He took an oath — then American took his money

Sometimes, air travelers change their plans for no good reason. Not Gary Green.

A judge ordered Green to testify in a court case, which required Green to delay his flight by a day. And you know what happens then, don’t you? There’s a change fee and a fare differential.

Now, some of you will say, “But Green could have chosen a more expensive, flexible ticket.”


Green couldn’t have known that the judge would ask him to stay in town another day. He couldn’t justify paying double or triple the amount of the regular economy class fare on American Airlines. Every day, passengers make decisions just like his, based largely on common sense: Why pay that much extra for a ticket on the same plane, in the same class of service? It makes zero sense.

Green’s wife, Donna, contacted me to see if American might consider refunding his original ticket. And that’s where this case went off the rails.

“I am extremely frustrated and sincerely hope you can help me with this matter,” she said.

Back in September, Green was a witness in a trial. At the end of the day, the judge required he return the next day for further testimony, even though he knew he had a flight the next morning.

“Not appearing would have resulted in the judge issuing a bench warrant for his arrest for failing to appear in court,” she says.

Of course, he complied.

I’ll let Gary Green pick it up from there:

Upon returning home that night, I contacted American Airlines to change my ticket for later the following day.

I was told that, although I booked through American, because the flight was operated by US Airways, I would not be able to fly later in the day without rebooking my entire itinerary.

The flight was paid for using my AA Mastercard, which entitled me and my wife and daughter (also flying with me) to have free checked baggage.

The resulting changes resulted in a fare increase from my original $426 to a total ticket charge of $2,082.

In addition, I had to spend another $100 for my wife and daughter’s checked bags as they were now split off my record locator number. I ended up flying standby just one flight later than my original flight.

American wasn’t completely unsympathetic. An agent refunded the $200 change fee and issued a $100 voucher to cover the “free” baggage fees. But the $2,082 charge stuck. All for doing the right thing.

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Green even asked the judge to write a letter to American. I have a copy. It didn’t work:

American doesn’t have any provisions for refunding a non-refundable ticket for issues like court appearances or jury duty. You basically have to die before they’ll refund a nonrefundable ticket. Seriously.

“I really hope you will see merit in helping me to satisfactorily resolve this,” Green told me.

I do. There are several issues going on here. First, some of the written correspondence refers to a problem involving a “systems integration” between US Airways and American. The two carriers merged operations last year. I asked American and it said there were no such issues, at least as they pertained to this case. More likely, the merger was a catch-all excuse used by employees at the time. Fair enough.

Was American right in charging Green another $2,082? According to its rules, which Green agreed to, yes. But being right doesn’t mean you are right. And you could see the representative doing everything in her power to make things right by waiving the change fee and issuing a luggage voucher.

Still, an extra $2k because you’re following the law? That seems harsh for the most profitable airline in the world.

In a situation like this, it’s helpful to turn the tables. What would American do if, say, the FAA grounded a plane due to shoddy maintenance? Would it cover the hotel expenses for Green’s missed vacation? Would it refund a missed cruise? No. It would just refund the airfare or book him on a flight of its choosing.

That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

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Well, you’re not going to like the outcome of this one. I asked American to consider this special case.

“We are not going to offer a refund for the difference of fare,” a representative told me. “We refunded the reissue fee, and provided a voucher for the bag fee. They would have had up to a year to use the original tickets, but, instead, purchased new tickets or fares for a different date of travel.”

And there you have it. Case dismissed. A questionable call, but what can you do?

Should American have refunded Gary Green's airfare?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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