An extended delay is unpleasant, but it doesn’t lead to a free international vacation

After a long flight delay, Jan Kleinman wants American Airlines to pay for her next vacation. But that’s not a reasonable expectation. What would be a fair resolution for both Kleinman and American Airlines?

Question: On my recent flight from Lima, Peru to Minneapolis via Miami, the airplane sat on the runway for four hours before returning to the departure gate in Lima. We spent another four hours in line waiting to rebook our flights and got vouchers for hotels, meals and ground transportation. No food or water was offered to us during the wait, and there were poor communications from American’s agents regarding rebooking options, amenities and passport exit visa cancellations.

American would not book me on a flight beyond Miami or otherwise help me reach Minneapolis. All the airline offered me was a hotel one hour away from the airport and three meal vouchers. American Airlines passengers were severely limited as to the menu options for which we could use the vouchers, yet crew members were offered a plentiful buffet. Meanwhile, I was suffering from a broken wrist that needed medical care at home. This treatment by American Airlines makes me reluctant to fly that airline in the future.

After I returned home, I wrote to American’s vice president for customer relations, with copies to the senior vice president for customer experience and the CEO of American Airlines to complain about my experience. Nobody has answered my email.

American can help earn back my loyalty by apologizing and providing me with a $700 voucher or free air ticket for my upcoming vacation to Quito, Ecuador. Can you help me get this? — Jan Kleinman, Minneapolis

Answer: An eight-hour delay that requires an overnight hotel stay certainly isn’t an enjoyable end to a vacation — especially when you had a broken wrist on top of that.

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But you were expecting too much by asking American Airlines to provide you with a free vacation. And as annoying as you found the discrepancy between the value of your vouchers and the meals offered to American’s crew members, complaining about it did not help your case.

Also, we always advise starting with the lowest-ranking person in our executive contacts, writing a concise, polite note free of accusations, threats, sarcasm or indications that you don’t plan to patronize the business in the future, and allowing that person sufficient time to respond before escalating your complaint to the next executive in the hierarchy. Going straight to the top executives or copying them on initial complaint letters often results in your communications being ignored.

American Airlines’ International General Rules indicate that

Passenger will be provided one night’s lodging, or a maximum allowance for one night’s lodging as established by each location, when an AA flight on which the passenger is being transported is diverted to an unscheduled point and the delay at such point is expected to exceed six hours during the period 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. …

Extraordinary circumstances: AA will provide such amenities as are necessary to maintain the safety and/or welfare of certain passengers such as invalids, unaccompanied children, the elderly or others to whom such amenities will be furnished consistent with special needs and/or circumstances.

Except to the extent provided in this rule, AA shall not be liable for failing to operate any flight according to schedule or for changing the schedule of any flight, with or without notice to the passenger.

Unfortunately, these rules contain no language that obligates American Airlines to provide you with meals or ground transportation. It did provide you with a hotel for the night and put you on the next available flight to your destination — which was all it was required to do. The airline even went above and beyond its obligations by providing you with meal vouchers as a gesture of goodwill, even if your meal options were limited.

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And American certainly isn’t required to provide you with a free international flight.

Our advocates advised you to start over by writing a short, polite letter asking for a compensation consideration in future travel vouchers to our primary contact for American Airlines, and you notified us that you sent such a letter to another vice president of American Airlines.

American responded immediately, telling you that it had already responded to your initial request, which was sent to the email address you had on file with American Airlines. (You used a different email address to make your initial complaint but didn’t check your other email for American’s response.)

The airline’s agent apologized for your experience, telling you that it would be discussed in future staff training. It also issued you a voucher for $300 for future travel.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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