Why won’t American Airlines pay me for my new flight?

American Airlines canceled Gabriel Baisan’s return flight because of a shortage of crew members. With no American flights available until the following day, Baisan was forced to book a flight on Southwest Airlines. He could not miss another day of work.

Baisan is asking American to reimburse him for a portion of his ticket on Southwest. American’s answer? No.

Baisan has been a loyal American Airlines customer for 24 years. He chooses to book his flights on American because of the “quality of service [he’s] come to rely on.” Even though his return flight was canceled on this particular trip, he was still “highly satisfied” with American’s service — until now.

When Baisan found out his flight was canceled, he asked American if it would book him on another airline, since it had no flights available. American would not. His ticket on Southwest cost $58 more than his original fare on American. Baisan submitted a request for a refund in this amount, but American denied his request.

“Furthermore,” Baisan added, “if I had taken the offer extended to me by your representatives and stayed in Phoenix, American Airlines would have incurred higher costs booking me a hotel than what my replacement ticket cost.”

American issued a $60 refund for the unused portion of Baisan’s original ticket but would not offer any compensation for his added expenses on Southwest. American followed through on its contractual agreement, according to its terms and conditions.

When cancellations and major delays are experienced, we will attempt to reroute you on our next flight with available seats. If the delay or cancellation was caused by events within our control and we do not get you to your final destination on the expected arrival day, we will provide reasonable overnight accommodations, subject to availability. If a flight is adversely affected by events beyond our control, you are responsible for your own overnight accommodations, meals and incidental expenses.

There are no federal laws regulating flight cancellations in the United States. Each airline determines how it will treat passengers in the event of a cancellation. Any additional compensation is optional. In this case, American would have covered Baisan’s lodging expenses, which is more than some airlines would do.

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Typically, when a flight is canceled, the airline will rebook passengers on the next available flight in the same class of service. Some airlines may put passengers in a higher (or lower) class of service, if the original class is filled. When passengers are downgraded, they can expect a refund for the difference. If the rebooked flight is unacceptable, passengers have the right to a full refund for the remaining value of their ticket.

If the reason for cancellation is within the airline’s control, it may offer compensation in the form of a hotel room (if an overnight is required), meal vouchers, and/or transportation. There may be stipulations on how long the delay needs to be before compensation is offered. Weather-related delays or force majeure events will usually result in the passengers having to fend for themselves. No compensation is required.

Some airlines may rebook passengers on another airline if asked to do so. This, however, would be a rare exception and not the rule. Passengers should feel free to present alternatives to the airline if the rebooked flight will cause a hardship. The airline may or may not comply. If passengers choose to book their own flight on another airline, the original airline will not reimburse them for any portion of the new airfare.

Baisan contacted Elliott.org for assistance in getting a refund, but we were unable to intervene on his behalf. American fulfilled its obligation when it offered to put him on the next flight or refund his money. Our advocates suggested he utilize Elliott.org’s company contacts for American Airlines to request a travel voucher. This turned into a Case Dismissed.

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American apologized to Baisan for his inconvenience and reiterated that he was a valuable customer. Although from Baisan’s perspective, he’s a customer that American just lost.

Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing. Read more of Stephanie's articles here.

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