“I’m so glad this forum exists”

When Sarah Birger’s flight to Phoenix is delayed by seven hours, American Airlines rebooks her on a flight for Albuquerque. But she’ll miss a connection if she takes that flight. Can American Airlines claim it has no further obligation to Birger after rebooking her on a flight going miles away from her original destination?

Question: Is it legal for American Airlines to rebook me to southern New Mexico even though I bought a ticket to northern New Mexico?

My flight from Seattle to Phoenix has been delayed by seven hours because of a “maintenance” issue. This means that I’ll miss the connector flight to Santa Fe, N.M. American Airlines booked me on a flight to Albuquerque, arriving 13 hours after I was scheduled to fly from Seattle. Can they really put me on the curb a long way from my destination and say they have fulfilled our contract?

I’m not going on vacation. I need to arrive in Santa Fe and check in by 6 p.m. today in order to attend and receive certification for a seminar. But the best that American can offer is “We’re sorry for the inconvenience”?

Don’t airlines have to get you to your ticketed destination or put you up in a hotel and buy you a bus ticket? — Sarah Birger, Whidbey Island, Wash.

Answer: I’m sorry that American can’t get you to your seminar on time.

American Airlines’ contract of carriage provides that in cases of delays, cancellations and diversions,

When cancellations and major delays are experienced, you will be rerouted on our next flight with available seats. If the delay or cancellation was caused by events within our control and we do not get you to your final destination on the expected arrival day, we will provide reasonable overnight accommodations, subject to availability.

So, yes, American needed to provide you with a hotel room for the night and transportation on its next available flight to your original destination.

But because you needed to arrive in Santa Fe at a specified time and American’s next available flight from Seattle to Phoenix would not arrive in time for you to make the connection to Santa Fe, you asked to be rebooked on the Albuquerque flight, about 65 miles from your original destination. Once American Airlines agreed to do this, then, yes, it fulfilled its contract with you and had no further obligations to get you to Santa Fe at its expense.

You might have escalated your complaint using our executive contacts for American Airlines. Instead, you posted in our forum about your case.

Our forum members advised you that, “When a flight is canceled or a delay results in a missed connection, they normally provide you transportation to your destination on the next flight with availability (which could be hours or days later) or a refund of your unused segments if you request it. If they offer and you accept an alternate destination, then they will consider their obligation complete.”

You might have benefited from travel insurance coverage. American Airlines offers trip insurance for U.S. residents through Allianz Global Assistance, but you didn’t purchase it. You may also be eligible for coverage under a plan offered by your credit card.

Your story has a mostly happy ending: American Airlines booked you on a United flight that will get you to Santa Fe on time and gave you $19 in vouchers for airport meals. And you’ll be sitting in first class, although the United lounge won’t be available unless you pay a $59 fee. You let us know that you are pleased with this resolution.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • cscasi

    This is a bit convoluted. First she asks if it is legal for American to book her to a southern New Mexico airport when she was flying into a northern New Mexico Airport. Then, we finds that American, at her request, changed her flight from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. And she wants to know if that is legal???
    Not sure how American finally changed her ticket to put her on United to get her to Santa Fe in first class on time, but I think it did right; even though she had previously asked it to send her to Albuquerque.
    What is she whining about?

  • Mel65

    Ugh! This sounds like classic American Airlines! We just had an issue last week with American delaying every single one of our flights– all non-weather related–both outbound and return flights. As a resultwe missed two connections lost our exit row andfirst class upgrades. We were put on a flight the next morning at 7 AM when you were supposed to be flying out at 7 PM and sent to a hotel half an hour away,that had roaches in the room, meaning I got zero sleep! And unlike the other people on our flightit was sent to the same hotel we were not given transportation vouchers, so had to find our own way there and back, and all of us were given food vouchers and told we could use them at the hotel that had no restaurant so we had to pay for own food. American has refused any type of consideration.

  • pauletteb

    American did what she requested AND gave her first class. If that’s “typical,” sign me up!

  • Mel65

    Hah. I meant the delays but FC would helo ease pain maybe. We paid for FC and didnr get it though since our reolacement flight was on a much smaller regional jet. We did get a mini Clif bar though….

  • SierraRose 49

    Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, is NOT in the southern part of the state. It is about 70 miles south of Santa Fe, a much smaller city with limited airline service. And there a number of transportation services from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, including a very inexpensive train – the New Mexico Railrunner. One-way fare: $10; $5 if you are 62+. And there is a free shuttle service from the airport to the station. Last train is 8:30PM, perhaps too late. Still there are options.

  • PsyGuy

    65 miles? rent a car and drive it will be an hour?

  • PsyGuy

    Well they may have done right in terms of their PR and image, but by endorsing her ticket to another airlines, all they were doing was buying her a FC ticket on another airline.

  • joycexyz

    I agree. And why was she flying into Phoenix in the first place? Albuquerque makes much more sense. And it sounds as if she cut it too close.

  • SierraRose 49

    You’re right Tony. There’s also inexpensive rail service from the airport in Albuquerque (free shuttle from airport to train station) to the heart of Santa Fe on the New Mexico Rai Runner Express.

  • Tony S

    I think she was only connecting in Phoenix.

  • Carrie

    I second the “I’m so glad this forum exists”. I end up saving many of these articles for reference. You just can’t get this info and valuable feedback/comments anywhere else.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.