Allegiant Air cancels flight at the last minute. Chaos ensues. Is compensation due?

Dawn O’Brien and her family planned to fly from Cleveland to Hilton Head, S.C., for a family function. But Allegiant Air had other plans.

As they entered the terminal in Akron, Allegiant notified them by text that their flight had been canceled. Let me repeat: Allegiant notified the O’Briens that their flight was canceled.

Or was it rescheduled?

It may seem like semantics, but this difference, plus a misunderstanding, forced O’Brien to take an expensive, unscheduled tour of northern Ohio. This case also made our advocacy team wonder if there’s a difference anymore between canceling and rescheduling a flight.

“Representatives at the Allegiant counter told all the passengers that the flight was canceled and not rescheduled and that the next flight out (same time next day) was full so we would not be able to get on that flight,” O’Brien related. They said we should make alternative arrangements and submit receipts for reimbursement.”

With seats selling quickly, and with five people anxious to get to Hilton Head, O’Brien paid $2,190 for an American Airlines flight from Cleveland Hopkins, which is 54 miles away. While these intrepid travelers were nine hours late for their family function, at least they were able to make it to Hilton Head.

The problem came when it was time for O’Brien to seek reimbursement from Allegiant for her American Airlines tickets, as well as for her return transportation from Akron to Cleveland to retrieve their car.

“We submitted a claim which Allegiant said should take four to six weeks to resolve,” O’Brien said. “We wrote letters over several months following up on our claim.” Four months after she made her initial claim, Allegiant responded that the flight was never canceled, that it was rescheduled, and they would not pay O’Brien’s extra costs.

It turns out that O’Brien was notified later in the day, after they already had departed Akron for Cleveland, that the flight was indeed rescheduled for the next day. But O’Brien claims this was after she had already made other arrangements, at the suggestion of the Allegiant representatives in Akron, to fly with American.

“If Allegiant had notified us that they were even working on rescheduling the flight when we arrived at Akron, we would have waited for that outcome,” O’Brien told our advocate. What were they to do?

There are federal guidelines related to airline delays and cancellations on the Department of Transportation website. The website states, however, that there is no rule forcing airlines to reimburse you for a new ticket with another airline:

If your flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you on their first flight to your destination on which space is available, at no additional charge. If this involves a significant delay, find out if another carrier has space and ask the first airline if they will endorse your ticket to the other carrier. If your flight is experiencing a lengthy delay, you might be better off trying to arrange another flight, as long as you don’t have to pay a cancellation penalty or higher fare for changing your reservations. If you find a flight on another airline, ask the first airline if it will endorse your ticket to the new carrier; this could save you a fare collection. Remember, however, that there is no rule requiring them to do this.

But what if your flight is rescheduled and not canceled? This was the issue that kept O’Brien from being reimbursed for her American tickets when she returned. And the miscommunication made things worse.

We have advocated on our website about airlines’ responsibility to get travelers to their destinations in a timely manner.

“We would like them to acknowledge that they did indeed cancel this flight,” O’Brien says. “They left many angry passengers scrambling to get to Savannah. By the time they decided the flight was ‘rescheduled,’ we were already on our way to Savannah.”

After she was rebuffed by Allegiant, O’Brien turned to our advocates, who suggested that O’Brien post her story to the forum on our website. However, she didn’t.

Allegiant eventually refunded $452 (the cost of the first leg) and gave each of the five travelers a $100 voucher for future travel which O’Brien claims they never will use. But she is out $1,738 and wants us to help.

O'Brien did not take our advice by posting to our forums. Should we advocate for her with Allegiant Air anyway?

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