Who is responsible for this missed honeymoon to Tahiti?

Miranda Jennings Graham and her new husband, Weston, are today’s poster kids for a missed honeymoon.

The Grahams booked their special vacation on Priceline to Tahiti, traveling via American Airlines from Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Angeles, where they had a connecting flight to Tahiti via Air Tahiti Nui.

But the newlyweds never got a chance to kick back in the South Pacific island famous for its black sand beaches because they didn’t make their flight to Los Angeles.

Miranda contacted our advocacy team seeking $6,200 in reimbursement. In an email, she said the couple arrived for the Nov. 12 flight on time but were told it had been “overbooked.”

Miranda did not have anything in writing to substantiate her claim. The Grahams were put on standby and subsequently boarded a later flight to Los Angeles, but by the time they arrived there, their flight to Tahiti had already departed. Miranda said she and her husband “missed the [Tahiti] flight through no fault of our own.”

Our advocate agreed to inquire further on the couple’s behalf but soon discovered that Miranda’s story didn’t add up. It turns out that the flight wasn’t sold out or overbooked.

Our executive contact at American told our advocate that the Grahams “missed their original flight from DFW-LAX…They didn’t answer, and were not at the gate when we called their names at 6:47 p.m CST.”

That flight departed the gate on time at 6:50 p.m, American said. The Grahams showed up at the gate a minute later and by then the door was closed and the aircraft pushed back from the gate. American Airlines subsequently placed the couple on standby for the next flight to Los Angeles.

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Miranda contacted our advocate a second time and asked if he could intervene on the couple’s behalf with Air Tahiti Nui. Our advocate wrote back and said: “I’m afraid this is not a case we can successfully mediate.”

There are certain airline policies with which all airline travelers should be familiar.

For example, if a passenger doesn’t show up on time for a flight, then an airline can cancel all the other flights on the passenger’ tickets — in this case, the flight from Los Angeles to Papeete, which is located on Tahiti and is the capital of French Polynesia.

Airlines normally won’t reimburse the tickets under these circumstances. A refund is only required when a passenger is sitting at the gate at the required time and the airlines can’t get any volunteers to leave the flight.

We can’t help the Grahams, but perhaps their misfortune can serve as a cautionary tale for other airline travelers, particularly those traveling overseas and have connecting flights to destinations. One of the first rules of air travel is to show up at the gate on time, typically 30 to 45 minutes prior to departure.

As the Grahams can now attest, it’s better to arrive several hours before departure so that you can plan for any unforeseen problems you might encounter prior to arriving at the gate, such as check-in or passing through security.

Michael Hinkelman

Michael Hinkelman is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years experience. He has worked for daily newspapers in Atlanta and Philadelphia, most recently as a small-business columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, before retiring in 2016. In 1993, Hinkelman won a prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for an investigation into the finances of the Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, he was a lecturer in media relations at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. Read more of Michael's stories here.

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