My flight was canceled and I had to pay extra to travel

When Mark Schlangel’s flight is canceled, his airline refuses to rebook him on the next available flight, and he’s forced to buy a new ticket. Is he entitled to a refund?

Question: My friend and I used our frequent flier miles to book a flight on American Airlines’ partner airline LATAM from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina. That flight, the only one of the day, was canceled due to pilot illness.

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Both LATAM and American refused to rebook us on another flight, each claiming it was the other’s responsibility. Since we were out of the country with limited resources and time, and given that we had to reach our destination that day to make a cruise departure, we were forced to buy out-of-pocket last-minute tickets on a different airline and we needed to address the issue of compensation when we returned.

Now that that time has come, both are still refusing culpability, leaving us with the bill. Please help us navigate this mess of deniability. — Mark Schlangel, Miami Beach, Fla.

Answer: Ah, two of my favorite topics — loyalty programs and code-sharing. Where to begin?

Maybe here: LATAM should have found another pilot and gotten you to your destination, as promised. Kind of goes without saying. But after that, this case gets a little murky.

Your airline’s contract of carriage — the legal agreement between you and the airline — doesn’t guarantee an arrival time. In other words, LATAM wasn’t contractually obligated to get you to your destination in time for your cruise. But I think there was an understanding, based on the published flight schedule, that it would fly you there on time, or at least on the same day. And that didn’t happen.

There are two complicating factors. First, the fact that you used your frequent flier miles for these flights. Airlines generally assign little or no value to your award seats. The seats would fly empty if a loyal frequent flier didn’t claim them, and for internal accounting purposes, the airline considers a “mile” to be worth a penny or less, give or take.

So when a flight gets canceled, you can understand how an airline might be reluctant to put you and your friend in a revenue seat.

LATAM should have, and probably would have, flown you to your destination the next day, even if reluctantly. But that brings us to problem number two: the code share. You redeemed your miles on a partner airline, meaning that you are not a LATAM frequent flier, but American’s problem.

Code-sharing can be a real mess, at least for passengers. It allows airlines to collude instead of compete in the marketplace, and it lets them play “pass the buck” with a case like yours. Your entreaties to LATAM and American were brushed off.

This could have been avoided by giving yourself more time to get to your cruise or booking a flight on an airline that flew to your destination more than once a day. But really, it shouldn’t have been an issue at all. The original flight should have taken off on time.

An appeal to a customer service executive at one of the airlines might have helped. I list the names and numbers for American Airlines and LATAM on my consumer advocacy site.

With the assistance of the advocates on my help forum, you found the right people at both airlines. And the resolution to your case is one of the most interesting ones in a while. American refunded your miles for the ticket and added 10,000 bonus miles “for the inconvenience.”

Your friend tweeted LATAM and included a video of the passengers on your flight “rioting” (your words). LATAM agreed to refund half of your expenses, or $544.

13 thoughts on “My flight was canceled and I had to pay extra to travel

  1. While i wouldn’t use miles for a critical flight like this, does that little aside about “passengers rioting” indicate that other passengers were getting reamed in the same way as LW? If so, the bit about miles is irrelevant.

  2. I know that airlines set aside a certain number of seats to be used as “award seats”. However, these are controlled and I somehow doubt that if loyal frequent flyers didn’t claim them, that they would go empty. I believe that the airlines monitor all their seats and if the demand is there for seats, the availability of “award seats” on a particular flight would be limited or become not available in the push of a button on the keyboard or by the computer program controlling the seating.

  3. So—-rants about frequent flyer programs and code shares aside – who should have been called at the time, to resolve it as it should have been? I think, aside from the reasonable resolution that was achieved, that people need to know what hey should do in such a case. I expect LATAM should have had to handle it….

    1. The fact is this was a once a day flight that was cancelled. There’s so many people needing rerouted, the OP is at the bottom of the list. I’m not saying it’s right, just that it is what it is. In a case like this, unless you’re a super elite using those miles, you’re going to have to pay someone else to get where you’re going.

      1. LATAM would have only cared about his super-elite status if that status was with LATAM. AA status probably would not have made any difference with them. Although if he had AA status, it is likely that AA would have tried to rebook and not passed it back to LATAM.

        But with one flight a day between those two cities, there would not be much AA could have done on an award ticket.

        1. If he was a super elite with AA, he could have called their special number and I’m sure AA would have found a way to get him there. For 99%+ of the flying public, that’s not going to happen.

    2. There was nothing to do that would have worked. This was a once a day flight, and LATAM didn’t have another flight that would have gotten them there on time for the cruise. No airline is going to endorse a reward seat to another airline at real cost.

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