Canceled, confused, contaminated — and then ripped off

Kristen Hoyle just had one of those flights that give the airline industry an awful reputation.

She wants something for the trouble. But what does she deserve?

The trouble started on her return flight from Madrid to Boston, according to her mother.

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She explains,

She was dropped off at the Madrid airport with plenty of time for her mid-morning international flight. Once checked in and through security she was told that there would be “an hour delay due to mechanical issues.”

Throughout the day her flight continued to be delayed by an hour at a time, until evening when it was finally canceled.

That’s called a “creeping” delay, and although there are operational reasons for it, passengers often feel strung along — and rightfully so.

Hoyle continues,

She and her fellow passengers received very little infromation from American Airlines at the airport. I was actually getting more information here in the US from Orbitz, with whom we booked the trip.

She was offered a meat sandwich and a drink by the staff when the flight was delayed through lunch.

When she told them that she was a vegetarian, they said that “that wasn’t their problem,” so she had no lunch.

Finally, some time after the flight was cancled, there was a general announcement made regarding transfer to a hotel for the night, transportation back to the airport and flight information for the next day.

Things got a little confusing as American tried to rebook all of its passengers, and if it weren’t for the work of her mother and Orbitz back home, she would have missed her return flight.

“As it was, my eighteen-year-old daughter had to spend the night alone in a hotel in a foreign country, and arrange her own transportation back to the airport the next day,” he says.

And then, things took a turn for the worse.

For her evening meal she was given an egg and tomato sandwich to take with her to the hotel. Once she returned home she developed a high fever and severe diarrhea, a bacterial GI infection most likely traced back to the sandwich.

She was sick for two weeks and needed to see the doctor, provide lab samples, eventually go on antibiotics, and have an interview with the Health Department.

After Hoyle’s daughter recovered, her mother complained to American about the delay, cancellation, rebooking confusion and likely food poisoning. They received an apology and a $200 voucher.

“It seems like a small gesture,” she told me. “At this point I am not sure that she, or we, will be flying American Airlines again.”

What’s more, her daughter wasn’t offered any compensation required under EU 261/2004, the European passenger protection law.

I suggested she appeal her case to an executive contact at American, suggesting that her daughter’s compensation might not have been in line with the airline’s legal requirement.

American’s response? Well, here you go:

I am sorry to hear about the difficulty that you encountered. I am also sorry that you were not satisfied with the complimentary voucher that we provided.

However, the voucher was intended to convey goodwill and to make amends in some way for the inadequate service you reported. It represents an amount we believe to be fair and reasonable.

Therefore, we must respectfully decline any reuqests for addtioanl or further comepsantion, reimbursement or any additional goodwill gesture in thie matter. We do regret that we must disappoint you in this regard.

(Wow, who is editing these emails?)

If this delay had happened in the United States, I think American’s compensation would be more or less acceptable.

But in Europe? Is it just me, or did American just sidestep European laws and shortchange a passenger?

Update (7 p.m.): Here’s today’s final word.

I’m contacting American about this case. I also have a final thought about EU 261.

100 thoughts on “Canceled, confused, contaminated — and then ripped off

  1. Chris,

    It would be helpful in answering your poll to know the content of the relevant law (EU 261/2004, which you helpfully cite) that is relevant to this situation. 

    Without finding the actual text of the legislation, the Wikipedia article will have to suffice:

    If a flight is cancelled…you can get rebooked immediately, get rebooked later at a time of your convenience, or receive a refund. …The airline is also required to pay Cash compensation as follows:
    -€250 for a flight of less than 1500 km in distance 
    -€400 for a flight within the EU of greater than 1500 km in distance, or any other flight of greater than 1500 km but less than 3500 km in distance 
    -€600 for a flight not within EU of greater than 3500 km in distance

    Where rerouting is offered and results in the passenger arriving within two/three/four hours of the scheduled arrival time, the compensation payable is halved.

    Airlines are obliged to display a notice at their check-in counters stating:
    “If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance.”

    Additionally, when an airline cancels a flight, denies a person boarding, or incurs a delay exceeding two hours to a flight, it is obliged to provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out their rights under the regulation, and the contact details of the national body tasked with enforcing the regulation.

    /quoted & paraphrased bits

    The distance between Madrid & Boston is roughly 5,400 km.
    The complainant arrived more than 4 hours late to her destination.
    It appears that AA owes Ms. Hoyle €600 for her troubles as a matter of EU law.

    Further, it appears that AA did not meet its obligation of providing each passenger with written notice of their rights or the contact details of the national body tasked with enforcing the regulation. Perhaps the failure to meet this obligation is worthy of further fines to AA (payable to Ms. Hoyle)? I dunno–I am not a lawyer.

    As for additional compensation for the probable food poisoning, I cannot imagine that Ms. Hoyle will ever receive a dime, and taking such a case through court would likely cost more than she would receive from a successful lawsuit.

    This seems like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you advocate for this person? Or at least set them up with the contact information for the proper regulator to light a fire under AA’s reluctant butt…

      1. Since the law that would be used in a legal case would be EU, I don’t know if you could file in small claims.  They may not have jurisdiction over it.

          1. I have a “lawyer” question, Carver. Since AA/IB/BA is actually operating now as a Joint Venture (for Transatlantic flights) would that be easier to sue either AA or IB in the USA for let’s say an IB infraction that happened in a MAD-BOS flight? Have they become jointly and severally liable because of the Joint Venture?

            If so, the OP’s daughter could just sue the JV in Boston.

          2. Sorry for not answering earlier.  Been traveling. :).  The short answer is it depends.  If the IB infraction is related to its participation in the joint venture then probably.  We’d need to know the specifics.

        1. No problem – the law is agreed upon by treaty, which trumps the Constitution – sue AA in her local court for 600 Euros.  End of story. 

          1. Don’t you have to file a small claims in the county where AA is headquartered so unless she lives near DFW, is this worth it?

          2. You file and serve AA where you live or at least where the flight was supposed to arrive – AA exists in Massachusetts and has an agent for service of process there.  Let them raise the defense of incorrect jurisdicion – then – for $30 – they tell you where to sue them for free. . .

          3. You can serve a defendant where the defendant “lives”.  For a corporation, that can be any place where the company does substantial business or avails itself of the state’s markets

          4.  Look what I dug up …

            Choice-of-Forum Provisions  Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections

            The Department proposed to codify the policy of the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office that choice-of-forum provisions are unfair and deceptive for air transportation sold in the U.S. when used to limit a passenger’s legal forum to a particular inconvenient venue.  The proposed rule would specifically permit consumers to file suit where they live provided that the carrier does business within that jurisdiction. 

            DOT Final Rule April 2011 Effective August 23, 2011
            The Department has decided to adopt the rule as proposed, i.e., to prohibit a U.S. carrier from including language in its contract of carriage precluding a passenger from bringing a consumer-related claim involving a domestic flight against the carrier in any court of competent jurisdiction.  The Department feels that if a carrier reaches out to do business in a particular jurisdiction, i.e., reaches out to solicit business within that jurisdiction, and sells tickets in a jurisdiction, then it is fair and reasonable to expect that the carrier can defend itself against litigation brought by a consumer who resides in that jurisdiction. The cost of this proposal is minimal, as most U.S. carriers already face litigation throughout the United States.  As a point of clarification, the forum for consumer claims related to travel on international flights to or from the United States is governed by the Montreal Convention or Warsaw Convention,  depending on the type of flight and its origination/destination.  Additionally this change does not apply to charter flights.  The choice of forum for charter flights can be addressed in the individual contracts between the charter operator and the participant.

    1. The compensation amounts – €250/€400/€600 – are for bumps and cancellations. However, it’s not necessarily a cancellation – technically – just because the airline have rebooked passengers onto other flights after a long delay. If there is a departure, eventually, in accordance with the original planning – even with a whole new load of passengers – then it’s a delay. (This interpretation is as per the outcome of a number of court cases).

      There are too many if’s and but’s to this, and we don’t know half the facts, but per my understanding the Hoyle case would likely be treated as a delay. Even so, because of the length of it, she can still file a claim for compensation as-if-it-were-a-cancellation. However her position is weakened because she was offered food/water/bed and accepted AA’s offer to be rebooked. That, in turn, also means the €600 would be reduced to an amount probably comparable to the $200 she got from AA.

      …Unless, of course, the mother’s intervention and dealings with Orbitz actually means Hoyle technically got her ticket annulled, which she is entitled to after a +5hr delay. In that case she’s also entitled to a full refund, but because she was dealing with AA via Orbitz, that money may have gone to Orbitz which then used it to pay for the new flight?

      Did AA inform her about her rights? We don’t know; they have to “provide” it – not forcibly put the papers in her hand and make her read them. And since this is Europe, there is also an expectation that people inform themselves about their rights on some basic level – as in, knowing that those rights exist and where to find them, should you need them.

      All in all, I don’t think she’ll walk away with much more than $200 if she tries to fight this case in Europe. Elliott may be able to get AA to pony up another $100, but that would just be hush money and not something the next passenger in this situation would automatically get.

      1. I take your word for it, but let me make sure I’m clear in understanding it.

        Flight XYZ123 is scheduled to leave on 6 March at 0800. It is delayed multiple times, and does not leave at all on 6 March. The various passengers are booked onto other flights, like XYZ456 and XYZ789 that leave 7 March at 0730 and 0840, respectively.

        Even though flight XYZ123 never departs and the passengers are booked on OTHER flights, flight XYZ123 is *not* considered to be canceled?

        To me, under a plain reading of the situation, this person was rebooked after her flight was canceled, and is due the 
        €600. If the legal definition here is different, then, just…wow. No wonder people hate the travel industry. 

        Also, if that’s the case, why would airlines EVER cancel a flight rather than delay it and rebook the following day/flight?

        1. In this case CANCELLATION with a long delay and due to distance makes the airline liable for 600 Euros UNLESS they can prove extraordinary reasons. This case is not even borderline. Pay up AA.

          Edited/Added: Philippa might be correct in assuming the OP’s daughter was on a Iberia flight. In that case Iberia should pay up.

        2. Let’s say XYZ123 is MAD-BOS, and the aircraft is IB-JKL on Mar 6. If the aircraft IB-JKL eventually departs MAD as XYZ123 and flies to BOS – say on Mar 7 at 1600 – then the aircraft was “just” delayed. If instead IB-JKL leaves MAD as XYZ888 on Mar 7 at 1600 and flies to somewhere that is not BOS, the then Mar 6 flight was cancelled.

          Basically, it’s always a cancellation if the airline decides to use the aircraft for another flight/route, but not (necessarily) if they put it back in circulation on the original route within a reasonable time.

          …as I understand it. And no, I don’t know what is reasonable; the cases I read about were 24-48 hour delays.

          That said, passengers can still claim compensation for long delays. Various courts have ruled that a lengthy delay should be considered a de facto cancellation – just not worth the full €600 compensation if the airline has offered food and accommodation and rerouted the passenger.

          I don’t know what happened with Hoyle’s flight at MAD or whether it was a delay or a cancellation. I just wanted to point out that a cancellation per EC261/2004 is not always what it seems.

  2. Toss out the “18 year old daughter” because, that’s irrelevant. Whether this happens to an 18 year old, 85 year old or 40 year old, doesn’t make a difference.  The food.. Let’s be honest.. First off, it probably wasn’t prepared by the airline, and proving that it was contaminated is impossible.. It’s just as likely that she rubbed her eyes after grabbing a handrail that was just touched by someone who sneezed in their hand.. She didn’t have lunch? Was she traveling with no money? I mean, I get that they gave everyone else lunch, so, if the complaint is that they didn’t buy her lunch when they did everyone else..  Likewise, the complaint she had to spend the
    night in a hotel room alone in a foreign country.. Would she have
    preferred to be doubled up with a stranger? Those are the items to make the problem sound as bad as possible. All pretty much irrelevant to me.

    That creeping delay is what gets me.. Make the call.. Cancel the flight or run it. Because if the airlines figure out that they can get away with that, you will have flights continually delayed by 1 hour increments over and over until the next day so that they don’t have to put someone in a hotel. That’s where I have a concern, and if *I* was the passenger, where i’d be the most ticked off.

    I voted no, but.. That’s because of the wording of the question. Did they do enough? Now, take out the EU laws here, because.. If she’s entitled to something there.. She should get it. I don’t know if that’s the case. Did the airline do enough? I still say no, because, it seems much more should have been done at the airport. One confusing part is that it’s said they made a general announcement about rebooking and hotel accommodations and transportation, but then she had to make her own plans to get back to the airport? What happened there? Something seems left out. Did every airline rep disappear or something?

    No way that creeping delay should be allowed to happen. And.. I give some weight to the meal issue as well. I mean, if they’re going to provide a meal, they have to understand that there are all kinds of dietary issues.. They can’t have kosher meals, vegetarian meals, no-pork meals and so on at their fingertips, and if they do, i’d imagine there’d be lots more ‘food poisoning’ going around.. So, a voucher for that meal at an airport restaurant wouldn’t be unreasonable. The more that the airline could have done is at the original airport.. The flight should have been PROMPTLY cancelled, and passengers should have had a specific point, or points of contact to help them. And, yes, I agree they should have provided a meal for her if they did for everyone else. Whether it was a ‘box lunch’ that fit her dietary needs, or vouchers to buy her own at the airport.

    1. I agree with most of your points – particularly about the “poor little girl” crap. But I don’t think immediate cancellation is realistic; not in this case. There is only one direct MAD-BOS flight per day – operated by Iberia, BTW – and I assume this is the flight Hoyle was on. The direct flight is 8 hours while one-stop connections with AA/Iberia are an average 6-10 hours longer. That gives them several hours to fix the plane before rebookings become the better alternative for the passengers. 

      1. They could have put them on the AA MAD-JFK [or any number of other Iberia flights to other US destinations and connected them] flight to the extent there was room. . . .and then put them on an Eagle flight or a bus to BOS – they would have had 6 hours to figure it out at JFK but then everyone knows the airlines only deal with the problem when people are standing in front of them . . . . so of course why would we expect someone to actually think.  

        The sad part of that if it was an Iberia flight, its not like Iberia does not have other aircraft they could substitute and run a rolling 3 hour delay on several flights until the aircraft comes back into service . . . 

    2. I agree, the whole “18yo alone in a hotel room alone” line is complete BS, 18 is what we call a legal adult in the US, this is hardly a helpless individual. Hell, she was obviously in Europe by herself, and was going to fly by herself, I think she can spend one night alone. People are so dramatic. 

      1. Actually the airlines will give each passenger an individual room. So there is no reason to complain why the 18 year old is all alone. I’m sure the mother would not like it if her daughter was put in a room with another person (perhaps with a 40 year old male).

    1. State health departments offer reciprocity when investigating a food-borne illness outbreak.  Since she was interviewed by the health department, this had to be a reportable illness, which in many cases are food-borne.  Since the food in question was consumed in Spain, it’s unlikely they will ever know for sure.

      However, if there was an outbreak among passengers, even if they are in different states, they can link it food consumed elsewhere.  They can even test the strains from different people who got sick and see if they are the same ones.

      Can they prove definitively…probably not.  Can a health department make a really strong case for it?  Absolutely.

  3. If she’s 18 years old, she’s an adult and Mommy shouldn’t be writing letters for her. Also, if she’s flying back from Madrid, one would assume she flew TO Madrid unaccompanied.

    The mech delay IS AA’s fault. Perhaps a more savvy traveler would’ve found a gate agent and asked to be cross-booked on another flight to the US. I’ve done that–albeit on CO/UA where I have status and it has gotten me home faster than the waiting on the airline.

    She’s lucky they put her in a hotel. Would the Mommy have preferred her Special Snowflake to spend the night on the floor of the airport? 

    That said, if you are traveling abroad, you need to know to prepare yourself and take care of yourself–especially if you have dietary requirements. As I’ve said before, I have a food allergy. I generally don’t trust things that are just handed to me, so I make sure I have a cash, credit cards, and a few snacks in my computer bag. How hard would it have been for Mommy’s Little Girl to pack a few soy protein bars? Having Mommy whine about your eating habits in a letter to an airline is pathetic!

    Course, that does beg the question…why no food voucher? I kind of thought that was standard procedure for situations like this, but then, nothing is SOP for airlines anymore…

    1. I agree with everything you said!
      I too though the meal vouchers were SOP, but one time I experienced a delay in Iceland where Icelandair gave us sandwiches.  So perhaps this is the custom in some places?  I thought it was quite odd, they were what looked like homemade sandwiches on plain white bread wrapped in saran wrap.  They only had one type of sandwich, lamb and beans.  I think the beans were actually green peas.  I thought the sandwich wasn’t so bad, but my co-workers refused and got their own food.  I guess it’s good to know that sandwich offerings are not as uncommon as I though.  Though in the grand scheme of things, a meal voucher would have been better.

      1. Amen on that.
        It seems Mommy is more concerned that her Preeeecioussss was offered icky meat-eater food, so I addressed that.

    2. Mental note to avoid the wrath of Raven…

      I believe she has a valid complaint on the delay and based on Tony’s knowledge and insight into EU rules may be entitled to due compensation.

      But, if my young adult daughter ever needs my assistance in dealing with a complaint like this, I will be happy to ASSIST her in writing the letter, perhaps offering some wisdom and insight. (Much of which has been learned on this board.) I will INSIST she sign it herself!

      I believe that would be a much more valuable lesson than having a parent do the work.

      1. I’m a nice guy, really.

        I just spent waaay too many years being abused by customers and seeing people game systems.

    3. The airlines are allowed to do this – only offer one choice of meal, be it sandwiches or sauerkraut – per EU261/2004. They don’t have to cater to self-imposed dietary restrictions nor to medical/allergy issues. And different airlines have different deals with the restaurants/caterers at the airports… basically, there is no SOP.  

    4. Just to preface I do realize there are different types of vegetarians so no need to provide any education.  That said…  She clearly is not a strict vegetarian if she was willing to eat an egg and tomato sandwich.  ALL of my friends that are vegetarian always travel with their own food just in case something like this should happen.   

    5. “Special Snowflake”-LOVE that one!!!  Have to admit to enjoying the comments as much or more than the articles , especially Raven’s!

  4. Okay – here we go ‘my eighteen-year-old daughter had to spend the night alone in a hotel in a foreign country’……cloying plea for sympathy. Will she be accompanying her 18 year old daughter when she goes to college?

  5. I am not a fan of the creeping delays.  I can imagine they had their reasons.  Perhaps they thought they could fix the part, then they had to test it and it didn’t work.  So they delayed it again thinking they had a new part.  They didn’t, so they delayed it further when they went to get one, etc.  When these happen, I already start pro-actively looking for new routing and try to find other availability, and if I do, I ask the airline to re accommodate me.  I don’t know what other options were available in the OP’s case.  Sometimes on certain routing, there is nothing you can do but wait.
    My question is what was the reason for the delay and cancellation?  It’s been pointed out many times in Chris’s column that there are several exceptions to the EU law.  Also, I though the law only compensated for IDB, does this hold true for cancellations and delays too?  If the law says they need to pay her for this, than I feel they should.  But there are so many delays and cancelations due to the nature of air travel, if airlines had to pay 600 euros to every customer for every calculation or long delay, it would easily bankrupt the airlines.  Wait a minute…
    That aside, I don’t get why they are making a federal case (Talking to the health department) about getting sick while travailing abroad.  And how is it easily traceable back to the sandwich? It’s not.  Anything she ate, touched, breathed, for quite a period of time could have led to her illness.  It is not easily traceable to the sandwich.  Sadly, the comments about the sandwich making her sick, the lack of vegetarian meals, and the fact that she was 18 and had to spend the night alone in a foreign country makes them seem like complainers who are simply looking for a pay day.  Was she not in a foreign country the night before? It sounds like her parents weren’t with her then either.  I think it’s nice that the airline offered her a sandwich.  But rather than starve yourself and whine about them not having vegetarian options go buy some food.  I’m sorry, it’s not that hard.  Mitigate your own damages, don’t wine and expect money for it.  It sounds like the airline paid for the hotel and provided meals. That is a huge plus! 
    If the airline owes money under the UE law, then they should pay.  If they don’t, then the OP is out of luck.  I do feel the $200 voucher is a little insulting, even if they don’t owe her under the law, it would be nice to see them be a little more accommodating over what sounds like a 24 hour delay.  So I don’t feel she received enough.  We don’t know exactly what the mom did back home with Orbitz, so that really could have messed with things and hurt her chances at compensation. I also feel like when the airline got a letter accusing them of making an 18 year old spend the night alone abroad, starved her, and gave her an infectious disease, that they wrote it off as complainers, and no longer saw any legitimacy in the dispute.

    1. The physician and the lab in the US probably took it to the health department.  Because she was traveling outside the US and the symptoms of food poisening resemble several other far more dangerous to public heath diseases, they are mandated to report the illness.  Not fun at all, but what if she actually had cholera or dysentary and spread it in the US?  I sure it was not a fun interview, I have been there myself, and I did not instigate it.

  6. The only reason I voted NO is because it looks like AA failed to meet the requirements of EU law (of course it would also be interesting to find out if she waived those rights when accepting the voucher). Otherwise, I agree with most of the previous posters. We’re taking about an 18 yo ADULT here not a 5 yo child. If she didn’t like the food, she could have bought something that she liked.

  7. I agree with @TheRedSeven:disqus (Josh S). This is a slam dunk case of EC261/2004, Articles 5 (Cancellation), 7(Right to compensation), 9 (Right to care) and 14 (Obligation to inform passengers of their rights).

    To do:
    (1) SPECIFICALLY ASK FOR the 600 Euro compensation from AA citing EC261.
    Read this article on how to format your letter (edit it to fit your case):

    (2) Log a complaint here:

    (3) If AA doesn’t give you 600EUR compensation in CASH (deposited/wired in USD to your bank account), complain to Spain’s Enforcement body where the incident happened.

    Download and fill up this complaint form and send to the address below:

    Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aérea
    Sección de Atención al Usuario
    Paseo de la Castellana 67
    despacho A 259
    28071 Madrid

    Tel. : + 34 91 597 83 21
    + 34 91 597 72 31
    + 34 91 597 50 75

    FYI, Open the links in Google Chrome and translate it to English

    (4) Consider suing in small claims court as Carver suggests.

    Good luck, this is AA, an airline in bankruptcy. Maybe Elliott’s charms can get you something better. I know he has done it before (thanks Chris).

    IMPORTANT ADDED: Please read Philippa’s post. The flight may have been an Iberian operated flight. So the complaint should go to Iberia.

    1. I commented below that I don’t think it’s necessarily a slam-dunk case of cancellation per EC261/2004, but since we don’t have all the facts we can only speculate. (That’s fun too).

      However, I’m very interested in your take on what actually happened when the mother was dealing with Orbitz – did Orbitz effectively annul Hoyle’s AA ticket and then buy her a new one? Or did AA-in-MAD do the rescheduling?  

      1. The Rule for Cancellation is pretty straightforward:

        What are my rights if my flight is cancelled?

        Article 5 of the Regulation sets out the assistance available to passengers where a flight is cancelled. Where a flight is cancelled, passengers are
        entitled to reimbursement of the full cost of their tickets for the parts of the journey not made and for the parts already made if the flight is no longer
        serving any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan together with, where relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure at the earliest opportunity or re-routing to their final destination at the earliest opportunity or re-routing at the convenience of the passenger to the final destination subject to availability of seats.

        In addition, passengers are entitled to meals and refreshments reasonable to the waiting time and two telephone calls or faxes or emails. If the re-routing
        is the day after the planned flight, passengers are also entitled to hotel accommodation where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary or where a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary. Transport should be provided between the hotel and the airport. 

        By contrast with rights on a delay, passengers on a cancellation are also entitled to monetary compensation. The amounts vary according to the distance of the flights. Passengers should receive 250 euros where the cancelled flight is for 1,500km or less; 400 euros where the cancelled intra community flight is for more than 1,500 km or is a non intra-Community flight for 1,500 to 3,500km and 600 euros for all other flights. 

        These amounts may be reduced by 50% where passengers are offered re-routing and the arrival time is no more than four hours than the scheduled arrival time of the flight originally booked.

        IMO Orbitz had nothing to do with the reaccommodation unless she bought a new ticket for her daughter. AA with the help of Iberia/BA group probably handled all the things in the ground in Madrid. People tend to overestimate the relevance of a travel agency when your flight gets cancelled or delayed. Unless you are willing to buy a new ticket (very expensive if traveling the same day) and wait for a refund of the old ticket later, then you are at the mercy of the airline’s desk agent. I would be nice to the desk/gate agent and complain later when I am home already. Meantime, just be a sheep and follow. Whining ain’t gonna work, it will just piss off the airline staff (since they are working so hard to reaccommodate a whole flight of about 230 people).

        1. You’re probably right that Iberia/AA took care of everything. The article vaguely implies that Hoyle only made it home because of her mother and Orbitz, but that’s probably just a bit of spin.

          1. BTW you are correct MAD-BOS is IB flight. OP should have posted what the original cancelled flight was since it could have been an AA MAD – JFK/ORD/MIA/DFW/LHR – BOS flight. We need to know which airline screwed up.

      1. In Europe it is the OPERATING carrier who is responsible.

        Added – if Philippa is correct (I just read her post on top) then Iberia is the one responsible since it is their flight. Maybe that is the reason why AA is doing nothing. Philippa thanks for looking up the operating carrier.

        1. Oh, then they’re barking up the wrong tree anyway. AA won’t give them anything more than the $200 voucher (which is more than they need to do). Iberia is the operating carrier, and the OP needs to go after them for her 600 Euros. 

          (I really need a keyboard shortcut for the Euro symbol…)

          1. That is where I am getting confused. I also thought Iberia operated MAD-BOS.

            Ethics question. Should one return the $200 voucher and then go after the carrier that truly owes her? 😉

          2. Now, I can just imagine that IB will now respond that since she agreed to accept the 200usd voucher, they will deduct that from the 600 euro.

          3. Mike they are having their siesta so they won’t notice the $200 voucher. Besides the daughter already learned her lesson and will fly another (lousy) airline next time.

  8. Chris,  I’d like to suggest that you edit the letters a bit more – the comments, in my opinion, are getting vicious.  It does not matter if the passenger was 18 or 85, being a vegetarian is one’s own problem, a “snowflake” should be grateful for a staying alone in a hotel room, but I don’t think they deserve the rancor.  Perhaps just the barest of facts should be included so what seem to me to be personnal attacks could be reduced and just the travel question discussed.  I think there was an injustice in the amount of the compensation and that AA sidestepped the EU rules, but there is too much else being commnted on.  It might also be interesting for a future column if you were to interview a health dept about what they need to do when one returns home from abroad sick – regardless of whether it was from a sandwich or someone’s sneeze or handrail. 

    1. I like to see the letters in the raw because it shows just how people try and milk their situations rather than relying on facts.

      Had this letter not included the “my stranded 18 year old…” ploy, I might have had a bit more sympathy.

      BUT…since the mother CHOSE to include that in the letter, it should be fair game.

      1. Raven, I have 3 sons.
        My oldest  is a college student. My 2nd is a huge guy (eats too much and loves guns) and most possibly a Marine recruit if he does not go to college next fall. My 3rd son is too young but is already taller than me.

        We travel at least twice a year overseas because we do have family members scattered in different places. If and when my kids travel alone and something like this happens to them, I will definitely get a HEY DAD call. I wish they don’t need bail money.

        18 year olds today are not as independent as they used to be unless they join the Army.

        1. LOL, very true. I just think the letter would’ve carried more weight if the PAX had written it herself.

          I know I’ll end up being a protective daddy, but having read so many of these type of complaints over the years, I just feel that when you’re advocating for someone capable of doing it themselves it waters it down and sounds whiny. Definitely give advice, help write the letter, but make the PAX sign it herself.

          Also…found out it’s a girl and a friend gave me a tshirt that says, “Guns don’t kill people. Daddies with pretty daughters do.”

    2. Agree completely, Chris and lost_in_travel!  So often the comments turn into personal attacks on the individuals who complain to Chris or on the persons who submit comments.  Or the comments, themselves, are nothing more than a forum for some people to express their personal views on various irrelevant topics such as, in this case, child rearing ( “If she’s 18 years old, she’s an adult and Mommy shouldn’t be writing letters for her.”  “I believe that [assisting her daughter in writing a letter]would be a much more valuable lesson than having a parent do the work.”  “……cloying plea for sympathy. Will she be accompanying her 18 year old daughter when she goes to college?”)  And the comments on this topic are nowhere near as uncivil as on many other of Chris’s blogs. Granted, they haven’t sunk to the level of UTube commentary–yet.

      Wish the personal attacks and irrelevant comments would be screened and edited out but I know that won’t happen.

      1. My point was a valid one. The mother wasn’t the PAX. The daughter was, and clearly capable of traveling alone in a foreign country. She should’ve written the letter. Mom could’ve assisted, but the daughter’s signature should’ve appeared on it.

      2. If it was relevant for the OP to write about, then it’s just as relevant for Raven to comment. If you don’t like Raven’s comments then don’t read them.

    3. “It might also be interesting for a future column if you were
      to interview a health dept about what they need to do when one returns
      home from abroad sick – regardless of whether it was from a sandwich or
      someone’s sneeze or handrail. ”

      I can answer that question, at least what happens in NC. In the vast majority of cases, the Health Department doesn’t take any action, because the vast majority of cases are nothing more than common ailments.

      When a traveler gets sick from returning from travel abroad, they do what every other sick person does, they go see a health care provider. If and only if they have a reportable illness (as dictated by State Law) does the Health Department get involved. Examples of reportable illnesses include (Cholera, Salmonella, Malaria, etc)

      The health department interview is nothing more than questions to determine how the patient might have been infected. It is not an interrogation session, nor an intensive investigation. All the health department wants to know is: Is this outbreak a threat to public health?

      In the above situation, if the health department was involved, the case would have been quickly closed because (as the facts were presented), the patient got exposed in a foreign country, the exposure was limited (no other family members got sick), and the patient was properly treated (ie received antibiotics and got better) The key fact in this case is that it was an ISOLATED case, and not a widespread outbreak.

      The Hollywood fantasy that investigators in Hazmat suits will descend on this poor woman and quarantine her for weeks is simply not true.

      If and only if a serious threat (ie SARS, multi-resistant TB, outbreak in a community setting where 40% of an entire plane or cruise ship passenger gets sick) does an exhaustive investigation take place.

  9. To answer your question, Chris, yes, American sidestepped European law…  (Not that I’m a lawyer, just that they sure didn’t give two flips about their passengers)

    I choose Delta whenever I go overseas.  I know others don’t like them but I really do.  I lodged a complaint with them a couple years ago and they handled it promptly and completely.

    1. I was in the same situation with Delta in Munich last year.   They kept us waiting at the airport for over 5 hours and only admitted the flight was cancelled when a passenger showed them the cancellation notice online!   They did arrange a hotel and food.   However the staff at the desk next day put a $100.00 voucher (looked like a postcard) with our new boarding passes.   When I tried to use it several months later I was told there was no such voucher ever issued.    Took me 2 days and multiple talks/emails  with Corporate  Customer Service before they finally agreed to let me use the voucher.  Their excuse was the German airport staff issued them without consent!

  10. If you have good travel insurance package (which I bought “tout-risque” on every trip), it can save you a lot of time. It happens to me several times and I just ask the Airlines issued a note that the flight was delay/cancellation and I arrange myself Hotel, Meals and land Transportation. When I said to the airlines agent that I had insurance covered all my expenses and I need only the rerouting and the note of delay/cancellation, I get rebook first.
    I claimed the expenses with the travel Insures and it took less than a month to get all the refund. The note of delay/cancellation from the Airlines expedite the refund process.
    That’s why we always need good travel insurance. This case is about the return, just imagine it happens on the starting of the trip or during the trip…

    1. Wow Excellent Advice! Most decent travel insurance companies have 24 x 7 call centers that accept collect calls. They can rebook you even if your own travel agent can’t (without charging you again first).

      ADDED – especially for an 18 year old traveling ALONE. Insurance would have been so cheap!

  11. The return trip stunk for this girl and the airline should have done more. That said, I don’t like the implication in the letter that an 18-year-old is like a piece of delicate crystal that needs to receive special coddling to avoid shattering. Yes, it was unfortunate they didn’t have a vegetarian option…but didn’t she have any money to buy herself lunch?  And spending the the night alone in a hotel isn’t exactly the end of the world.  Far and away the worst part was her getting sick and it’s unlikely the airline prepared the food that made her ill…it’s not even clear that was the cause, given she didn’t get sick until returning home.

  12. Did the client take out travel insurance? Access America offers cheap insurance that would cover trip interuption and “Medical” on a primary basis. You were online with Orbitz – dumb. I real live ASTA travel agent would have recommended that you have insurance, then all of the above would have been taken care of….accommodations, your quality of food, Drs, 150% towards re-accommodating your flight, medications, and no anguish. Go to your local agent and get the heck off of the internet, it is not your friend!

  13. Oh no!!! I accidentally voted YES!!! Take one off the YESes and add a big NO!!!! This is absolutely ridiculous and American should be ashamed of it’s behavior (and spelling!!!)

    That said, I can’t believe this mother even “allowed” her daughter to leave the house, let alone the country. One must understand when travelling, that getting stuck in one location or another is something to be expected. My son flew all across the country in high school and although he sometimes had nonstop flights, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have had to land in some city in between (mechanical trouble, crazy passenger onboard.) He had a credit card for “just incase” situations.

    She’s 18 and should have written to you on her own.

    1. This is incredible, I JUST did exactly the same thing, and accidentally voted yes–I misread/reversed the question, totally my fault.  So please, Chris, count me as a NO, and I hope you can throw the book at American! 

  14. “As it was, my eighteen-year-old daughter had to spend the night alone in a hotel in a foreign country…”
    If that’s a problem, why did you let her go to a foreign country in the first place???

    Stuff like this makes me wonder how much of this complaint is legit and how much is just whining. Perhaps Mrs. Hoyle would rather see her daughter fly across the North Atlantic on a faulty airplane?

    1. You needn’t tell us that you don’t have a kid that age yourself–that’s obvious.

      I’m a US college professor in Italy, and I deal with 18-year-old study-abroads all the time.  Yes, they are old enough to go off to Europe on their own.  No, they are not old enough to handle problems like smarmy airlines and food poisoning on their own.  That’s why they are sent here with very carefully planned advance arrangements.  Problems (usually small ones, thank God) arise constantly.  I end up mothering them all the time, not because they’re necessarily pampered brats, but because they are JUST 18.  They get shafted by their foreign landlords (e.g.), and I tell them how to handle it, what to say. They get their purse stolen, and I go with them to talk to the police. Etc.

      THEY ARE JUST 18 AND THEY’RE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. You wanna guess how many ADULTS don’t know how to handle these same situations? How long have you been reading Chris’s articles?!

      So give this mother a break–she’s quite right to be worried about her daughter having an unplanned overnight in a foreign country, and being mistreated by the jerks in the Madrid airport (or do you find that hard to believe?!).

      1. Age is a relative thing.  There are 18-year-olds raising their own kids and running their own households. There are also 18-year-olds in foxholes with the responsibility of keeping themselves and their buddies alive. 
        I understand why mom was writing, because she was the one who paid for the tickets and arranged the trip. And she’s obviously concerned about her daughter’s health. No complaints with mom on those fronts. But the lack of a vegetarian option and griping about the hotel were over-the-top. An 18-year-old should be able to handle getting herself something to eat and sleeping in a private hotel room. And she didn’t develop food poisoning until after she’d returned home.

  15. I’m not sure why people are focusing on her age, illness, or hotel and meal accomodations. IMHO it is all irrelevent if the EU law says she is entitles to EU600 or what, maybe $700+ US? that is ALL THAT MATTERS in this case. If she is entitled then they should give it to her. someone posted all links and phone numbers to use and I suggest going through the process.

    As far as the airline being in bankruptcy, I don’t think it matters. monies owed before then would be at risk, but monies owed after they filed should be paid as normal.

    1. People are not sure why the mother is focussing on her age, illness, or hotel and meal accommodations. 

  16. Look – sorry the airline did not have a vegetarian meal for you but I presume you had 10 euros to rub together or a credit card, go buy yourself a decent meal instead of relying on the airline to provide you some mystery meat sandwich. . .. 

    600 Euros compensation is owned.  Per passenger.  Go get it.  I would sue them in small claims and THEN send a letter telling VP of Customer Service that you want them to cut you a check for $750 right now today or you’ll see them in court. . . . 

    Also – file a complaint wth the EU that Iberia failed to live up to its responsibilities under EU261 . . .and send that to Iberia’s US office as well. . . 

  17. *laughing* OK, I KNOW I haven’t had my morning coffee… but when you write a question just above the poll like you did hear, I have a huge tendency to answer the question rather than read the poll question and answer it.  I totally clicked the wrong button on the vote and you can’t back it out.

    But in Europe? Is it just me, or did American just sidestep European laws and shortchange a passenger?
    Did American do enough for Kristen Hoyle’s daughter?


    I wonder how often that throws off your statistics?  The lack of morning coffee thing, I mean.  Sigh.

  18.  The complaint is legit. It just is unfortunate that a lot of fluff is tagged along. But, it doesn’t change the fact that the complaint is legit.

    1. I agree, but what letter writers need to understand is HOW you complain is just as important as WHAT you complain about.

      When I worked as a hotel CSR (many moons ago), we would actually have “contests” to find the most annoying/stupid letters/emails.

  19. You have given us info on EU 261/2004 in the past, when you were at USA Today and it is quite discouraging to find out that a rule is not, indeed, a rule.

  20. Side Question or Additional Poll.
    Should the Mom not had UN-CHECKED (opted out) of the Buy Travel Insurance Check Mark Box? Yes or No? 🙂

  21. Re: She was dropped off at the Madrid airport with plenty of time for her mid-morning international flight.

    Who to sue? Will the real flight please stand up?

    The Iberia flight departs in the afternoon and not mid-morning.
    AA5674  MADBOS- 145P 445P   0  8.00

    The mid-morning flight on AA metal is this:
    1 #AA  95   MADJFK- 940A 125P   0
    2 #AA1806       BOS- 500P 625P   0 13.45


    1 #AA  69   MADMIA- 930A 235P   0
    2 #AA 696        BOS- 535P 845P   0 16.15

    And hopefully not this (on BA metal):
    1 #AA6277   MADLHR-1045A1210P   0
    2 #AA6166         BOS- 405P 735P   0 13.50

    And hopefully not this (on Iberia metal):
    1  #AA5683  MADORD-1150A 320P   0
    2  #AA 154         BOS- 500P 810P   0 13.20

    With all these codeshare confusion, you don’t know who to sue unless you  keep your original boarding pass and itinerary.

    1. Perhaps more factual flight details and less “fluff” about the daughter’s dietary restrictions WOULD be helpful after all! 🙂

    2. I also noticed that MAD-BOS was in the afternoon, but I figured perhaps the daughter was dropped off at the airport mid-morning. The level of motherly worry made it hard for me to imagine the daughter had a connection somewhere. Plus, the article says flight, not flights, and there’s no mention of missing connections, etc. It’s guesswork, as usual, because we never seem to get the facts…

  22. “As it was, my eighteen-year-old daughter had to spend the night alone
    in a hotel in a foreign country, and arrange her own transportation back
    to the airport the next day,” he says.

    Another whiner.  Life happens.  You are not entitled to a refund every time things do not go your way.  And if you’re not adult enough to travel then don’t.  Stop trying to gain sympathy by throwing out an age.

    How about some REAL problems?

  23. I am still scratching my head about what the OP or Chris could have meant by their comment –

    Things got a little confusing as American tried to rebook all of its passengers, and if it weren’t for the work of her mother and Orbitz back home, she would have missed her return flight.

    Wait a minute, 2 issues here:
    (1) Orbitz??? Wasn’t AA and Orbitz suing each other for quite a while (AA refused to give Orbitz the ability to sell its flights) until a judge ordered AA to allow Orbitz to sell its flights. Hmm… how helpful would AA would have been to Orbitz???

    (2) If it weren’t for the workof her mother she would have missed her return flight??? Wow I wished I knew what this meant. It’s hard to envision how this could happen. You have 2 “blind parties” – the mom and Orbitz. You have the passenger in a hotel room somewhere in Bajaras and Spanish agents in MAD airport desperately trying to reaccommodate her (and maybe another 200 passengers).

    Did the mother call AA directly and asked for help? Was the mother on the phone with her daughter telling her what to do? Ok, so what should a remote mother do if her 18 year old daughter was stuck in an airport?

    First I will have to make a guess. I think the daughter was on AA95 last 9JAN – Scheduled to depart MAD at 1035AM CET.
    The inbound 757-200 arrived Madrid that early morning at 812AM CET. I believe it was scheduled to turn around about 2 and a half hours later. Unfortunately it didn’t. It was CANCELLED.

    If this was her flight, then a creeping delay would have been a hoping against hope situation. There is no way AA will have any spares sitting around near Madrid. Its only other flight was suppose to be leaving the same time for Miami (MIA). So, it’s either that airplane gets fixed or you find another flight somewhere or you wait till AA flies another airplane the next morning.

    If, indeed, this was the situation, what could the mother have done? She had 2 options:
    (a) tell her daughter to hang in there, keep her face seen by the gate agents, and wait for AA’s solution, OR;
    (b) find her another flight out of there.

    The problem with the latter solution is that it will cost money upfront and a quick agent. The last flight out of there (w/o staying overnight somewhere) was about 4PM via London (LHR). Unfortunately, it seems like they tried to reschedule AA95 to 310PM before they cancelled. So when they “hoped” on AA95 flying out of there, they essentially put all their eggs in one basket since there were no more flights past 4PM.

    So what exactly did the Mom do? They she re-route her daughter? Or did she coach her through the night and make sure she was up early the next morning?

    I bet it was a nerve-wrecking 24 hours ++ for the mom, regardless.

    1. Thank you for the research and analysis. It seems like a likely scenario. If this IS what happened, then “NO” AA did not do enough in my opinion.

  24. Hey Chris, if you do a video update for a final word, could you also do a text version of it?  I follow the site from a mobile device and often I am not in a position where I can play audio out loud.  Thanks.

    1. Seconding this. I didn’t know he’d been doing video updates, but 9 times out of 10, I couldn’t watch them, either.

    2. A third from me as i cannot view them either from where i am. the videos are blocked. i know the use of technology is nice, but words would probably work in this case.

  25. chris, i sit behind a firewall at work and am not able to see your YouTube “final word” response to this. any chance of a typed recap to go along with this, and any future, video? i will be able to see this video from home but the cahnces of me remembering to do so are pretty slim 🙂

    thanks in advance


    apologies for not reading all the comments before adding my plea to the text and video requests.

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