Viral Complaint About American Airlines is Only 30% Right

Dave Carruthers was supposed to fly American Airlines flight AA211 from Manchester, UK to New York JFK but the flight was cancelled for mechanical reasons.

It’s not clear from his complaint what happened next. He says he spent ~ US$2000 to get to London Heathrow and fly to New York to make business meetings, which sounds like he wasn’t just put on an American (or British Airways) London – New York flight.

Mr. Carruthers’ bags weren’t promptly sent to New York.

He also says American only offered him a refund of half his ticket. Something was left up in the air here. Perhaps because he bought an alternate flight to New York, and didn’t get his initial ticket squared away, he must have looked like a no show for whatever flight American flight him on (such as the next day) Manchester – New York.

So when he called up American to change his return flight from New York to the UK a day earlier than planned, he couldn’t do it.

This all got sorted but apparently too late to be convenient for him to return a day early. He doesn’t mention any cost to do it, so I assume American was willing to change the return for free.

He wound up flying home the day he was originally scheduled. He approached the check-in counter filming his interaction, and he complains that the staff in New York weren’t friendly about it. He insisted on two things:

  1. An upgrade, for his inconvenience

  2. That his second checked bag should be free, since he had to buy clothes and the second bag to bring them home in because his original checked bag wasn’t sent to New York promptly.

The check-in agent wasn’t going to be able to upgrade him, whether there were seats or not. Waiving the second checked bag fee seems reasonable to me, actually, but getting a check-in agent in New York to do it hardly seems worth the hassle. Better to pay the fee and take up the issue of compensation with customer relations after the fact.

Flight cancellations are unfortunate. They also… happen. Although they happen more often with some airlines than with others.

Once that happens, airline customer service kicks in. Getting good service can be a challenge for passengers without elite status especially. Whether the passenger just left their reservation in a state that appeared to be a no show, or the agent he worked with didn’t clean it up properly, there was something to sort out.

He should have been entitled to a full refund of his ticket only if he didn’t intend to use the return, though it seems clear he did.

American should have put him on an alternate flight out of London, rather than making him wait a day to get home, including putting him on another airline if necessary given that the issue was mechanical. His luggage though wasn’t going to make it until at least the next day, it’s not clear when it did arrive.

The passenger wasn’t entitled to a free change to their return, or to an upgrade. Although it’s certainly understandable why he’d be frustrated by the cancellation and the challenges getting to New York especially without bags. And so his asks become unreasonable in response.

Under airline rules he shouldn’t get a free checked bag, but under the circumstances it seems like that’s more than a reasonable accommodation. He’s being deal with by customer relations, and they ought to be generous in terms of compensation and factor in the extra costs he incurred as a result of the mechanical delay.

I know my first call for the extra costs related to buying items when by checked bag didn’t show would be to my credit card company for baggage delay coverage, generally up to $100 a day.

  • Travel is hard – much harder than it ought to be.
  • It amazes me sometimes that the median passenger can navigate it at all, given the challenges that I find myself facing at times.
  • In the face of that, customers can become unreasonable. That’s understandable given how frustrating it can be to get customer service, and know the right thing to do under an airline’s rules. Customers revert to their own (biased) sense of fairness.

At the end of the day, mechanical issues happen in travel and then customer service can either handle things well — which means more than taking a call or handling a passenger in line, but understanding the customer’s needs, listening, and responding to get the best possible outcome under challenging circumstances. That’s where airlines often fall down, compounded by agent training issues (getting the rules wrong, or screwing up a reservation) and IT issues.

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. It sounds like he should have been rebooked under EU 261/2004, and should receive 600 Euros (300 if the rebooking resulted in him getting to his destination less than 3 hours later than he would have originally).

  2. Birmingham or Manchester? The linked article says Birmingham, and it makes a difference, as recovery from a cancellation at Birmingham would be more difficult than at Manchester. There’s only one AA flight a day at BHX, and no BA service (AA’s partner) at all, I believe. MAN has many more options.

    Either way – you don’t mention the fact that EU 261 provisions might (likely) apply here as it was a flight departing an EU country, with a mechanical delay. The passenger in question certainly seems to have compounded the situation with his actions/choices after the cancellation

  3. When American Airlines cancels their flights because the plane has a mechanical problem, they should do everything reasonably possible to get the customer to their destination ASAP. (Including rebooking on another airline) Having been in this situation many times (Ex. Last week from BUF to CHO) AA doesn’t do this consistently and that’s a problem when you have paid them hundreds or thousands of dollars in advance on a non-refundable fare. AA just doesn’t give a damn even when it would be relatively easy to rectify the situation to a mutually agreeable conclusion. Why not? 1. Airline oligopoly. (You don’t have a choice) 2. Non-refundable fares 3. They just don’t care if you get home on the same day or not.

  4. Is it just my bad luck, or does American cancel more flights than like all other airlines combined?

    Of the dozen or so AA flights I’ve been booked on in the last two years, fully half have been canceled (all of them American Eagle, FWIW). I’ve never in my life had a flight on any other carrier cancelled outright, except in cases of inclement weather.

    (And FTR, all of those AA flights were cancelled due to mechanical issues.)

  5. I’ve NEVER had American rebook me properly, have always had to do the research myself, luckily finding a non-stop within an hour to replace the LHR-MAN-JFK-BOS which was canceled a few years back, then a few months later stumbling across a special section LAX-DFW after LAX-FLL redeye was canceled when the pilot was taken off to pilot bigger LAX-MIA plane which left half full ignoring all of us sitting on the FLL flight, until we started getting cancellation texts. WOrse yet we were locked in the LAX airport with no other options, miles long line at podium, and most didn’t even find out about the special DFW section because they never announced it. After connecting to FLL the next morning I found the FLL flight had never left LAX, most of those passengers were still stranded. Yes, that’s how they run their airline.

    You are on your own. So you can call to confirm that a DFW-MIA 777 has wifi when you know you have a web meeting and you suspect it’s coming from overseas, be told it does, then check in to find it doesn’t. Your ability to persuade an agent on the phone who says there’s no way they’ll change you to a flight the same time to FLL (when I’m going to FLL) requires State department level diplomacy. But if you’re nice beyond all measure, you may get it done as I did thanks to an agent who decided she’d go to bat for me.

  6. AA lost our bags and stranded us with 2 toddlers in JFK overnight after our JFK-LHR went mechanical last November:

    We had to declare the trip in vain, but AA point-blank refused to allow us to reschedule the trip and due to the tickets being bought with part Avios, they and BA have pointed the finger at each other and have been unable to fully refund us despite the DoT weighing on them monthly for updates since the trip to figure it out.

    They even managed to send my back 4 year old’s tablet that he left behind in their baggage claim offices overnight via Fedex Custom Critical, rather than the ground service that I requested. That set me back another $100 to put a cherry on top of the while ordeal, and of course nobody at AA cares.

    Beyond abysmal handling of the whole situation.

  7. I gave AA a shot for a year. Too many screw ups. The last straw was when we were charged for bags while holding both AA credit cards. Complained and told it would be refunded. It has been over a year and no money. I own stock in the AAL, can’t wait to unload the stock. I am so done with AA.

  8. Had mechanical problems in April on AA out of CUN to PHX.Long story short took 10 hrs to get out of Mexico. The PHX AA agent was great- lovely hotel, food voucher and 1st class for our earlier in the day flight to Seattle and an Alaska flt home.

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