His American Airlines refund request is guaranteed to fail

Our advocates would normally be happy to try to help someone like Charles Kampinski. But then they saw the specifics of his American Airlines refund request. 

As our publisher, Christopher Elliott points out in his article about how to fix your own consumer problem, it’s always important to make sure that any request you make to a company is within reason. In the case of an airline, that means checking whether it has an obligation to reimburse your costs. You also need to limit a request for reimbursement to a reasonable amount.

A nightmare trip home

Kampinski, his wife, their daughter, and her three children were vacationing in Maui. While waiting to board their return flight from Maui to Phoenix, they learned that American Airlines had canceled their flight.

The Kampinskis first rebooked their flights. Since they needed to return home the next day, they reserved seats on two flights. Kampinski and his wife would fly on one flight; their daughter and grandchildren would be on the other. Then they stood in a line for a hotel room. When they reached the front of the line, they decided not to stay at the hotel for which the airline offered to pay. The Kampinskis made their own arrangements to stay at another hotel.

Then American Airlines canceled both of the rebooked flights.

Kampinski rebooked his daughter’s flight a second time, but the airline canceled this new flight as well. Meanwhile, Kampinski says that American overbooked his own flight. Yet the airline continued to send boarding notifications to Kampinski and his wife. Once again, Kampinski arranged new flights for his family. He rebooked his family on other airlines and chartered a private plane for himself and his wife.

Related story:   Not exactly a Hollywood ending for this Washington drama

That’s right, he chartered a private plane.

If Kampinski’s story sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. My colleague Laura Rockowitz had a similar nightmare trip home from Hawaii on American Airlines two years ago.

A completely unrealistic American Airlines refund request

Kampinski’s American Airlines refund request included:

  • taxi and shuttle vouchers for the trips from the hotel to the airport
  • hotel bills for three days
  • the canceled commercial airfares
  • baggage fees for his daughter’s and children’s original return flight
  • the private plane charter fee

Says Kampinski: “The total of my expenses is $34,696.”

Yup, you read that right. Kampinski wanted the Elliott Advocacy team to help him with an American Airlines refund request of nearly $35,000.

Not happening.

What costs are refundable?

Of all the costs Kampinski incurred during his trip from hell, the only ones American Airlines has a legal obligation to refund are the canceled flights.

As the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) explains in its Fly Rights page:

Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. … Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled. … [Compensation] is required by law on domestic trips only when you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold.

American’s conditions of carriage promises the following to passengers on canceled flights:

When your flight is canceled or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we’ll rebook you on the next flight with available seats. If you decide not to fly because your flight was delayed or canceled, we’ll refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees. …

We are not responsible for any special, incidental or consequential damages if we’re unable to meet this commitment.

Nothing for the Elliott Advocacy team to mediate

Kampinski could have used our contact information for American Airlines to request a refund for the canceled airfares. And if he observed the three P’s of consumer advocacy — patience, persistence, and politeness — he might have succeeded in getting one.

Related story:   The airline said it was a weather delay. This passenger thought otherwise.

Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, told Kampinski that his case is not one she could mediate. She explained that the American Airlines refund request that he submitted included multiple items that no airline in the United States is obligated to reimburse. Michelle recommended that he contact American Airlines and request a refund for his canceled flights. The canceled flights are the only reimbursable items on his list.

Remember: Limit requests for reimbursements to reasonable amounts to which you are actually entitled. Otherwise, your refund request will veer off-course — and there will be nothing our advocates can do for you.

Should we limit the amounts for which our advocates can seek refunds or reimbursements?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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