We missed our flight by minutes — should we be forced to pay extra to get home?

Michal Escobar and her husband were returning home from a special vacation in Italy. But when they tried to check in for their flight on British Airways, the check-in agents prevented them from flying. The Escobars had to pay for a hotel room for the night as well as expensive walk-up rates for tickets home on Aer Lingus the next day.

American Airlines, which was operating the British Airways flight as a code-share, offered the Escobars 15,000 AAdvantage miles as compensation for the new airfares and the hotel fee, but the Escobars aren’t happy with this resolution. Unfortunately for the Escobars, our advocates feel that this is the best that they can hope for from the airline.

The Escobars had booked an Italian vacation package, including flights from Chicago to Rome, to celebrate their fifth anniversary and first pregnancy. They enjoyed a successful outbound flight and a one-week stay in the Tuscan region of Italy – up to the moment they departed for their return flight from Rome, which was scheduled to depart at 11:15 a.m. Boarding was scheduled for 10:45 a.m.

When the Escobars arrived in Rome, they discovered that they had gone to the wrong airport and hurried across the city to catch their flight. They returned their rental car at 10 a.m., obtained a time-stamped receipt for the car, and hurried to the American Airlines terminal to catch their flight, where they arrived at the check-in counter at 10:15 a.m. But the airline agent told them that they were too late to check in for the flight, which was full.

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Says Escobar:

I said: “We still have 30 minutes before we are scheduled to board the plane and 45 minutes before the gate closes. We can make it through security and run there.” She started making some calls, asked us if we were business class, and then told us that the gate was already closed and we would have to talk to another agent. I was in shock. I knew we were late, but I also knew we could have made that flight if the airlines had given us just a little bit of help.

The Escobars then asked American Airlines’ customer service representative for help, but she told them that “her hands were tied.” Because the Escobars had booked their flight through British Airways, she instructed them to call British Airways to ask for assistance.

But when the Escobars called British Airways’ customer service, its agent told them that American Airlines should be able to book them as standby passengers on one of its own flights. All British Airways could do for the Escobars was to rebook them on its next flight to Chicago, departing the following day, for approximately 3,000 euros (about $3,525), an amount that the Escobars did not have.

They asked British Airways’ agent to speak to the American Airlines representative, but both airlines’ employees suggested only that the Escobars purchase new tickets on one of their airlines.

After two hours of searching for cheaper air tickets home, Escobar finally found and purchased two tickets on Aer Lingus for $1,800 for a flight departing for Chicago the next day. She then booked a hotel room for the night, and the next morning, she and her husband took the Aer Lingus flight to Chicago.

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Escobar contacted American Airlines to ask for compensation for her Aer Lingus airfares and the hotel room. (Executive contact information for American Airlines is available on our website.)

American Airlines offered each of the Escobars 5,000 AAdvantage miles. When Escobar complained that this was insufficient compensation for their incidental expenses, American offered them 5,000 more miles but told them that they could do nothing more for them. Escobar then asked our advocates for assistance.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do for the Escobars either.

The American Airlines agent to whom Escobar spoke mentioned that the airline’s policy requires passengers on flights going to or from the U.S. to check in at least one hour prior to their flight’s scheduled departure time.

Although both the agent’s reply and American’s website use the words “scheduled departure” to describe the cut-off time for check-in, Escobar mistakenly believed that this time was the take-off time listed on her ticket. But the correct cut-off time was one hour prior to the boarding time — 9:45 a.m. And neither British Airways nor American Airlines was responsible for the Escobars’ mistake, which resulted in their arriving too late to check in for their flight.

All we can offer the Escobars is the hope that despite the problems with their return home, they enjoyed their trip — and we congratulate them on their new baby.

But we can warn our readers to check airline websites for correct check-in cutoff times, to make sure they go to the correct airports, and to allow themselves sufficient time to check in for their flights. Otherwise, like the Escobars, they may find themselves not flying and perhaps paying walk-up fares and unexpected costs for the next flights to their destinations.

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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