Can this trip be saved? We want $1,000 for a bogus weather delay

I‘ve been weighing this case for several months, and still can’t decide what to do. Maybe you can help.

It comes to me by way of Jonathan Cook, who was a passenger on US Airways flight 1018 from Philadelphia and St. Thomas on Dec. 30, 2009. He represents a group of 80 passengers who were delayed almost a full day under mysterious circumstances. They want to be compensated by the airline, which insists it owes them nothing because it claims the entire delay was weather-related.

This case first was brought to my attention late last year and Cook has written to me several times since then. Let’s run through the highlights.

The nonstop flight took off around 10 a.m., as scheduled. But it was placed in a holding pattern around St. Thomas for about an hour and then diverted to San Juan. The reason? US Airways claims the plane made an unplanned landing because of rough weather.

The passengers deplaned, waited in the terminal several hours, and then reboarded the flight at around 6 p.m.

We sat on the plane until 8:30 p.m. without food or water, and with limited information from the flight crew. We were told by the pilot that while the weather had improved in St. Thomas, we were in a gatelock due to an outgoing traffic jam. Eventually, the pilot told us that weather had worsened again.

In the meantime, some passengers had received phone calls and text messages that other airlines were landing planes in St. Thomas, so they began to doubt US Airways’ claims. Finally, the passengers were told their crew had timed out, which means they couldn’t continue to work under union rules. They were taken off the plane at 8:45 p.m.

We were told to return to the airport at 7 a.m. for a 9 a.m. flight. In the meantime, no taxi or hotel vouchers were provided, nor was assistance or information offered in terms of locating hotels. By 11:30 p.m., bags were reclaimed from the baggage claim and passengers were left on their own, or forced to help one another. The attitude from US Airways was clearly, ‘This is your problem, not ours’.

But the crew didn’t show up until later that morning, leaving the passengers waiting an additional two hours.

A minor mechanical problem caused yet another delay, forcing the passengers to wait until noon to depart.

Cook asked US Airways for $1,000 per passenger in compensation to cover expenses and lost vacation time, but US Airways repeatedly turned them down. Here’s its last email.

We regret you continue to be dissatisfied with our attempts to resolve your concerns. Although we cannot offer compensation or assume responsibility for flight irregularities that occur beyond our control, such as weather, we sincerely apologize for the interruption in your travel plans.

Moreover, we are remorseful for the manner in which your situation was handled.

Mr. Cook, your concerns have been thoroughly documented and reviewed by the appropriate management teams in San Juan. Additionally, our Senior Management Team at Corporate is aware of your experience. Your file is now considered closed and no further correspondence will be forthcoming regarding this matter.

We look forward to serving you on a future US Airways flight.

I think they might have skipped that last sentence. It’s pretty clear Cook and the others will be avoiding US Airways, if possible.

I have mixed feelings about this case. While the initial delay may have been caused by weather, it seems to have been exacerbated by a timed-out crew, which caused an unexpected layover, and additional mechanical problems. Saddling passengers with the cost of accommodations, in that case, would be wrong.

Yet asking for $1,000 per passenger might be too much. I think it’s reasonable to request the airline cover the cost of meals, transportation costs to their hotel and lodging expenses for the overnight delay, which appears to have been caused by a crew scheduling issue, not a weather problem.

Another wrinkle in this case is the paper trail and the amount of time that’s elapsed. This flight took place more than a year ago. Older cases are far more difficult to resolve, in my experience.

Given the age of this problem, and the strong likelihood that the airline will say “no” again (based on its final response to Cook) I’m not sure if I should take this case.

Even though a majority of the poll participants want me to send this case to US Airways, I don’t think it will reopen this case.

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