Case dismissed: A promised reimbursement, and then a denial

Jennifer Johnson was relieved when American Airlines offered her $175 for out-of-pocket expenses after it misplaced her luggage on a flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia last October. She was in town for a wedding, and needed to buy clothes and toiletries.

But her relief turned to disappointment when American denied her claim. True, the airline found her luggage and delivered it to her in less than two days, but it didn’t get there in time for the big event.

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An appeal to the airline was pointless. In a terse letter to Johnson, American informed her that, “our original position shall remain unchanged.”

“I was only in town for about 60 hours — over 40 of which I spent without my bags,” she says. “Can you help?”

Unfortunately, Johnson never got the promise of a $175 reimbursement in writing. Further complicating the issue is the fact that when she filed her missing luggage claim, something — American didn’t say what — was missing. So she had to re-file her request.

None of these should have led to an outright rejection of her claim, as far as I can tell. So I contacted American on her behalf.

Much to the airline’s credit, a representative got back to me right away to explain that her claim had been turned down on a technicality. She needed to submit original receipts to the airline in order to get reimbursed.

The luggage department had been notified about this issue, I was assured.

That was in March.

A few days ago, I heard from Johnson. She’s given up on ever hearing from American. After several appeals and asking me for help, she is letting this her claim go.

I’m disappointed. Although I thought a $175 clothing and toiletry allowance for less than two days was a little too generous, Johnson didn’t get the promise in writing. So we have no proof that American made the offer.

I’m also unhappy with the way the overall claims process works. Vague forms and requests to submit original receipts seem only to prolong the claims process and wear down passengers like Johnson. Indeed, they seem to be done in order to make customers lose their patience and walk away — which is exactly what Johnson did.

Next time — and I really hope there isn’t a next time — Johnson needs to get more than a verbal promise when her luggage is misplaced. I think she stands a better chance of getting a reimbursement.

But I can’t guarantee it.

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