Is this enough compensation? Stranded in Mexico City, and that’s your offer?

Something went wrong on Karen Huntoon’s trip from Reno, Nev., to Oaxaca, Mexico. Very wrong.

Her itinerary, which included stops in Phoenix and Mexico City, was confirmed by US Airways, she says. But it shouldn’t have been so confident about getting Huntoon to her final destination.

“When I went to check in for the next leg of my flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca I was told that my seats had been cancelled — both coming and going,” she says. “For five hours, I tried without success to get on the flight. I got absolutely no help. Finally, at 10 p.m. I had to go and find a hotel and then the next day take a cab to the airport and ride a bus for seven hours to Oaxaca.”

Huntoon says she wasted more than a day on a bus, missed a class she was scheduled to teach and ran up a bill for $698 in additional expenses, including a one-way flight back to Mexico City — expenses she believes US Airways should cover.

She handled her grievance by the book, starting with a brief, polite email to US Airways asking it to address the issue. Problem is, US Airways doesn’t have any specific provisions for covering out-of-pocket expenses under its contract of carriage, so it’s really up to the airline to figure out how to address a problem like this. Further complicating the matter is that the last leg of her flight was on another carrier.

Here’s how it went:

For 11 weeks I went back and forth and heard more excuses and stories than I could ever imagine someone could make up. Every time, they told me that they were not responsible and would do nothing.

Finally, upon sending my complaint and validating documents and receipts, via Fed Ex, to John Romantic, director of customer relations (also Robert Isom and Douglas Parker), I got a call and was told that my case was being reviewed. I was sent a letter and US Airways admitted responsibility and offered a reimbursement in the amount of $215.

But wait. Didn’t she have $698 in expenses? What’s the $215 for?

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Verizon phone bill charges: $156.42
Hotel room in Mexico City: $83.79
Meal at hotel in Mexico City: $15.48
Bus ticket from Mexico City to Oaxaca: $35.52
One-way flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City: $264.97
Cab fare to hotel in Mexico City: $10.00
Cab fare to bus depot in Mexico City: $12.00
Reserved and unable to cancel hotel room in Oaxaca Mexico: $120.00
Total Expenses: $698.18

Hmm, it looks as if US Airways is either paying her for part of her flight from Oaxaca to Mexico city or refunding a portion of her ticket that was mysteriously canceled. The airline also threw in a $200 travel voucher to offset “other expenses” related to her mishap.

Is that enough?

Huntoon wants to know so she can plan her next move, which may include a trip to small claims court. Depending on the feedback, I may try to mediate this case, but I’m concerned about some of these out-of-pocket expenses that US Airways never agreed to cover. While there’s no excuse for canceling one leg of an itinerary, Huntoon should have obtained authorization for some of these expenses, notably the hotel in Mexico City, before leaving the airport.

Also, it isn’t entirely clear that US Airways is responsible for the cancellation in Mexico City. I’m assuming it is, because it agreed to cover some of her expenses. But US Airways doesn’t operate flights between Mexico City and Oaxaca. So it was either a codeshare flight or one purchased through a travel agency.

I have asked Huntoon for a few details on her travel arrangements, and will post them soon.

Update (8/2): I exchanged several emails with Huntoon after this posted. In the first, I asked how she bought the ticket.

She replied,

US Airways agreed that the mistake was all theirs and offered a small reimbursement. I wrote back and said that it was not acceptable and after a few days of ignoring me they finally called yesterday and said they were looking at my case again and would call sometime this week.

So, I’m in a holding pattern right now. I can’t believe they have spent 4 months fighting this – it would have cost a lot less if they had simply reimbursed my conservative request right from the start.

I’ll let you know how it goes. I know I will never fly with them again!

A few days later, she offered a final update:

I believe I have gotten out of US Airways all that I am going to get. They reimbursed my expenses with the exception of a $156 cell phone bill and some incidentals. They offered me a $200 travel voucher to offset the unreimbursed expenses. I will never fly on them again so the travel voucher does not do me much good!

The interesting thing is that it took 5 months of battling and in the end they admitted that the entire mess was their mistake and in the long run, had they reimbursed me right from the start they would have been money ahead when you consider all the people and time that they spend denying my claim. Your website was quite helpful and I did follow your list of things to do and it worked. So, thank you very much.

(Photo of Oaxaca by memo flores/Flickr Creative Commons)

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