Canceled, confused, contaminated — and then ripped off

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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.

A ‘creeping’ delay

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.

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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 took a turn for the worse

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.

No compensation was offered under EU 261/2004

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. (Related: When you file an EC 261 claim, mind the asterisk.)

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?)

Did American sidestep European laws

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? (Here’s what you need to know about the EC261 and European air travel rights.)

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

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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