A long string of delays kept Flora Rodriguez-Brown in Dallas an extra night when she was supposed to be airborne on an American Airlines flight to Costa Rica for her vacation. Rodriguez-Brown is a longtime American Airlines customer and was flying first class. So when her flight arrived in Dallas after her connecting flight to San José, Costa Rica, had taken off, she thought that American would help her out with meals and a hotel for the night as well as compensation for the delays. She was wrong.
“I wonder whether my allegiance to American Airlines should change,” Rodriguez-Brown wanted to know.
Airlines are not required to assist customers beyond rerouting them on the next available flights to their original destinations when delays are classified as caused by “events not subject to their control.” So it matters whether a delay is weather-related (which the airline can’t control), or caused by a mechanical problem (which it can). Rodriguez-Brown’s flight experienced both — and the airline was quick to disclaim responsibility for providing her with any assistance.
When Rodriguez-Brown arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport to board the first leg of her flight, a gate agent told her that her flight was delayed. According to the agent, an early morning storm had forced the pilot to divert the flight to Milwaukee. Because Rodriguez-Brown had a layover in Dallas of more than three hours before her connecting flight to San José was scheduled to depart, the agent told her not to ask to be rerouted on a later flight departing from Miami. Rodriguez-Brown took the agent’s advice — to her regret.
The flight was delayed several additional times, because of weather conditions and air traffic issues. Finally, the passengers were allowed to board, by which time the estimated time of arrival in Dallas would leave Rodriguez-Brown 90 minutes to make her connection.
Then the pilot announced that the plane had a mechanical malfunction. There was another long delay before the plane finally took off. But when it landed, Rodriguez-Brown’s connecting flight had departed 40 minutes earlier.
Rodriguez-Brown deplaned and was given a passenger itinerary that showed that the next flight to San José would not depart until the following day. She asked a gate agent for a hotel and meal voucher as well as compensation for the delay. But the gate agent refused, claiming that the portion of the delay resulting from inclement weather (113 minutes) was longer than the portion resulting from a mechanical malfunction (71 minutes). Therefore, claimed the agent, American Airlines would not offer any compensation.
Rodriguez-Brown asked to speak to a supervisor, but the supervisor refused to meet her, stating that the no-compensation decision was final and instructing her to return to the airport the following day to rebook her flight to San José. The gate agent refused to provide Rodriguez-Brown with a boarding pass for the flight. A customer service representative did provide Rodriguez-Brown with the boarding pass, but also refused to provide her with any compensation, hotel or meal vouchers.
Stuck in Dallas for the night with no help from American Airlines, Rodriguez-Brown booked a room at a Marriott hotel for the night for $170 and spent $41 for breakfast and dinner at the hotel out of her own pocket. She returned to the Dallas airport the next day to board the flight to San José, which was also delayed. No explanation was given for the delay.
Rodriguez-Brown then contacted our advocates, asking: “Does American Airlines owe me compensation for the [more than] 24 hours’ delay for my flight to Costa Rica? Should they offer me compensation for hotel and food expenses? I also would like to know how they came up with a 113-minute weather delay and a 71-minute malfunction delay.”
Unfortunately for Rodriguez-Brown, American’s conditions of carriage make clear that:
American Airlines will provide customers at the airport and onboard an affected aircraft with timely and frequent updates regarding known delays, cancellations and diversions and will strive to provide the best available information concerning the duration of delays and to the extent available, the flight’s anticipated departure time.
We are not responsible for any special, incidental or consequential damages if we do not meet this commitment.
When cancellations and major delays are experienced, you will be rerouted 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.
So all Rodriguez-Brown could expect from American Airlines was to be rebooked on the next available flight because the weather delay was longer than the mechanical delay.
But Rodriguez-Brown decided to send a letter of complaint to American Airlines anyway. Using our executive contacts for American Airlines, she wrote to Sean Bentel, vice president of customer relations, and Kerry Philipovitch, senior vice president of customer experience.
She received a response from a representative of American, acknowledging that the delays were triggered by inclement weather, which is not subject to American’s control. However, American’s representative expressed sympathy for Rodriguez-Brown, and as an exception to the airline’s normal policy of noncompensation for weather-related delays, added 10,000 miles to Rodriguez-Brown’s AAdvantage account.
Rodriguez-Brown is satisfied with this resolution. And we’re gratified that we helped her to help herself.