American Airlines Changed Their Itinerary, Demanded Family Pay $30,000 To Fix It

A family of 9 passengers says that American Airlines ran a schedule change, and rebooked their return flight from a different country without telling them. They checked their seat assignments online – it’s always important to garden your reservations and check that nothing has changed – and found that their return trip was all wrong (and they weren’t sitting together on the wrong flights, either!).

Their trip was to St. Vincent. Currently American Airlines operates a twice-weekly Airbus A319 between Miami and Argyle International Airport. American was still flying them to St. Vincent, but had booked their return from St. Lucia. The family relays that an American agent told them the rebooking was due to an oversale of the A319.

The customer service agent said, ‘Yes, I’m sorry, sir – you’re in an overbooked situation and we have moved your flight from St. Vincent to St. Lucia,’ which is about 100 miles away as the crow flies and five islands north. And I said, ‘Well that’s insane. We have to change this back. This is not acceptable.’”

They tried to get American to rebook them. And the airline said it was possible – for an extra $30,000 to cover all 9 passengers.

American says they sent an email regarding the schedule change in April. I assume this had to do with the limited St. Vincent service rather than overselling that flight. And the family was faulted for “[taking] no action until July.”

The group rebooked themselves from Barbados, booked a flight there for $2000, and that reduced the fee American demanded to $3000 in total. American eventually moved their flights without cost, but reportedly told them they were “lucky” and were costing the airline $3000 in revenue.

Watch your email for schedule changes, and check your itineraries more frequently! American had reissued the tickets and treated the schedule change as accepted, so additional changes now were being treated as voluntary – rather than subject to a waiver that resulted from their schedule change.

The situation isn’t entirely unique. This week a former boss of mine reached out for help with her vacation itinerary. Her Delta ticket began with an Air France flight to Paris that was cancelled. Delta told her she could either be rebooked next week for free, or pay $1000 to be rebooked the next day. She paid it, not wanting to lose her trip which involved prepaid accommodations and flights in Africa on separate tickets.

That’s not how this is supposed to work. The airline needs to rebook her, had seats to do so, and she shouldn’t incur extra costs for those available seats when the rebooking is due to the fault of the airline. Some European carriers have been known to only rebook into the same fare class, however. She’ll get her money back, and she’ll also pursue EU261 compensation for the delay of her trip. Consumers believe what airlines tell them but they really really shouldn’t.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. One sure thing you can say about American Airlines – they are consistent – they are always screwing up and try to punish passengers when American makes a mistake. Anyone flying them is asking for trouble.

  2. It’s extremely infuriating when AA changes flights and claims to have sent an email advising of the change. I have found numerous changes to future itineraries for which I never received an email (I receive some, but definitely not all, especially when changes are major – I tend to get the emails for 5 minute changes but not for 3 hour changes).

    And their practice of assuming the change is accepted because if no action being taken is absurd. IIRC, you previously had to click to accept/acknowledge a change. That feature seems to be gone. I have international flights in January which (understandably) keep changing and I am waiting for them to settle down before finalizing changes with AA as I am not going to call every few days just to have it change again. I cannot imagine how they can successfully shift the burden to the traveler to constantly monitor flights that are 6 months out for changes.

  3. The JetsFan- (my condolences) — you have perfectly stated the typical American Airlines way of handling their mistakes. Buyer beware, these types of episodes by American are more of the norm than the exception.

  4. Earlier this year I had a confirmed reservation with 2 seats on Singapore Suites from JFK to FRA and a month later I received an email from Singapore Airlines confirming my seat change !! I looked and saw I now had 2 first class seats not near each other. I called airline immediately and they denied that I had ever had different seats. I offered to send them my original email confirmation but they were not interested.

    I assume they gave away my seats to someone more worthy than I am … cancelled flight and now have to find a use for their miles.

  5. And what about “Passenger responsibility”? Tired of the “boo Hoo”, “look what the big bad company did to me.”

    GROW UP. You need to take responsibility to read your emails, check your flights, I could go on, but whey beat a dead horse (sorry PITA).

    I have had flights changes, read my emails and adjusted before the pandemic and after it, nothing new except these people didn’t do their part and follow up. Nothing new except they will get 15 minutes of social media fame!

  6. AA is part airline, part terrorist organization.
    If you buy tickets in good faith and American (or any airlines) changes them, they own the problem.
    They should fix it for free and quit terrorizing their customers.

  7. Whenever I get a notice of a flight change, I don’t necessarily acknowledge it right away, as it’s often a great way to upgrade your flight – either better flights or better airlines. But you generally get one shot, unless they change things again. Understand the rules of what’s possible and a reasonable proposal – sometimes you can even stretch it a bit. And if nothing is appealing right away, wait, something better might come along.

    A few years ago, I had an AA award flight to Paris that got changed. It wasn’t a particularly appealing flight, and had two connections, was coming out of Orly, but it was way cheaper on miles than anything out of CDG. Low and behold, things got changed that made it even worse, but I checked the rules and found out that AA considered ORY and CDG the same, so asked if I could change to a CDG departure and wound up with a one-stop flight home, no increase in miles. Since then, if I have I can book things pretty far out for good fares and/or miles, I’ll book them betting that something will change that’ll let me get better flights. Works more often than not.

  8. “American Airlines . . . sen[t] Taussig an e-mail back in April. The e-mail notified Taussig of the schedule change resulting in a change to his itinerary. American Airlines said in those instances, customers do have the option of seeking a full refund or they can make additional changes to their flights. In this case, the airline said the customer took no action until July.”

    Read the actual news article. This is NOT AA’s problem. This guy is a self-described frequent traveler. As such, he knows better and should have taken action when he received the email IN APRIL.

  9. Sorry David, I do not. I do have over1 million airmiles and dozens of cruises under my belt and continue to see people blame everyone for their problems but not take responsibility for their part in it.

    Time for people to grow up, own up to their part of the problem and quit “running to mommy”.

  10. An email notification, which in this day in age is buried in seconds or in spam, is not enough. Airlines should be required to contact the person by phone (which is on record), repeatedly if necessary, and properly go over options. This is reprehensible on AA’s part and calling it the responsibility of the party to notice a random email is not at all acceptable. Really, U.S. carriers are more and more just asking for regulations like the EU has to protect consumers. It’s like they are begging for it.

  11. American’s IT is completely screwed up on making flight changes. Last year we booked a PHL-MIA-SKB (St. Kitts) round trip and received a schedule change email about 2 1/2 months out.

    The outbound was changed to PHL-MIA-CLT-SXM (St.Maarten) which was bad enough but the inbound was changed to simply MIA-PHL.

    Didn’t bother to deal with AA since I canceled due to the travel restrictions in place in SKB.

  12. If I order a pepperoni pizza & get a veggie delivered, it’s not my fault that they ran out of pepperoni. It’s not my responsibility because I didn’t call back to make sure. I paid for a product & something else was delivered. Don’t sell me something you don’t have. It’s all on AA. In this scenario, the pizza gets delivered to a house 30 miles away “as the crow flys” & demands I pay again.

  13. American has repeatedly, on several trips, changed my itinerary by a minute or two, but instead of keeping me on the flight I booked, they’ve changed me to a connection hours earlier. As these are business trips where I must declare at customs with a Carnet for import/export, an earlier flight won’t work. Each and every time I have to call AA, and sit on hold to get changed back to the flight I booked originally. Last 5 trips, same issue. Last week the hold time was 7.5 hours. I received the email of the change for only one passenger out of three.

  14. I am very sympathetic. You just cannot trust the airlines. As you say, “Watch your email for schedule changes, and check your itineraries more frequently!” It is a shame you have to watch them like a hawk, and also that there is so much “secret knowledge” required to fly efficiently these days. But it is what it is. Here are the things I do regularly:

    1. Check itineraries online (or preferably on the app) constantly – especially close to the the day of flight.
    2. Set expertflyer seat/aircraft/schedule change alerts. (Many times I have woken up to an alert of a change before the airline contacted me.)
    3. Have a plan B if something goes off. Have an idea what the airline will accept (partner airlines, for example). (Given the 9 passengers in this case, this would be tough. In the current time of constant IRROPs, I’d have been particularly reluctant to have planned to have all 9 passengers on one plane on a twice-weekly flight. Sad, but true.)
    4. Try to fly in F or business class. They get taken care of first. Status on the airline also helps. Also sad but true.

  15. Personally I think there are some facts left out of this article as it is written. Got to be way more to the story.

  16. Not just AA or DL. We had a trip to Brussels on TAP using LifeMiles from Avianca. (You can already see where this will go badly…) TAP cancelled the return from Brussels to Lisbon. Tried rebooking myself. Nope, had to call. Called. Waited for 2.5 hours on hold then told to call back later and was hung up on. Did again. Hung up on again. Eventually got someone on a chat session after a few hours waiting there as well. They said, “sorry, you need to call Avianca.” Tried Avianca, they said, “this is a TAP issue…call them…” Back and forth for a whole day. Meanwhile my hotel reservation was ending and they were sold out the next day.

    We ended up making our way to London and flew BA out of there. Months went by with back and forth between both TAP and Avianca and to this day, nothing has ever been gained. Needless to say, there is no way we’ll ever deal with either of those airlines again. TAP was fine to just leave us stranded there and from what I’ve read, this is very common with them. They will not only leave you stranded, but basically run and hide as they won’t be reachable.

    It’s sad, but you really do need to have backup plans as there may likely be something that goes wrong along the way. Never do anything that is prepaid and non-refundable (such as hotels). Take a trip having enough cash/miles/points for emergencies even if it’s not your own fault. Airlines/hotels won’t be there for you anymore.

  17. Problem with Southwest is their absence of any interline agreements. They are great when things work okay, but if they cancel on you, you will only put you on the next Southwest flight with seats. That could be a couple of days. Similar to the problem here – there was only a twice a week flight. I’m sure the next one did not have 9 seats. I’ve sometimes chosen to fly a bigger plan that has more flights to a larger airport and drive to my destination than trust in a direct flight on a small plane to a closer smaller airport.

  18. Thanks to my seeing this I decided to garden my return flight from Europe coming up in early August. After logging into my account I discovered that AA moved me from my originally booked 9:35a departure LHR to DFW to the 3:15p departure LHR to DFW and I went from having a choice seat to not having a seat. According to the trip details the ticket was issued July 15th. I originally purchased the ticket back in May.

    I just searched my email and there is NO notification email from AA alerting me to the change. They did; however, send a “Your Trip Confirmation” email showing the original date and record locator but no mention that it’s a NEW or CHANGED itinerary. It does include the new, different flight but one could be forgiven for presuming it is a copy of the originally booked since they make no effort to highlight the change or tell the recipient that they involuntarily changed the itinerary.

    Normally I’d call them to now try to route through Madrid or something in an effort to avoid LHR since they initiated the change but I’m not keen on spending hours on hold while on a working holiday.

  19. American did the same nonsense to my family. They sent no email of the change. I had to file a complaint with the FAA to get a refund of the overcharges. American owes me compensation for bumping my family from the flight they oversold. There should be a class action against American.

  20. So why does @Sunviking, who is some kind of lefty, always take the position favoring the over dog?

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