Is this passenger entitled to a hotel reimbursement from American Airlines?

When John Thompson lands in Washington D.C., he discovers that the last connecting flight to Boston has left without him. An American Airlines representative assures him not to worry — he will be put on a flight the next morning and his hotel will be covered for the night. So why is his request for reimbursement rejected?

Question: I was traveling on American Airlines from Las Vegas to Boston with a connection at Washington National. There was a 15-minute delay in Las Vegas because the inbound plane was delayed.

During the flight the flight attendant told us we had plenty of time to make the connection from Washington to Boston. But on arrival, the plane stopped on the taxiway and the pilot informed us that there was no gate available for our plane. The flight attendant said she would work to make sure I along with two other passengers would make the Boston flight. We didn’t.

When I got off the plane, I was sent to a gate agent named Andrea who was working to help passengers who had missed connections. She put me on a flight the next day. But I also checked to see if I was eligible for a hotel voucher. She said all the vouchers were sold out. She said she had permission to give me a $125 credit toward a room. She said it would be noted in my file and I just needed to send in my hotel receipt through the American Airlines website. After I got home and began searching the aa.com site, I could find nowhere that would allow me to request the credit and send a copy of the hotel receipt in order to get the $125 credit. So I attached my hotel receipt and sent my request to an AA executive.

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I received an email back from American which said my flight was delayed due to weather so I would not receive reimbursement. Could you ask American Airlines to reimburse me for my hotel, as they promised? — John Thompson, Chelmsford, Mass.

Answer: I agree with your premise that if American Airlines promised you that your hotel would be reimbursed for the night, it should provide you with that compensation. However, there were several stumbling blocks on your road to resolution.

First, despite your assertion that this missed flight was not due to the weather, it was.

We frequently receive complaints from travelers who tell us about flights that were delayed when the sky was clear and no bad weather in sight.

But the current state of the sky above your head is not the measure of whether your flight is being delayed by the weather. Bad weather in one region can have a nationwide ripple effect.

And unfortunately for air travelers in the United States, airlines are not required to compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations that are the result of the weather and/or Air Traffic Control orders.

Your flight was delayed because of the late arrival of the aircraft on an incoming flight. That flight’s delay was the result of bad weather. Which means that your flight was delayed because of that same weather. And that delay caused you to miss your connection.

The rejection of your request for hotel reimbursement was based on that fact.

Taking a look at American Airlines’ contract of carriage, you can see that Americans’ policy, which is in line with those of all other airlines operating in the United States, makes it clear that:

American may, in the event of a force majeure event, without notice, cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight or the right of carriage or reservation of traffic accommodations without liability except to issue an involuntary refund. The involuntary refund will be made in the original form of payment in accordance with involuntary refund rules for any unused portion of the ticket. American will also reserve the right to determine if any departure or landing should be made without any liability except the aforementioned involuntary refund.

A force majeure event is something that is considered beyond the airline’s control — such as the weather.

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But your story took a different turn when you met up with Andrea, a sympathetic American Airlines representative. She told you that you could receive reimbursement for up to $125 for your hotel stay that night.

The problem was that she failed to document her atypical offer in your record.

In the future if an airline representative offers you some extra amenity, make sure to get it in writing.

I reached out to the airline on your behalf and submitted your hotel receipts. Our executive contact looked at your record and noted that your delays were the result of Air Traffic Control orders.

But because Andrea had extended this offer, he agreed to issue you the $125.

You are pleased with this outcome, and so are we.

Almost daily we receive requests for help from travelers who want to be reimbursed for their extra expenses, missed events, disrupted plans and distress because of airline delays and cancellations.

In these situations, the airlines all have their contract of carriage on their side. Their responsibility is to refund or reroute, not reimburse. So if you are offered something extra for your troubles — get it in writing. Because if you don’t, you may be out of luck.


Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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