American Airlines Updates Its Contract Of Carriage Again To Further Limit Passenger Rights

At the start of the month American Airlines updated its rules to make clear that they would not reimburse hotel stays you book yourself when your flights are severely delayed or cancelled (you have to wait for them to give you a hotel room if you want them to cover it) and to say they don’t have any obligation to get you to your destination – they can just refund your ticket if they prefer.

This was largely an exercising in making their Contract of Carriage (the adhesion contract you agree to when buying a ticket) match what they were doing in practice.

Cranky Flier argued they should be applauded for cleaning this up. I argued they should be called out first for treating customers in ways not even supported by their contract of carriage before this update, and for imposing consumer-unfriendly rules in the first place.

Besides American Airlines has trouble actually delivering hotels when passengers are entitled to rooms so they don’t have their act together to support the policy they want to enforce.

Regardless of what you think of recent changes to the airline’s Contract of Carriage it’s worth noting that they’re at it again because they weren’t consumer-unfriendly enough.

They’ve just added new wording to caveat your ability to get a refund even more. I’ve bolded the new language:

If we or our airline partner fails to operate or delays your arrival more than 4 hours, our sole obligation is to refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees according to our involuntary refunds policy, subject to our policy for rebooking your delayed / canceled flight.

When you face a delay of over 4 hours, you’re supposed to be entitled to a refund (the requirement to wait four hours is new during the pandemic, to allow American to keep your money more often).

However even a four hour delay isn’t something they’re willing to say unequivocally gets you a refund because it is now also “subject to [their] policy for rebooking your delayed / cancelled flight.”

In practice this shouldn’t be limiting, because that policy doesn’t appear to prevent refunds, but some lawyer that survived the 30% purge in management employees seems to think this is an important further protection for the airline against refunds a passenger might request.

Furthermore, nowhere does American Airlines announce its changes in rules. They assume, I suppose, that you re-read their Contract of Carriage thoroughly before each booking to understand any changes that they fail to highlight.

American Airlines – please stop. If you’re employing people who spend time updating your rules to find more new ways to limit customer rights, updating your Contract of Carriage multiple times a month, after you’ve been in business nearly 100 years, you’re clearly doing it wrong.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. […] American Airlines Updates Its Contract Of Carriage Again To Further Limit Passenger Rights – View from the WingNo, no it doesn’t. A variety of bloggers picked up on American’s contract of carriage changes previously, and there was a big focus on how American said it would only be liable to give you a refund if your flight is canceled/delayed more than 4 hours. The thing is… right below that, American also said how it would provide reacommodation options. Somehow, this got ignored and twisted into the idea that American just has to give you your money back and might strand you. Now, American listened to all the confusion and complaining and linked the two so it was clear that the airline would give reaccommodation options as well as a refund option. Now, apparently some think that’s bad. What on Earth… […]

Comments

  1. The best way to end this madness would be to message their customer care team on Twitter every single time you’re about to book a ticket and ask what their current policy is to make sure you understand.

  2. This is incredibly consumer unfriendly, and compounds the recent gouge. Please, Congress, since this industry will not treat consumers fairly, PLEASE enact a bill of rights for us. Europeans can’t be this far ahead of us. These robber-barons continue the long line of transportation monopolists who REQUIRE government intervention.

  3. American Airlines isn’t even able to deliver flights. How could they provide hotel rooms? 2 flights to South American canceled (deep discounted flights bought 10 months ago). They just refunded… and of course still fly to my destinations and on my dates. Awful ethics and no customer service. We just got used to it and all wonder who we should turn to. The least I can do is boycott them completely.

  4. Parker and AA’s board apparently have not learned “when in a hole, stop digging.”

    With such a grubby attitude towards customers, how soon will it take for the other U.S. carriers to isolate AA to protect themselves from an undesirable reaction across the board by Congress?

    Other than corp execs, will this pathetic business attitude create a run on the mileage bank to burn-off miles before they become totally worthless?

  5. Do you have any idea what the word “caveatL means and that it is not a verb (so you cant, as you did, say “to caveat”).?

    (Caveat – a warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations)

  6. Gary, I’ve read article after article that you’ve written. Why do hate American Airlines so much?
    I mean, seriously- it’s been old.

    What’s wrong with expecting customers to wait until they’re given a hotel voucher?
    Otherwise, they run the risk of customers getting unnecessarily lavish accommodations.

    The airline is a business- and there are certainly areas that should be critiqued so that the airline can make appropriate changes. But man, all you do is bitch and moan.
    Compare and contrast like a real journalist should?

  7. @SST – Exactly right. In Europe, most of your flights are going to get in the air before the penalties kick in for the airlines and most cancellations (if not due to weather or mechanical) are going to be fairly early, to also avoid penalties. It is BS that here we accept this treatment. If congress won’t do it, we should all do it with our $$ but we won’t.

  8. There is a limit to how much I will take, and how much I am willing to risk putting my family through, so, with these latest AA changes, I will fly them only in the most extreme circumstances. Why should I do business with a company that in no way shape or form sees me as a human being? Domestically, Delta, jetBlue, & United can get me where I want to go, and all — while not perfect — recognize that treating people with care is good business. Internationally, the options are myriad, and are often joyous experiences, so Doug Parker’s shabby, unkind, ugly American doesn’t even cross my mind. It’s quite a turn from the days I was an Executive Platinum who went out of his way to fly AA, because they (paraphrased slogan), “knew why I fly”.

  9. The frequency of CoC changes IS ridiculous. But nearly all passengers only look at the bottom-line price; not the seat, service, or policy. When you buy the lowest fare, you’re damning yourself to what you’ve purchased. Be smarter consumers, not cheaper consumers.

  10. Hey, if they want to tank their business entirely I say they’re doing a bang up job as of late.
    I was not very enthused about flying again in the future anyway but AA is making certain that I never book with them.

    Honestly with the cost of airfare or travel by train, I’m starting to think driving will end up being my better bet.

  11. If the airline reserves the right to cancel the contract at their discretion, and just refund your fare, with no further damages owed, then it isn’t actually a CONTRACT. A contract binds each party to perform its obligations, or to be held liable for damages in case of breach. Without that obligation and liability for damages in case of non-performance, the agreement lacks what is called “consideration” in the law, and lack of consideration makes a contract essentially illusory. An airline that is advertising itself as entering into a “contract of carriage” that isn’t really a contractual commitment is perpetrating a fraud on its customers and should be investigated by not only the FAA, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as well (if not the Department of Justice).

  12. Fliers should remember that the federal rules on cancelled or late flights, including compensation and rebooking to get you to your destination, trump AA’s new, unfriendly policies.

  13. Don’t blame the airlines. Blame the regulators. The law makers and regulators give the airlines a free hand to act anyway they choose.
    Only a few rules are required:
    1. Remove passangers’names from tickets.
    2. Make only one type of ticket for each class (economy, business, first).
    3. Make refunds mandatory for all tickets, upon customer’s request. Less reasonable refund fees.
    4. For delays more than 8 hours and cancelations – mandatory compensation.
    5. Short and fast way to resolve disputes in a dedicated court (like a small claim court)

    This may increase the airfare a little but will make wonders in improving service.

  14. @Will Alonso – I do not “hate American Airlines” though I do think that ex-Tempe management is dragging the carrier down, there is no airline with more potential to be better than it is today than American Airlines!

    “What’s wrong with expecting customers to wait until they’re given a hotel voucher?” American’s system for providing vouchers is the problem, they often do not have inventory to do so even when rooms are available. They can’t even get rooms for flight attendants during regular operations!

    “Compare and contrast like a real journalist should?” If you don’t think I’m doing this then you certainly have not “read article after article” I’ve written.

  15. @Gary. I agree “The ex-Tempe” management is a disaster. Why do you and others continue to fly American Airlines?

  16. @John C – I live in Austin and they’re the largest legacy carrier here (I also fly the largest carrier Southwest).

    Delta’s schedule and route network doesn’t work for me. United Airlines current poor inflight internet makes flying them a non-starter.

    The staff in my home town’s American Airlines lounge are fantastic.

  17. @Gary I have not flown in quite a long time and I am not very involved in this whole situation but I’d like to say I really enjoy your articles. After reading some I now get them recommended on my Google newsfeed and always click. I would like to get out of the Midwest to travel again someday so I’m glad I have your writing in my pocket to take with me to keep me informed.

    Thanks!

  18. Didn’t the “ex-Tempe” management buy trump airlines? And for what its worth, I switched from AA to Delta in 2019. Much better on customer service. AA is still giving me executive platinum status through Jan 2022 (and I’ve only redeemed miles for 2 trips), I think that’s a pretty good sign of where they are headed.

  19. This whole article comes across as whiney and entitled. They are a PRIVATE company. They can do whatever they want with their policies. If they want to turn away potential customers then that’s their own fault. And yes, you are legally obligated to reread their TOS every single time you book. Ignorance is not bliss.

    To me it seems as though they don’t care about keeping clientele. So just go to another airline. It’s simple.

  20. “view from the wing” should just be renamed “Gary Leff incessantly complains about American Airlines.” One trick pony.

  21. @Will Alonso, stop being a shill for “businesses” that took billions in customers’ money as bailout and are now staffing those same people.

    Just shameless a//holery.

  22. Hey Ash,
    Did you read the TOS of this website before commenting? What a tool for suggesting AA is right here.

    Shill.

  23. My complaint is concerning the wheelchair policy. I traveled to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago and ordered a wheelchair to meet me in Vegas. I waited about 15 minutes before it came. Supposed to be there on landing. I got back to Chicago, it was even worse. What’s the deal? I traveled first class and received third class service. Is that how the elders are treated?

  24. I fell like this will be great for the consumers. It is only a matter of time before they hit the trigger and are suddenly faced with the government setting the rules for compensation to emulate the EU rules. I dream of that day.

  25. Just demonstrates AA;s continuing absolute contempt for passengers. Too easy to make millions off government handouts and credit card mileage programs. If they can just get rid of the damned passengers, life would be total bliss at the top.

  26. We are now, again, being classified as cattle.
    Before the virus changed everything the airlines collected 8 billion $ in luggage & flight change fees. Then we, collectively, gave them billions more.
    So, the cattle are being treated with disdain–again !

  27. I’ve flown AA for over 60 years, along with a few SW, United, Delta, Hawaiian and back in the day, TWA. That said, I fail to see how any of these airlines really stand out.
    For the most part, as a consumer, all I really care about are the flight crew and how they treat us. Generally, they are good people and I don’t want them to be punished for the “contract” management puts in place.
    By the same token, I had flights on AA cancelled in the past four months with no explanation other than ‘mechanical issues’, no refunds and rebooked a day later. That’s more the 24 hours late. Seems to me management needs to be overridden by Congress.

  28. Maybe a boycott to AA, if every single person in US stop book flights with them, they will have to change their policies.

  29. Full disclosure, I am Platinum Executive status with American. I have had over 200 flights with American over the past 20 months (I fly a lot for work). Also have dozens of flights on other carriers as well. Have had 1 instance where the flight was out right canceled where they offered a flight late the next day, but I declined, got a refund and drove 4 hours in the middle of the night through a blizzard to make a business meeting the next morning. Shit happens people. Act like an ass to the airline agents and they will do nothing to help you. Roll with it, be flexible, be nice and they will always take care of you. Oh yeah, all airlines cancel flights, so don’t act like American is the worst. United, Delta, Southwest and the rest deal with the same asshole customers.

    I flew all through Covid shut down and I must admit, not dealing with all the vacation moron travelers was freaking awesome!

  30. This is of no surprise. Booked my first (and last) AA flight for a November trip. Flight has been changed three times in a month, THREE! No reason, no apology, inconvenience all mine. My whole trip is a mess now. Seriously considering eating the flight cost and just booking with a different carrier so I have some sort of continuity for this trip.

    Fly away AA…bbyyyeeeeee

  31. Why should they change, not enough costumers understand that AA is a step above frontier airlines but only because the seats recline

  32. Understand this…this PLANDEMIC is working. Soon, the travel and hospitality business is going to take a dive, it cause them to slowly fold.
    Starting first, hotels, sadly. The airline industry doesn’t care. But, they will be next. And then, there will be no more flying anywhere. Pay attention. This is what the Elite WANT .
    Funny thing is, they will regret it. For t h e obvious reason. I shouldn’t have to spell that out.
    It’s coming.

  33. I’ve stopped flying AA. I have a few hundred thousand miles to buy free flights, but that’s the only time they see my money. The days of me buying RT fights with them is OVER. 70 bucks is all they get per flight.

  34. Your hatred of AA continues as does your inaccurate reporting of the facts. If you ever read contract you would see the accomidation clause. You’ve been called out for “bad blogging’ now on several travel sites.

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