I was downgraded to business class and I want full compensation!

Kenneth Giambrone’s months-long case against American Airlines for an involuntary downgrade has just ended, thanks to the help of our advocates and our forum — to his immense satisfaction.

Giambrone’s problem is an exercise in perseverance and exhausting all channels of filing claims and escalating complaints. And unfortunately, it’s also a case study in how not to communicate with people who are trying to help you solve a problem.

This long story began when Giambrone and his wife, Janet, flew to Rome on American last year. They had used frequent flier miles to book tickets in first class, where they expected to be seated during their return flight. But when they checked in to return home to Chicago, they had boarding passes for business class seats instead.

American had substituted a different aircraft from the one originally scheduled for their flight, whose configuration had a business class section but not a first class. According to Giambrone, American did not advise them of the downgrade until they arrived at the airport in Rome.

The Giambrones dug in their heels: under no circumstances were they willing to fly in business class. As Giambrone put it,

We offered to change routings, make connections in different cities (increasing total travel time significantly), fly on AA [American Airlines]’s different “partner” carriers ([British Airways], [Iberia], Finnair, etc. and pay their fuel charges which we didn’t have to pay with AA metal), even fly on a different day (and overnight at our own expense) in order to be accommodated in a First Class cabin — and fly on AA metal — which is what we were entitled to.

But American Airlines’ agents declined to accommodate the Giambrones by rebooking them:

All these suggestions were refused out of hand. We were going to fly business…right then and there…whether we like it or not. And AA wasn’t going to do anything to change what they’d already made their minds up that “we” were going to do.

So the Giambrones flew in business class on that flight, which was comparable to first class. It had flat beds and the same level of service that they could have expected while seated in first class on the aircraft type originally intended for that flight. American refunded the Giambrones the 12,500-mile difference between first class and business class and offered an additional 7,000 miles per ticket. But they were not happy.

After the flight, Giambrone posted in our forum under the name “LiliasPasta” (leading some of our forum advocates to mistake him for a woman). His desired resolution for his case was the following:

I would like only what American promised us, what we paid for in miles back in February (before they raised redemption levels), and what they subsequently deliberately took from us without our consent and through their own action: namely, two one-way First Class tickets from Europe to North America … or, the equivalent of those two tickets in the CURRENT number of AA miles necessary to purchase the same again (85,000 per person) is acceptable to us. They have refused, offering only 12,500 plus 7,000 “to make us go away.”

As of this writing, the forum thread has reached nine pages.

The forum advocates advised Giambrone to write polite letters to the American Airlines executives listed in our contacts section, allowing each one a week to respond to his letters before escalating his complaint to the next-higher-ranked executive.

Unfortunately, Giambrone’s letters did not move American to offer more compensation.

Giambrone believed that because his flight originated in a European Union country, it was subject to Article 10 of the EU 261 regulation:

If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, it shall within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), reimburse … 75% of the price of the ticket for all flights [longer than 3,500 kilometers], including flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments.

But American Airlines disagreed with this interpretation and stuck by its original offer of 12,500 miles for the downgrade and bonus of 7,500 miles, which Giambrone labeled “worthless”:

This is incredibly frustrating!

After writing on Sept.13 to the address you suggested in your post (AA.ECClaims@aa.com) and referencing EU261 along with the links to EU 261 you provided, and having received no response after 10 days, I asked this forum what to do.

It was suggested I begin to “go up the chain” beginning with the first name on the list.

I did so, writing on Sept. 23 to the first gentleman on the list.

Today, I received an email — not from the address I had written to originally (AA.EUClaims@aa.com) — nor from the address of the first gentleman on the list.

No…instead I received an email from (you guessed it!) the exact same AA Customer Relations address that initially refused to give me anything remotely approaching compensation (until I bitched) back on Sept. 6!!!

In other words, I was receiving a reply from the EXACT SAME PEOPLE (or department) who I have been having the problem with and who caused me to seek help in this forum in the first place!!

Is AA truly this “effed up”???

Writing to the AA “EU Claims” address (as you suggested) because I didn’t get a satisfactory resolution from AA Customer Relations (which is what caused me to seek out help in this forum), then writing to the first name on the list after getting no response from AA “EU Claims” (also as you suggested), and this is what I get???

A response from the same jackasses who I dealt with originally before seeking help from this forum?

At this point it is impossible for me to tell if this asinine “let’s-pass-the-buck” response is AA’s “EU Claims” doing or “the first name on the list’s” doing.

Does it matter? Evidently not.

This accusatory, aggressive attitude alienated the forum members. They advised Giambrone that because he had paid for his tickets with miles rather than cash, it would be difficult to enforce a claim for more compensation, particularly under EU 261. In addition, they warned Giambrone that pushing the issue with American Airlines, particularly if he took this same attitude in his communications with its executives, might lead American to close his frequent flyer account and ban him from future flights.

Instead, they suggested, Giambrone should file a claim with the European Union. But they told him that the European Union could only sanction American Airlines with a noncompliance fine for its breach of EU 261. It could not force American to issue him any additional compensation.

Giambrone filed the claim and received a response from the European Union indicating that the claim had been passed to ENAC (Ente Nazionale per l’Aviazione Civile), the Italian civil aviation authority. He asked if our advocates “have any pull with the European Union” — to which the answer is no.

When three months passed with Giambrone hearing nothing further about his case, he then turned to our regular advocacy team, which reached out to American Airlines.

American agreed to refund Giambrone 75 percent of the cost of the miles required to fly from Europe to the United States.

What course of action should American Airlines have taken to resolve Kenneth Giambrone's case?

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