They canceled his flight twice – are these vouchers enough?

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By Christopher Elliott

Archie Wong and his family found themselves stranded in Hawaii after American Airlines canceled their flight from Kona to Los Angeles recently.

But how his case was eventually resolved — or maybe it’s more accurate to say not resolved — raise a few interesting questions about airline contracts and duty of care. If those seem like issues best left to the lawyers, you’re in luck: Wong is an attorney based in San Francisco.

Here’s what happened to him: American canceled his red-eye flight from Hawaii to California because of a mechanical problem. The next available flight would leave in a day, and American offered to pay for his hotel and accommodations, which it’s required to do under its contract of carriage.

But that second flight was canceled, too.

American Airlines refuses to reimburse expenses

“Then I was told, if we could get to Honolulu on our own, they would book us on another airline to our final destination,” he says. “But after I did so, they refused to follow through — ultimately costing me over $4,000 out of pocket.”

American’s response? It apologized, refunded the portion of his unused flight, and offered him $800 worth of flight vouchers.

Is that enough? To Wong, the answer is “no.”

“American did assist other passengers from the cancelled flight with similar accommodations on the carriers I was requesting,” he says.

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One family was rebooked on Go! and Hawaiian to Los Angeles at no charge, and two other passengers were also rerouted at no cost from Honolulu. Wong took their names and contact information.

“I understand that American likely feels this is outside the conditions of carriage,” he adds. “But the conditions of carriage do allow in certain circumstances, passengers of canceled flights to be re-routed on other airlines. Furthermore, if American provided assistance to others, they can and should have provided assistance to me and my family. Also, the information that was provided to me by American was misleading and relied upon by me to my detriment.”

Wong wants to be reimbursed for his expenses.

Passenger claims misleading information

My advocacy team and I asked American about Wong’s case. Here’s its response:

They chose to purchase those new tickets on their own, as our reroute options weren’t acceptable to them. This is not something that we would reimburse. They did receive refunds of their original tickets as well as $800 in vouchers as a gesture of goodwill.

So according to American, they would have sent them back to LAX eventually — but just not when they wanted to go.

You know, I’d be more inclined to believe Wong was being difficult if he’d just booked the next flight to the mainland from Kona and demanded a full refund of the fare from American. But he flew to Honolulu at his own expense and waited. I think he was being cooperative.

I’ve been in a similar situation in the past. I think 24 hours is a reasonable amount of time to wait for the next flight on the carrier you’re ticketed on, and after that, you need to start negotiating with your airline about being rebooked on any airline that can get you to your destination. But Wong should have reached an agreement with his airline before he booked his flight home, rather than assuming the carrier would cover his costs after he returned. (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

Still, did American do enough? Should it cover his extra flight costs. Or did it make the right call on this one?

Update 1:30 p.m.: Some of you have asked about the exact circumstances of Wong’s routing. I asked him about it, and here’s his response:

When I first talked to AA. They said we would be placed on a 3:00 pm flight to LA from Kona and would need to stay overnight in LA to get to SFO. I asked about alternatives, and they said nothing was available that could get us to LA or SFO with earlier flights.

I called back after researching flights and found alternatives. AA then told me the flight was now scheduled at 10:00pm to LA getting in the following morning. When I told them that there were flights from Honolulu to SFO that were available, AA told me that they didn’t partner with any inter-island airlines (which appears to be false), but if we could get to Honolulu on our own, they would rebook the flight to SFO on Hawaiian air.

When I called back again, after having purchased tickets to Honolulu from Kona, they then told me that they would not help us with the tickets from Honolulu to SFO as they did not have an agreement with Hawaiian Air (this also appears to be false).

I relied upon their instructions in purchasing the tickets to Honolulu and ultimately the tickets to SFO. Both the flights that we took to Kona to Honolulu, and from Honolulu to SFO were flights that AA paid for other passengers as re-route options for the cancelled flight. IF AA has actual agreements with Mesa and Hawaiian Air, I think they should honor my request. I believe that they do, and made intentional misrepresentations to me in order to avoid expenses.

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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.

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