold of customer service, and was finally told that the flight had been canceled because of bad weather, and so I would need to pay for the extra night’s stay at a hotel and any other expenses.

American rebooked me on a Saturday flight one day later. Imagine my surprise Friday afternoon when I started receiving notices from Google calendar that the original flight was delayed (since it was still on my calendar). I called American and was told that the flight had been reinstated.

At this point it was too late for me to make it to the airport to try and make that flight. I wrote to customer service and requested that American give me a $500 travel voucher to cover my time and additional expenses, including my $193 hotel bill for the extra night. American said it would provide no compensation. Can you help? — Dale Reed, Chicago

Answer: This is a curious case. If American Airlines canceled your flight because of the weather, then it owes you nothing. It is, in legal-speak, an “act of God” outside the company’s control. If, however, the flight was canceled for operational reasons — what’s referred to as a “mechanical” delay — then it does, indeed provide for an overnight hotel stay and meal vouchers.

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Details can be found at American’s contract of carriage.

Technically, American is both right and wrong at the same time. Right, in the sense that it owes you nothing for a weather-related cancellation. But wrong, in the sense that it has completely let itself off the hook.

I wouldn’t necessarily blame American for failing to rebook you. Airline reservation systems can automatically rebook you on a reinstated flight, but you’d already made plans to fly the next day, so it wouldn’t have recognized your reservation as one that needed to be rebooked.

“In the unlikely chance we do reinstate a flight, we do try to contact the traveler to let them know about the change,” an airline spokesman told me. “Most times, travelers are already booked on other flights with different connections, if they are connecting.”

Question is, should this extra overnight stay be treated like a weather delay or a mechanical delay? American wants to treat it like a weather delay. My inner consumer advocate says: mechanical delay.

This is definitely the kind of question you should bring up with American in writing, and if it can’t help, appeal to a customer service executive. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American’s executives on my advocacy site.

I contacted American on your behalf. The airline agreed to reimburse you for your hotel and offered a $200 voucher “due to the circumstances.”

  • fs2013

    I’m confused. There is zero indication in the story as presented that the cancellation then reinstatement was caused by a mechanical. Not saying it’s impossible, but there is absolutely no basis for your “inner consumer advocate” coming to that conclusion. I suppose there are details left out of the article, but I think you owe it to your readers to include info that caused you to make that statement.

  • sirwired

    Airlines are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    If they DON’T pro-actively cancel flights ahead of bad weather systems, they get pilloried for messing up everybody’s travel plans at the last second (cue scenes of long-lines at terminal check-in counters.)

    If they DO pro-actively cancel, but then re-instate because things weren’t as bad as feared (providing great relief to those who were unable to make alternate arrangements), your “inner advocate” says they should be punished for it. (Having a weather delay (which they aren’t on the hook for) converted to a mechanical (which they are/should be) certainly qualifies as punishment.)

  • cscasi

    I am glad that Mr. Reed got the requested reimbursement he requested due to Chris advocating for him. However, I am not sure that he was due any reimbursement at all. We reading this article, do not know if the flight was cancelled for weather or for mechanical reasons; despite anyone’s thoughts or feelings to the contrary Mr Reed was told that the flight was cancelled for weather and we have seen nothing to contradict that. American offered him a $200 voucher “due to the circumstances”.

  • DChamp56

    Wow, in what universe was this not wrong of the airlines!
    Plus, unless it’s a snow thing, how can you cancel 24 hours in advance?

  • Lindabator

    HAD to have been a weather issue — the only way they can cancel/reinstate the flight within 24 hours – we see this can happen often

  • Richard Smith

    So, the customer is damned if he acts based on airline advice, and damned if he doesn’t.

    Informed the flight was canceled, the customer makes alternate plans (hotel, etc.) If the airline un-cancels, the customer may be stuck with a cancellation fee for the hotel, or it is too late to cancel. If the flight remains canceled, it is a weather delay, so no reimbursement.

  • DChamp56

    As I understand it, they can also cancel for lack of a plane (one somewhere down the line failed, and they use this one to compensate).

  • Lindabator

    true, but then we do not see that flight reinstated most times – and you can usually see that instead of the flight going from Chicago – Detroit – Milwaukee (as originally scheduled), it may just fly into Detroit last flight or first the next am, and start the circuit all over again

  • The Original Joe S

    The basis is that the airlines are 99% of the time LYING, and we presume them to be GUILTY unless proven otherwise. There. Clear?

    How many times have the US Flag airlines cancelled / changed my flights and NOT informed me, even though I signed up on their sites? GUILTY!

  • The Original Joe S

    HOGWASH! They FIXED the airplane! NOW it can fly! Not weather, I d betcha.

  • DepartureLevel

    In the future don’t “act” or “react”…….simply go to the airport and play dumb and ignorant. I have handled this many times and can guarantee that the few people that show up and claim no knowledge of the cancellation (some genuinely did not know) end up with a seat 99% of the time on the day they intended to travel.

  • Lindabator

    you cannot just decide not to fly a plane and then just decide to reinstate a flight – the ATC and airport control the slots – and since the FAA tracks the weather cancellations, conspiracy theories really don’t count

  • sirwired

    If the airline un-cancels and the customer’s already made alternate arrangements, they are certainly welcome to keep them. Certainly keeping the flight canceled if it can run as scheduled makes even less sense.

  • Nathan Witt

    Yep. Flights get cancelled for weather, and it’s beyond the airline’s control. What is not beyond the airline’s control is notifying passengers promptly when those flights get reinstated. The LW in this situation was unaware that the flight had been reinstated until his Google alerts started notifying him that it was delayed. Had AA notified him promptly when the decision was made to reinstate the flight, he may have been able to make it to the airport on time. AA says it “tries” to contact the traveler and let them know about the change. Neat. Next time I “try” to make it to the airport on time and don’t quite make it, they’ll totally let me off the hook, right? No? Then why should AA’s failure cost its customer?

  • Richard Smith

    Except the airline changed the booking — and then changed it again to move it forward without telling the passenger of the change,

    The logical thing would be, once the booking is moved later, to only move the booking back with the passenger’s consent. That way, if the passenger has re-worked their plans, then the first change stays in effect.

    Otherwise, any pre-emptive weather cancellation can’t be considered a cancellation until after the flight has departed — eliminating the benefit of the pre-emptive cancellations.

  • The Original Joe S

    plane broke down. They pulled it. They fixed it faster than the thought, so it was re-instated. The didn’t “decide not to fly the plane”; it broke.

  • fs2013

    Wow, lots of anger there. I said it’s not impossible that this really was a mechanical. I also said there’s no evidence, from Chris’ article, that this was anything other than weather related.

    I live in an area that rarely has weather related travel delays. However, I’ve had inbound flights that couldn’t make it to my airport due to weather wherever the plane is coming from.

    It is very possible that another inbound aircraft became available due to weather at IT’S destination. It happens. The airline will then shift crew and assets to the original flight.

  • Lindabator

    sorry – that is just an impossibility – one you have been moved, there is NO way to know that to contact you

  • Lindabator

    no way for them to keep track of all the changes and KNOW the client did not want to do so on their own — you guys really have no concept of how reservations systems work

  • The Original Joe S

    Yeah, lots of anger with stupid lazy dirtbags and their corporate mentalities who don’t care about their customers, and try everything they can to separate you from your money. I’ve had many many “scroo you” incidents with US Flag lines; I didn’t bother to bore you with the details. Suffice to write that many of those incidents are typical of the stuff appearing here. That’s why I fly Asian airlines to go overseas; they treat you well, and the FAs aren’t as old as my grandmother nor as nasty as a pit viper.

  • lcpossum

    no, but we’re getting a good education in how airline apologists (shills?) excuse every little mistake the airlines make.

  • wilcoxon

    If American says “weather delay”, I’d give it about a 50-50 on actually being weather or mechanical. If I have any choice, I won’t fly American.

  • wilcoxon

    Agreed. The worst instance I personally experienced was Northwest claiming that Chicago-Minneapolis flights were cancelled due to weather while every other airline was still flying those exact same flights.

  • wilcoxon

    No but I do know how reservation systems COULD (and should) work. If they don’t work that way, it’s simply poorly designed or written software (most likely both because the airlines went with the cheapest bid for the software).

  • jsn55

    He really wasn’t ‘due’ any reimbursement, but it’s nice he got the $200. Travellers should realize that, in a case like this, asking for $500 probably gets your request discarded immediately. A reasonable person travelling in the winter is prepared for obstacles. I am always surprised by people completely unhinged because they didn’t arrive on the day they planned. Being held up overnight is not the end of the world; the airlines aren’t out to “get you”, usually they really do want you to be satisfied. Expecting someone else to lodge and feed you for 24 hours is not very practical. Save your ammunition for a real problem when you’ve been treated unfairly and deserve some compensation.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I don’t think Lindabator is being a shill, she is just pointing out that very complicated systems don’t always work, and that changed itineraries may cause cascading changes that can’t be easily adjusted by the airline.

    I do agree that the consumer here should have been timely notified of the reinstatement of the flight, and that since the flight was able to take-off, weather was no longer the airline’s basis to delay the OP and they should then accept responsibility for the costs associated with their failure to timely notify the OP that the flight was back on.

  • bpepy

    Many years ago I was visiting my parents in California and flying home through Chicago. When I arrived at ORD, my connecting flight was canceled due to weather. The airline knew this was going to happen before we left Calif. I had to spend the night in a hotel (unreimbursed) in Chicago. Had they said this would happen, I would have just stayed another day with my folks. Why can’t the airlines give this info to pax ahead of time? I’m sure there are a number of people who would much prefer to wait a day and not have to stay in a hotel in a strange city.

  • jae1

    It’s not difficult to understand–notifications only go to people booked on the flight. Having changed bookings, he was no longer booked on the cancelled/reinstated flight, so could not be notified. Is this a bad system? Well, yes. People don’t want to be forced to change their booking, and do want to know if their cancelled flight becomes uncancelled. Could he have asked to stay wait-listed in case the flight was reinstated? Perhaps. It would depend on the software allowing the agent to waitlist someone on a currently non-existent flight. You can’t link something (booking, notification, whatever) to an item that doesn’t exist. Once it was marked cancelled, the agent would most likely have been blocked from doing anything with the passenger list, because you can’t put passengers on cancelled flights. That’s how software works. I can just see the headaches being allowed to add passengers to cancelled flights could cause. Unless such additions are hedged with all sorts of cautions (all caps, bright red background), I wouldn’t want to design software to allow it. Should there be some design changes that would allow notification of rebooked passengers should a flight be reinstated? Sure, and maybe sometime when the airlines have a lot of spare money lying around they’ll do it, but it won’t happen soon. Major enterprise systems cost huge amounts to redo. Even adding a single data point means revising multiple screens, table design, coding, etc. I don’t think it’s shilling to point out the limitations of the system.

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