Bumped from my flight to Palm Beach — why won’t American pay up?

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By Christopher Elliott

After Samantha Gomez is bumped from a flight from Philadelphia to Palm Beach, Florida, she asks her airline for compensation. Why won’t it pay?

Question

I recently booked a one-way ticket on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Palm Beach, Florida, through Travelocity.com. The flight was oversold, so the airline put me on standby for another overbooked flight on the same day and arriving in Orlando, Florida — more than two hours away from my desired destination.

I did not get a seat on that flight either, and could not travel. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Passenger Bill of Rights, I am legally entitled to 400 percent of my original ticket price because the flight that American tried and failed to get me a seat on was over two hours past my original arrival time.

My original ticket price was $177. In addition, I paid $19 for flight protection, so the airline should be refunding my ticket regardless. I was packed and ready to go, I couldn’t make my trip, and I lost hundreds of dollars in prepaid expenses because of American’s mistake, and now it is refusing to reimburse me for anything.

I sent multiple emails and kept being denied reimbursement. American is breaking the law by denying me a refund. I want the legally required amount due to me: 400 percent of $177. I also would like the $19 in flight protection refunded, since that apparently means nothing to the airline. — Samantha Gomez, Coatesville, Penn.

Answer

Overbooking, or selling more tickets than seats, should be illegal. But in the upside-down world of the airline industry, it’s a common and accepted practice. The only things stopping an airline from overselling more seats are Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations that require an airline to fork over a refund, and then some, if it can’t get you to your destination.

Your rights are outlined in the DOT’s brochure — FlyRights — which you can find online.

American Airlines should have offered you a written statement describing your rights and explaining how it decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. You were entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. Based on your correspondence, it appears that you received none of those things, which is a clear violation of DOT regulations.

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You could have sent one last appeal to American Airlines (I list the executive contacts on my site). You also could have filed a complaint with the DOT online. Here’s my free guide to using your flight credit.

I contacted American and your online travel agency, Travelocity, and got to the bottom of the mystery. Travelocity’s records suggest that you missed your flight, not that you were involuntarily denied boarding, or bumped from your flight. But your online agency contacted the airline to see what its records say, and after some back-and-forth. American agreed with your conclusion that you’d been denied boarding. American paid you three times the value of your ticket, in accordance with DOT regulations.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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