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

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By Christopher Elliott

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?

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 American cancels your flight for operational reasons then it does offer overnight hotel stay and meal vouchers.

You can find details 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.

Deciphering flight delays

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. (Related: How travelers can challenge the industry’s act of God excuses.)

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“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.”

Should American treat this as a weather delay or a mechanical delay? The airline wants to treat it like a weather delay. My inner consumer advocate says: mechanical delay. (Related: One airline ticket for the price of two?)

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, here is a guide on resolving your consumer needs. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American’s executives on my advocacy site.

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

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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.

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