A $75 hotel refund after a rerouted flight? C’mon, US Airways

Last summer, Nathan Ainspan needed to get from Washington to Albany quickly. His 88-year-old father was in the hospital with stroke-like symptoms, and in desperation, he paid a first-class, walk-up fare for a US Airways flight.

But the flight never made it to Albany. A “weather” delay forced the airline to reroute the flight to Manchester, N.H. And then a US Airways employee made him a promise the airline wouldn’t keep: that it would cover all his hotel expenses while he waited for a connecting flight.

Ainspan sent US Airways the hotel bill, but it refunded only $75 of it. He wants to know if this is enough.

Maybe you can tell me.

First, it helps to understand how this delay happened.

“The flight crew was unavailable for the flight because they were flying another airplane, so the flight departed more than an hour late,” he explains. “The weather was fine in Washington, but there was a light rain in Albany. The rain prevented the crew from landing the plane in Albany and because they were close to exceeding the limit of their flight time due to the delayed departure, the flight was rerouted to Manchester.”

Put differently, US Airways didn’t have a crew (their responsibility). The weather (not their responsibility) and union rules (not really their responsibility, either) factored into the decision to reroute to Manchester.

Ultimately, the delay was flagged as being caused by “weather.”

By the way, that’s how every airline does it, with the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing.

“An employee informed us that because of a conference being held that weekend in Manchester, there were no vouchers available for hotel rooms,” says Ainspan. “We were told to locate accommodations on our own and to submit the receipts to the airline, and that we would be reimbursed for the full cost of the accommodations. I managed to find a room at the Marriott hotel in Hooksett, N.H. It was the closest hotel I could find to the airport that still had a room available. I spent a few hours there before I had to return to the airport to catch my connecting flight.”

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When he submitted his expenses, the airline refunded him $75, which appears to be the per diem for hotel expenses in Manchester. His actual expenses: $229.

Ainspan has purchased the most expensive airline ticket on that plane. You would assume that US Airways would give him every consideration.

I thought this was just a misunderstanding — that if an employee told him he’d get his hotel room covered, that the airline would actually do what it said.

I assumed wrong.

Here’s the response from US Airways (technically, American Airlines):

It appears weather was an issue at DCA both July 8th and July 9th. Also shows that the weather system moved up the East Coast, as numerous flights were cancelled for weather July 9th at LGA, for example.

That flight was operated by Republic. This doesn’t make a difference from a customer relations perspective, but just wanted to let you know – I have taken that late night flight to ALB before.

Lastly, the flight was diverted due to weather. As you know, we don’t reimburse for costs incurred due to weather-related issues. Appears we provided $75 re. below.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what a representative said, or what you think a representative said. If the reason for the delay is “weather” you should be grateful for the $75 check.

In this case, I think US Airways is absolutely correct. It didn’t even have to give Ainspan a $75 refund. So thanks for that.

It’s also wrong, because you don’t promise to cover the hotel bill of a passenger flying on a walk-up, first-class ticket and then back out. I mean, isn’t this the airline’s best customer? How much better can it get than buying the most expensive ticket?

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So I’m really conflicted about this one.

Ainspan is both right — and wrong. US Airways is both right — and wrong.

But who is the most right — and wrong?

Did US Airways offer Nathan Ainspan enough compensation?

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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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