“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.

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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.

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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. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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