American Airlines charges sailor a fee for flight change

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By Christopher Elliott

I‘m hoping you can help my son with a situation,” Brad Lessem wrote to me a few days ago. His son had just finished Navy basic training and had enough leave time to fly home during the holidays.

As a newly-minted Seaman Apprentice, he didn’t quite understand the ways of the military, and he miscalculated the actual amount of leave time. Now American Airlines wanted to charge a hefty change fee to get him back to his Navy base — a fee he couldn’t afford.

In order to fix the ticket, Lessem’s son was asking the airline to push his flight time back by a day.

A Navy family challenges unexpected fees faced by servicemen

“He was told there was a $140 additional charge to change his ticket date, even though he changed it more than a month before travel,” said his father. “it seems a shame that American Airlines would take advantage of our servicemen in such a way, and not give him a break. As an E-2 in the Navy, he certainly isn’t earning enough money to throw away an extra $140. Is there anything you can do to help?”

Members of the armed services fall under a special category of passenger. I didn’t put them there; the airlines did. For example, American waives certain baggage fees for soldiers, as do other carriers. They also loosen some of their rules, particularly for servicemembers traveling with a change in orders.

The other thing that Lessem’s son had going for him was that it was the holidays, and that he’d just finished boot came. I know exactly what that’s like, because I remember picking Kari up from the airport after she finished Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., back in the 90s. Let’s just say I have personal reason for going out of my way to help someone who has just survived that place.

I contacted American on Lessem’s behalf. He also reached out to American Airlines through its Facebook page. (Related: My husband is in the ER. Why do I have to pay this $850 ticket change fee?)

American offered $140 voucher in resolution to change fee dispute

American offered a $140 voucher.

That’s not quite the refund he was hoping for, but it is better than nothing.

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“Would you say this is an acceptable compromise?” Lessem asks.

Good question.

American Airlines is under no obligation to waive his son’s change fees, so technically this isn’t a bad offer. Could it have done better? Sure. But from the airline’s perspective, these change fees are a huge revenue generator. Just have a look at its conditions of carriage and you’ll see that it isn’t just the change fees, but the ability to sell an optional “your choice” package that reduces the change fees you would pay, that is making AA money. (Here’s what you need to know about your flight credit.)

Whether this is the right way to earn revenues or a wrong way is a discussion for another time. But I’ll give American credit for responding to this sailor’s request. Other equally deserving passengers have received little more than form rejections, unfortunately.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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