Amer­i­can Air­lines couldn’t get us to grand­mother’s fu­neral

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Christo­pher El­liott

A: My con­do­lences on the loss of your grand­mother. Amer­i­can Air­lines should have trans­ported you and your fam­ily to Illi­nois as promised.

But wait. A closer look at Amer­i­can Air­lines’ con­di­tions of car­riage, the le­gal agree­ment be­tween you and the air­line, notes, “We do our best to be on time, but our flight sched­ule is not guar­an­teed and not part of this con­tract.” So, Amer­i­can Air­lines wasn’t re­quired to get you to your grand­mother’s fu­neral on time, un­for­tu­nately.

This is what’s called a “trip in vain,” and it’s a gray area for air­lines and other travel com­pa­nies.

My fam­ily of four was sched­uled to fly from Austin, Texas, to Quad City In­ter­na­tional Air­port for my grand­mother’s fu­neral in Mo­line, Ill. The first leg of our Amer­i­can Air­lines flight from Austin to Dal­las was ini­tially de­layed be­cause of a crew prob­lem. Then, it was de­layed even more be­cause the plane had been mis­tak­enly over­fu­eled and they needed to drain some fuel. These de­lays made us miss our con­nec­tion in Dal­las.

Af­ter wait­ing eight hours for the next flight, Amer­i­can Air­lines can­celed that flight. We had to fly back home to Austin, and we missed the ser­vices. If it weren’t for the de­lays, which were solely the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Amer­i­can Air­lines, we would have made our con­nec­tion with no prob­lem. I was sup­posed to sing at the fu­neral and my hus­band was go­ing to be a pall­bearer.

I have con­tacted Amer­i­can Air­lines and they are try­ing to give us vouch­ers that have to be used this year. I ex­plained that we no longer have a rea­son to fly since we’ve missed an ex­pe­ri­ence we can never get back. I be­lieve we are en­ti­tled to a full re­fund. Can you help us? And for good rea­son. They don’t want to ad­ver­tise that they will of­fer a re­fund or credit if you can’t make it to your des­ti­na­tion on time. But they do. That’s be­cause the air­line’s pub­lished sched­ule cer­tainly im­plies some kind of guar­an­tee, even if the con­tract says oth­er­wise.

Amer­i­can Air­lines of­fered you a voucher, but as you note, vouch­ers ex­pire within a year of the ini­tial pur­chase. For you, the funny money was worth­less — and you’re right, Amer­i­can Air­lines could do bet­ter. Af­ter all, the crew prob­lem and the me­chan­i­cal is­sue were within the air­line’s con­trol.

I list the names, num­bers and email ad­dresses of the Amer­i­can Air­lines cus­tomer ser­vice ex­ec­u­tives on my web­site. A brief, po­lite email to one of them might have yielded a bet­ter out­come.

I con­tacted Amer­i­can Air­lines on your be­half. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive called you and of­fered the air­line’s con­do­lences on your loss. Amer­i­can Air­lines has is­sued a full re­fund.

Christo­pher El­liott is the om­buds­man for Na­tional Geo­graphic Traveler mag­a­zine and the au­thor of “How To Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, el­liott.org, or email him at [email protected]­liott.org.

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