Help! American Airlines canceled my flight but won’t cover my expenses

Dale Reed’s American Airlines flight is canceled because of weather, but then reinstated. Should the company cover his hotel costs — or is that a lost cause?

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Question: I was scheduled to fly from Washington to Chicago on American Airlines recently. The night before my Friday flight, I went online to check in and noticed that my flight had been canceled.  During the next five hours I tried repeatedly to get hold of customer service, and was finally told that the flight had been canceled because of bad weather, and so I would need to pay for the extra night’s stay at a hotel and any other expenses.

American rebooked me on a Saturday flight one day later. Imagine my surprise Friday afternoon when I started receiving notices from Google calendar that the original flight was delayed (since it was still on my calendar). I called American and was told that the flight had been reinstated.

At this point it was too late for me to make it to the airport to try and make that flight. I wrote to customer service and requested that American give me a $500 travel voucher to cover my time and additional expenses, including my $193 hotel bill for the extra night. American said it would provide no compensation. Can you help? — Dale Reed, Chicago

Answer: This is a curious case. If American Airlines canceled your flight because of the weather, then it owes you nothing. It is, in legal-speak, an “act of God” outside the company’s control. If, however, the flight was canceled for operational reasons — what’s referred to as a “mechanical” delay — then it does, indeed provide for an overnight hotel stay and meal vouchers.

Details can be found at American’s contract of carriage.

Technically, American is both right and wrong at the same time. Right, in the sense that it owes you nothing for a weather-related cancellation. But wrong, in the sense that it has completely let itself off the hook.

I wouldn’t necessarily blame American for failing to rebook you. Airline reservation systems can automatically rebook you on a reinstated flight, but you’d already made plans to fly the next day, so it wouldn’t have recognized your reservation as one that needed to be rebooked.

“In the unlikely chance we do reinstate a flight, we do try to contact the traveler to let them know about the change,” an airline spokesman told me. “Most times, travelers are already booked on other flights with different connections, if they are connecting.”

Question is, should this extra overnight stay be treated like a weather delay or a mechanical delay? American wants to treat it like a weather delay. My inner consumer advocate says: mechanical delay.

This is definitely the kind of question you should bring up with American in writing, and if it can’t help, appeal to a customer service executive. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American’s executives on my advocacy site.

I contacted American on your behalf. The airline agreed to reimburse you for your hotel and offered a $200 voucher “due to the circumstances.”