Here’s why booking connections on separate itineraries is a bad idea

Dov Hook wants a refund for change fees charged by American Airlines for a missed connection. But our advocates are not inclined to assist him because his situation is the result of his own errors.

Hook’s case is a warning to air travelers to avoid booking connections on separate itineraries and to check in by the time indicated on one’s air ticket. And when traveling with small children or anyone with mobility issues, as Hook was, you need to allow yourself additional advance time to check in and make connections. Otherwise, as Hook discovered the hard way, you might be staying on the ground and on the hook for some hefty change fees.

Hook might have avoided being assessed the fee had he booked all his flights on one itinerary and arrived on time for check-in. But he didn’t. And he made more mistakes when he attempted to self-advocate his case before he contacted us.

A dream anniversary trip and a missed connection

The story opens with Hook’s purchase through Chase Travel of seven air tickets, for himself, his wife, his elderly mother (who requires a wheelchair), and their four children for a flight from New York to London via Paris, for what Hook describes as his “dream anniversary celebration.” The outbound flights took off and landed without a hitch. But when Hook and his family returned home, they ran into a problem that led to a missed connection.

The Hooks were scheduled to fly on Vueling from London Gatwick Airport to Paris, where they would connect to an American Airlines code-shared flight on British Airways for their flight to Kennedy Airport in New York. But they were prevented from boarding by a gate agent.

Problems at the gate

According to Hook:

Vueling refused to let us board because the agent was lazy (we were traveling with children and a handicapped elderly passenger), rude and possibly racist and didn’t want to check us in with baggage, claiming there wasn’t enough time (we were there well ahead of the cut-off time).

We don’t know what happened with the gate agent. We suspect that although Hook claims to have arrived for check-in “well ahead of the cut-off time,” he actually didn’t.

To return home on his originally booked Paris-to-New York flight, Hook had to rebook his connecting flight to Paris on a flight leaving from London Heathrow Airport. The new airfares were slightly higher than those for the originally booked flight, but American Airlines charged Hook a change fee of $2,100 ($300 per passenger).

Complaint letters

Hook then sent letters of complaint to American Airlines’ and British Airways’ customer service agents, requesting a refund of the change fee. Here’s an excerpt from his letter to American Airlines:

As you can imagine, this charge is especially punishing to us, having spent so much already on what was supposed to be our ‘dream’ anniversary celebration (that included being robbed of our spending money in Paris). We just do not have the money to pay this exorbitant amount of money and it would seriously affect our daily living budget for rent and food, etc. which is already stretched thin with four children and elderly parents to support. I immediately called Chase Travel, who booked the flight, British Airways, and the American customer support line. All agreed I wasn’t at fault and I would need to contact American since the charge was charged by American so they would be the ones to refund the fee or award vouchers for the $2,100 change fees.

I realize that when traveling, things do not always work out as planned. Although neither I nor American was at fault for this unfortunate incident, paying the difference in fare is reasonable. But I am pleading with you to consider refunding the $2,100 change fees that I incurred when changing my tickets. Living in New Jersey and flying out of New York airports, I am a frequent American Airlines customer, whether traveling alone for business or with my family of seven.

Within the last year we have used American to fly to Colorado, Cancún and California and plan to continue to do so to other locales. I also insist my office staff fly American as well. My associates urge me to use Southwest due to its flexible refund and change policies or other discount airlines but I respond that I am steadfast [about] using American due to their caring and understanding staff — the ‘human element’ — when things don’t work out quite perfectly or arranging special requests and the peace of mind of knowing that is extremely important to me.

Requesting a refund of the change fees

Hook claims that he also contacted American Airlines through its online form, sent a message via Twitter, and mailed another letter to Sean Bentel, vice president of American’s customer relations department. Not surprisingly, American Airlines denied Hook’s request for a refund of the change fees. He then turned to our advocates for help. (Executive contact information for American Airlines, British Airways and Vueling is available on our website.)

Contacting our advocacy team

Our advocacy director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, told Hook explained why we’re not going to be able to take his case. He had gone straight to the top executives in his complaints to American Airlines and British Airways rather than writing first to the primary contacts, allowing those persons a reasonable amount of time to respond, and then escalating to the next-ranking executives. And Hook didn’t help his case with his laundry list of complaints, coupled with his accusations against the Vueling gate agent.

But ultimately, Hook doesn’t have a case against American Airlines. Regardless of what went on at the Vueling gate, neither American Airlines nor British Airways was responsible for his inability to check in for his Vueling flight. And American Airlines’ international general rules tariff contains no language that obligates the airline to refund change fees.

Friedman advised Hook that if he had trip interruption coverage, he might have been able to file a claim on his policy for the change fees, but only if he actually showed up in time to check in. But there’s nothing further we can do for him.

Advice for the future

We can only warn our readers to show up on time for their flights, book all flights for one trip on the same itinerary, and purchase travel insurance coverage for complex, international, or expensive trips. Beyond that, we are treating Hook’s situation as a Case Dismissed.

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