This passenger says she was involuntarily denied boarding — American Airlines disagrees

Kim and Joe Christiana were headed home to Baton Rouge, La., from their son’s wedding when they got an unexpected change in their itinerary.

Kim received a text message from American Airlines stating that their flight from Boston to Washington was delayed and that they would miss their connection to New Orleans. The automated system notified them that they would be rebooked on a later flight from Boston through Charlotte that would not get them back to Louisiana before 1 a.m.

The Christianas decided to head straight for Logan Airport. On the way, they called American and found out that there was one seat left on a 5 p.m. flight that would get to Washington in time to make their regularly scheduled flight to New Orleans.

“We had not arrived at the airport so I didn’t think I would be able to make that flight,” Kim Christiana told us. “I didn’t want to separate from my husband and was just happy we had a flight home.” Nevertheless, Kim decided to leave her husband with their luggage and take the flight to Washington, with the hope of catching the originally scheduled flight to New Orleans and getting home on time. Upon landing in D.C., Kim discovered that the New Orleans-bound flight also was delayed and that the connecting aircraft would be her originally-scheduled plane from Boston.

“I was devastated,” Christiana lamented. “I told the American representative what had happened and he told me to call customer service. I called and was told I would have to submit an email about my issue. A representative from the airline heard me and said ‘you were probably bumped because they overbooked and didn’t want to have to offer compensation to someone to give up their seat.'”

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Now Christiana wants to be compensated for being involuntarily denied boarding, or “bumped,” from her original flight.

Thanks to new regulations, the cost to airlines for bumping passengers has skyrocketed, and Christiana wants American to pay up — to the tune of $5,000. Christiana’s math seems to be a little fuzzy. According to the Department of Transportation’s website, compensation maxes out at $1,350 per passenger, so $2,700 is the maximum Christiana could have collected as compensation for “bumping.”

But were the Christianas really involuntarily denied boarding? There are specific criteria that determine whether someone is “bumped.”

Kim Christiana could have taken up this issue by emailing American Airlines’ executive contacts but instead reached out to our advocates.

We contacted an American Airlines representative, who responded that the Christianas were not bumped and that it was a combination of air traffic and timing that led to Kim making her connection.

The flight was originally delayed due to Air Traffic Control delays in the Northeast. Passengers were rebooked automatically…no flights were oversold at all. The flight to Washington from Boston accommodated standby customers, and the flight to New Orleans was only 50 percent full.

Even though the first flight might have been linked, we always have the ability to swap aircraft in our hub. The records I see is that they were working to move the New Orleans flights to a different aircraft. The first flight was delayed first, which is the reason our automated system ran, and rebooked passengers who might misconnect.

Even though both their original departure flight from Boston and connecting flight in Washington were scheduled and eventually flown by the same aircraft, American could have swapped aircraft for either flight. For this reason, American’s automated system rebooked the Christianas when the first flight was delayed. Since they were rebooked due to a possible misconnection and not due to overbooking, they are not due compensation.

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Nevertheless, the same American Airlines representative issued the Christianas a $200 voucher as a gesture of goodwill.

Were the Christianas given enough compensation?

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Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

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