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I need your advice on how to deal with an awful flight experience

I need your advice on how to deal with an awful flight experience

Old Jan 15, 17, 3:16 pm
  #1  
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I need your advice on how to deal with an awful flight experience

My 92 year old mother and I recently had the flight from hell from Washington Dulles to Santa Fe on American. In a nutshell, the trip took three days and we were involuntary bumped from two flights. We ended up spending two nights at the DFW airport Hyatt and ultimately ended up in Albuquerque instead of Santa Fe.

AA customer service has been spectacularly unhelpful and didn’t even bother responding to my most recent email a week ago.

Below is the whole sad story. I’d appreciate any advice you guys might provide.

On December 22nd, I was booked to travel to Santa Fe from Washington DC with my 92 year old mother who has a pacemaker and needs wheelchair assistance. The first leg of our trip was from IAD to Dallas. The flight was OK (although my light was broken so I couldn’t read) and we next got on the plane to Santa Fe, which sat on the runway for quite some time before they decided to cancel due to poor weather (ice and snow) in Santa Fe. My sister, who lives there, reported clear skies and dry conditions in Santa Fe. We were offered a flight to Albuquerque that would have arrived at 2am with a layover in Phoenix – not a reasonable itinerary for my mother -- or one the next morning leaving at 7 AM. We got booked on the flight at 7 AM and with that, were left on our own. The airline would not provide a hotel and only reluctantly provided a listing of hotels which, inexplicably, did not include the two hotels right at the airport. We finally got the phone numbers for the hotel closest to the airport and made a reservation, because we had been told that we needed to be back at the airport at 5 AM. For unknown reasons the airline doesn’t have an agreement for discounted rates with any of the hotels or even the closest and thus most convenient hotels.

The next morning we got to the airport, got on the plane and took our seats. The captain announced a short delay and turned off the seat belt sign so people could use the restroom. A half hour later he explained that the FAA wanted him to move the plane. We sat for another half hour. He announced that the FAA again wanted him to move the plane. What he didn't say was that this time he was returning us to the terminal.

At the terminal he announced that we could get off and get something to eat because there would be about an hour delay due to fog in Albuquerque. We all got off. An hour later they asked us to get our gate-checked bags because they needed to refuel. A few minutes later I noticed a line of people forming at the counter amidst rumors of a flight cancellation beginning to swirl around the group in the gate area.

Sure enough, the flight was canceled allegedly once more due to weather. Meanwhile, Albuquerque news outlets were reporting that flights were arriving and departing normally as of 9 AM.

Airline staff now offered to rebook us on a flight departing in the evening via Phoenix arriving Albuquerque at 2 AM the next day, or on the first flight in the morning to Santa Fe (our destination, be it remembered). We again chose the latter and were issued two boarding passes. The flight was at 9 AM but we were told to be there at 6 AM at the latest because things would probably be extremely busy on the 24th.

Back to the hotel we went (all on our own dime because it was supposedly once more a “weather delay”) and returned to the airport the next morning, found the gate and waited. As we were boarding, the gate agent (I believe her name was Alyssa) looked at our boarding passes, shook her head and asked me accusingly where I got them because they “weren't in the system”. Then she ordered us quite rudely to stand aside while she boarded the plane. At this point I had about had enough, not to mention that my mother was clearly at the end of her rope, and I asked for a supervisor (Jane) who initially seemed annoyed but turned friendly once she looked at the system and saw that we were, in fact, properly ticketed for that flight but had been bumped due to some sort of mix-up on the airline end. She offered to put us on the next flight to Albuquerque and give us a taxi voucher to get to Santa Fe. That flight was scheduled to depart at 11. Therefore we proceeded to that gate.

We got to the gate and after waiting an hour learned that the flight was delayed due to mechanical issues. The supervisor called me to tell me that she was trying to get us on a Santa Fe flight leaving in an hour, that she had a seat for my mother and that I was on standby, but I was the top person on the list and there were two people who would definitely miss the plane because their incoming flights were late. Thus I should have no issues getting on that flight.

Another wait for a wheelchair and off to gate b36, changed to b37, then to b31. When we got to the gate the supervisor was giving instructions over the phone to the gate agent (a lady named Happy). The gate agent handed me the phone and Jane assured me we're all good, my mom is confirmed and I'm the first standby, the two people will certainly miss their flight. I handed the phone back to the gate agent.

A few minutes later, the gate agent announced that the flight was oversold and could she get a volunteer to fly on a later flight. One woman agreed, received a voucher for $300 and then a few minutes later proceeded to board the flight anyway(!).

Happy now informed me that both my mother and I were on standby. I reiterated that my mother was confirmed and I was the first standby and tried to remind her that the supervisor had just told her exactly that. But, we were again denied boarding. At the end there were three people left at the gate, me, my mom and another woman who said she also had been confirmed on that flight.

The supervisor wasn’t answering calls so Happy told me to go to the customer service desk at b40. When we get to b40 it turned out that it was just a normal gate, no customer service and not even a gate agent there. Happy either does not know her airport or was just trying to get rid of us.
I found a gate agent at a nearby desk and he rebooked us on the flight to Albuquerque that previously had the mechanical issues but meanwhile had been swapped out for another plane.

We finally arrived in Albuquerque; the supervisor at the gate told us to go to the main counter to get our taxi voucher. The voucher however was a shuttle voucher. A shuttle is fine too, so we went to the shuttle desk but it was deserted. I called the posted phone number only to be told that the shuttle wasn’t running on that day because it was a weekend (and American Airlines didn't know that?). Back to the main counter where they finally gave me a taxi voucher.

- While the airline may not be responsible for weather delays, they are responsible to get you to your actual destination in a reasonable time and on a reasonable schedule. Three days to get from Washington to Santa Fe isn’t reasonable as I could have driven in that time.
- When you are booked and ticketed and confirmed for a flight, the airline should either board you or offer you compensation. They shouldn’t just bump you (twice). If the airline rebooks you a second time on a different flight then they should board you on that flight or offer compensation and not just send you to a (non-existent) customer service desk.
- The airline shouldn’t use a brief weather delay as an excuse to cancel a flight. At the time the American Airlines flight to Albuquerque was canceled, the Albuquerque airport was fully operational as reported by local news media.
- Airline personnel should be knowledgeable and courteous. They shouldn’t treat customers like criminals and accuse them of somehow improperly obtaining counterfeit boarding passes.
- If an airline offers a voucher for ground transportation then they should assure that the ground transportation is actually operating.
- Finally, they should take the passenger’s age, medical condition and mobility into consideration when rescheduling flights. A 92 year old woman attempting to reach her family for Christmas should not be shunted around like this for days. Even the suggestion (twice) that she should accept a flight that would take her to the wrong city arriving at 2 AM shows astounding callousness and heartlessness.

After writing customer service, we received the reply which I’ve translated from American Airlines doublespeak into English. See below:

We won’t address the multiple flights that we booked you on but didn’t get you to your destination. We will tell you that we were trying so hard to rebook you that we actually booked you on multiple flights to different cities, including an especially attractive flight that would have landed your 92 year old mother in a city different from the one she had purchased a ticket for, at 2 A.M.

Although we only gave you boarding passes for one flight (to the city on your ticket) you should have guessed that we also booked you on a flight to a different city, and when you didn’t check into the mystery flight that you didn’t know about, we quite naturally bumped you from the flight that you knew about and had been given boarding passes for.

Accordingly, it is really your fault, but to preclude you from complaining to DOT, we’ll generously offer you what we are required to do by law. We’ll make it sound like we are making a special concession.

We will conveniently not address the second flight to SAF that the supervisor assured you your mother was booked on and you were “first standby”, because that would prompt another “involuntary denied boarding” for your mother for which we’d also have to pay you for, nor will we address the fact that our incompetence (not weather issues) caused you and your 92 year old mother to have to spend two nights in DFW and incur hotel and other costs.
We’ll also blow off your request for compensation for the multiple wheelchair attendants and we won’t address the rude behavior of the DFW gate agent at all - the one that implied you had somehow fraudulently manufactured two American Airlines boarding passes.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 3:37 pm
  #2  
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If you are going to write a complaint, you will need to be very brief and to the point. I would recommend cutting the verbiage by 90%, using bullet points, and sticking to verifiable facts.

Having said that, unlike some of the "nightmare" threads we get here, you do seem to have been not well-treated (to put it mildly). If the facts are as you report, IMO you are definitely owed an apology and some compensation.

Do you have any status with AA? That could smooth your path a little.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 4:02 pm
  #3  
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As is noted in post#2, keep the issues you are addressing to the point.
You should file a complaint with the DOT, they do compile a database of the issues OP encountered, but won't know about them unless they are informed.
Perhaps (with the aid of consumer oriented congress people) legislation, like EU261, could be passed.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 4:33 pm
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Yep definitely cut it down to just the main points and what you want out of it.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 5:30 pm
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I always drive from ABQ to Santa Fe
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Old Jan 15, 17, 5:42 pm
  #6  
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Thanks guys. I know that the briefer the better but I gave you guys the blow-by-blow so that you can see the full extent of the issue.

It seems that airlines are using the "weather delay" for most any delay so that they avoid time-out issues.

As far as compensation is concerned, I think the following is reasonable. What are your thoughts?

We were denied boarding once, and my mother was denied another boarding, so that is three involuntary boarding denials (all obviously getting us to our destination over 8 hours late).
While the first hotel night was (according to American) weather related, the second night was an American issue and at least that should be reimbursed.
Finally, American should reimburse us for the extra wheelchair attendants over and above the three that I would normally have used.
Finally, they should do something to reimburse us for the delay. Any ideas what they should do?

I used to fly AA regularly and frequently, but recently have been racking up the miles on United. We only flew AA this time because I erroneously thought that going via DFW at this time of year was safer than flying via Denver.

AA has an opportunity to redeem themselves.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 5:46 pm
  #7  
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Originally Posted by JumboJet View Post
I always drive from ABQ to Santa Fe
Sure. In retrospect I should have flown from Baltimore to ABQ, but I live 15 minutes from Dulles and an hour or so from BWI.

Maybe I'll move
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Old Jan 15, 17, 5:54 pm
  #8  
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Originally Posted by cb1111 View Post
Thanks guys. I know that the briefer the better but I gave you guys the blow-by-blow so that you can see the full extent of the issue.

It seems that airlines are using the "weather delay" for most any delay so that they avoid time-out issues.

As far as compensation is concerned, I think the following is reasonable. What are your thoughts?

We were denied boarding once, and my mother was denied another boarding, so that is three involuntary boarding denials (all obviously getting us to our destination over 8 hours late).
While the first hotel night was (according to American) weather related, the second night was an American issue and at least that should be reimbursed.
Finally, American should reimburse us for the extra wheelchair attendants over and above the three that I would normally have used.
Finally, they should do something to reimburse us for the delay. Any ideas what they should do?

I used to fly AA regularly and frequently, but recently have been racking up the miles on United. We only flew AA this time because I erroneously thought that going via DFW at this time of year was safer than flying via Denver.

AA has an opportunity to redeem themselves.
Does AA charge for the wheel chair attendants or are you talking about the tips you give to them?
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Old Jan 15, 17, 5:58 pm
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You mention:
Originally Posted by cb1111 View Post
...After writing customer service, we received the reply which I’ve translated
How 'bout posting their actual reply as your clever "translation" really doesn't help in any way.

In light of the fact that they've already replied, the chances of:
Originally Posted by cb1111 View Post
AA has an opportunity to redeem themselves.
are very, very, very low, in terms of what you seem to be expecting.

Did they offer -any- compensation in their reply?
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Old Jan 15, 17, 6:18 pm
  #10  
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At this point, you don't really need advice as you've complained and have a reply. Without the reply you received, nobody here can help you. Your paraphrase doesn't help one bit and does you a disservice based on what you went through. But, for the sake of others, if you were at the beginning of the process.

You will need to separate involuntary denied boarding (IDB) into those situations where you or your mother held a confirmed seat on a flight, were at the gate ontime (not an issue) and were then denied boarding due to an oversale, from poor customer service.

The former is a simple formula set by law and has nothing to do with whether your mother has a pacemaker. The latter has to do with screwups, e.g. commitments made by the DFW supervisor who told you that you were #1 on the SB list with 2 misconnects on a flight which was overbooked and then almost oversold.

For each passenger delayed more than 2 hours at the destination, the IDB compensation is 400% of the ticket price, capped at $1,350. So, the task is deciphering whether you held confirmed seats and were bumped due to an oversale. The best I see is that a supervisor made commitments she ought not to have made. Nonetheless, at least your mother ought to make a claim for IDB on the flight where the supervisor told your mother she was confirmed (although she may not have have been) as AA will review the PNR for that.

AA (and no US carrier) reimburses for hotels unless the delay is within its control. This has nothing to do with the weather at ABQ/SAF. Your claim for the hotels & food is to your travel interruption insurance. Same thing for what is called consequential damages such as extra wheelchair tips and the like.

Then, there is the matter of poor customer service. Here it sounds as though you were simply sent from pillar to post as flight after flight was cancelled.

The entire IDB complaint if you pursue it should not exceed 3 short declarative sentences. The people who process these things get about 30 seconds for the first pass on them. They also have the details in front of them.

The customer service complaint ought to focus on the total length of time, your mother's age and the screwup by the supervisor.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 6:26 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by MSPeconomist View Post
Does AA charge for the wheel chair attendants or are you talking about the tips you give to them?
The airports do not charge but tips are expected and reasonable - especially when you're going from one end of the terminal C in DFW to the other end of terminal B, then to three gates or from the gate in ABQ to the main counter, to the shuttle desk, to the main counter and to the taxi stand.

Most of the attendants are very helpful and friendly and are making making minimum wage at best.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 6:37 pm
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
At this point, you don't really need advice as you've complained and have a reply. Without the reply you received, nobody here can help you. Your paraphrase doesn't help one bit and does you a disservice based on what you went through. But, for the sake of others, if you were at the beginning of the process.

You will need to separate involuntary denied boarding (IDB) into those situations where you or your mother held a confirmed seat on a flight, were at the gate ontime (not an issue) and were then denied boarding due to an oversale, from poor customer service.

The former is a simple formula set by law and has nothing to do with whether your mother has a pacemaker. The latter has to do with screwups, e.g. commitments made by the DFW supervisor who told you that you were #1 on the SB list with 2 misconnects on a flight which was overbooked and then almost oversold.

For each passenger delayed more than 2 hours at the destination, the IDB compensation is 400% of the ticket price, capped at $1,350. So, the task is deciphering whether you held confirmed seats and were bumped due to an oversale. The best I see is that a supervisor made commitments she ought not to have made. Nonetheless, at least your mother ought to make a claim for IDB on the flight where the supervisor told your mother she was confirmed (although she may not have have been) as AA will review the PNR for that.

AA (and no US carrier) reimburses for hotels unless the delay is within its control. This has nothing to do with the weather at ABQ/SAF. Your claim for the hotels & food is to your travel interruption insurance. Same thing for what is called consequential damages such as extra wheelchair tips and the like.

Then, there is the matter of poor customer service. Here it sounds as though you were simply sent from pillar to post as flight after flight was cancelled.

The entire IDB complaint if you pursue it should not exceed 3 short declarative sentences. The people who process these things get about 30 seconds for the first pass on them. They also have the details in front of them.

The customer service complaint ought to focus on the total length of time, your mother's age and the screwup by the supervisor.
Good point. I should have posted the response, so here it is:

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations at American Airlines.
Please accept our apology that you were denied boarding on your flight due to an error by American Airlines. In their effort to find a flight to get you to your destination, personnel at the airport confirmed you on more than one flight. When you did not take the first flight, it and all other flights in your itinerary were canceled.
Per our Customer Service Plan and in accordance with regulations, when a passenger has been subjected to involuntary denied boarding on a domestic flight, the passenger is entitled to one of the following forms of compensation: If the passenger's arrival at his or her final destination is greater than one hour but less than two hours past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 200 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $675. If the passenger's arrival at their final destination is two hours or more past their original scheduled arrival, involuntary compensation is 400 percent of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons of the ticket to the next stopover, but not to exceed $1350.
Based on the circumstances surrounding your flight, I am offering to each of you as compensation for denied boarding -- a check for $835.00, or a travel voucher in the amount of $1,044.00. If you choose the voucher, you may use it towards the purchase of a ticket for travel on American Airlines or American Eagle within 12 months from the date of issue. While the voucher itself is nontransferable and cannot be sold or bartered, you may use it to buy a ticket for a friend or relative if you prefer. Please respond with your choice of compensation and I will be happy to process it.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 6:41 pm
  #13  
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Originally Posted by JonNYC View Post
...How 'bout posting their actual reply

...Did they offer -any- compensation in their reply?
Originally Posted by cb1111 View Post
...Based on the circumstances surrounding your flight, I am offering to each of you as compensation for denied boarding -- a check for $835.00, or a travel voucher in the amount of $1,044.00. If you choose the voucher, you may use it towards the purchase of a ticket for travel on American Airlines or American Eagle within 12 months from the date of issue. While the voucher itself is nontransferable and cannot be sold or bartered, you may use it to buy a ticket for a friend or relative if you prefer. Please respond with your choice of compensation and I will be happy to process it.

Case closed.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 6:42 pm
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Originally Posted by cb1111 View Post
Thanks guys. I know that the briefer the better but I gave you guys the blow-by-blow so that you can see the full extent of the issue.
No, you were too wordy even for FT. I get it, it sounds like an awful situation, but your reading lamp on the first flight isn't applicable.

Reply to AA with a much shorter version of what happened, 6-10 bullet points. Ask specifically for what you want.

I just read that AA did offer you some significant financial compensation. So now you can reply and just concentrate on what you thought they ignored, and ask for more. Or just forget about it and take the check.
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Old Jan 15, 17, 6:42 pm
  #15  
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And you are certainly correct about the pacemaker - but - to offer a 92 year old woman who needs wheelchair assistance a flight from DFW to ABQ via Phoenix that arrives in ABQ at 2AM is a bit bizarre. How does one get to SAF from ABQ at 2AM. Then to do that twice in one trip is even more unbelievable.
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