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Insta-CoGo: Flight Cancellation Rights

K.C. Summers

If you're one of the tens of thousands of passengers whose plans are being disrupted because of American Airlines' flight cancellations, you're probably wondering exactly what the airline owes you -- since, after all, the disruptions were caused by the airline as it scrambled to make sure its planes met FAA standards for "airworthiness."

As I report in this Sunday's Coming and Going column: Not much. FAA rules state that passengers are entitled to refunds if flight schedules change "substantially," but that doesn't get you where you want to go. Other than that, an airline owes you only what it promises in its contract of carriage.

American's contract states: "American will endeavor to carry you and your baggage with reasonable dispatch, but times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed. ..... American is not responsible for or liable for failure to make connections, or to operate any flight according to schedule, or for a change to the schedule of any flight. Under no circumstances shall American be liable for any special, incidental or consequential damages arising from the foregoing."

On its Web site this week, American said it was "actively working to re-accommodate our affected passengers," and it added that customers stuck overnight "may email American Airlines customer relations to request information about compensation." Our colleague Del Quentin Wilber reported today that the airline said it was helping stranded passengers rebook flights on other carriers and giving them hotel and food vouchers. Small consolation for those stuck in airport lines all day.

If you're one of the thousands of passengers affected by this fiasco, tell us how the airline treated you and how long it took to get where you wanted to go -- if you made it there at all.

* Transcript: Carol Sottili, of the Washington Post Travel section, was online to offer practical advice to travelers who are confronted by the airline situation.

By K.C. Summers |  April 10, 2008; 12:14 PM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo , Travel Logistics , Travel Strategies
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My husband and I arrived at DIA Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. for an 11:50 a.m. flight. We stood in line until 11:00, at which point American transferred us to United flight 1194 to LGA scheduled to leave at 12:30, which flight never left because of an equipment problem. Adding insult to injury, the transfer to another airline necessitated a *thorough* search by TSA. All travelers on 1194 were offered transport on the next United flight out of Denver to LGA but by the time we got to the counter there were no seats remaining. We were told our prior cancelled flight 1194 was now rescheduled on a different plane at new time (2:30ish) and new gate, and it did in fact eventually transport us to LGA, arriving at about 7:45. Naturally, we missed our connecting flight on American Eagle and were rebooked on a Delta flight at 9:30. New airline? Another trip to the TSA! As it happened, the 8:30 Delta shuttle was late and we were permitted to board that flight rather than the 9:30; however, the 8:30 didn't depart until 9:30. There's no telling when the 9:30 left. We arrived at DCA some time after 10:00, but our luggage didn't. Two pieces have been located but there's no sign of the third. The good news: We were at the END of our trip.

Posted by: Madelon Bloom | April 10, 2008 5:18 PM

I was stranded by AA at Christmas. I was changing planes at Chicago OHare (big mistake) and the second flight was cancelled. I was rebooked on a later flight and that was cancelled too. I spent the night in the airport. I decided to just turn around and go home rather than risk spending another night at the airport.

I was able to get a full refund. The customer service number is a long distance call to a recording. I filled out a form on their web site. I also wrote a paper letter, which is also the first step in getting your money back from the credit card company. I think the paper letter is what did it. They refunded my money.

Posted by: Mark | April 10, 2008 5:20 PM

Some of the worst flights I've ever been on (or supposed to have been on) were American Airlines flights. Terrible.

For those who can afford it, private jet travel is a great option. No taking off your shoes for security, no plastic bags for your toiletries, no lines: http://jets.halogenguides.com

Posted by: April | April 10, 2008 6:33 PM

Apparently I am one of the few that had an easy time with American Airlines customer service. I was scheduled on a flight tomorrow night from LGA to STL, which along with the rest of the non stops from NY to St. Louis was cancelled for the fourth day in a row. I called the 800 number, and after waiting on hold for about 45 minutes or an hour (yes, it was long, but that was the worst part of the experience). Finally got to talk with an actual person, who was very pleasant, I explained that I was going for a short weekend trip and if I couldnt get another flight Friday night or early Saturday morning I wanted a full refund. The woman then gave me two options for my flight, both with short layovers at OHare, one Friday afternoon (not possible for work reasons) the other Saturday morning, but getting at around noon. I opted for the refund, she put it in the computer and said to expect the money credited to my card in 5 to 7 days. Given I havent actually gotten the money yet, but overall, it was all a lot easier than I had expected. It definitely helped that my trip was one that could be easily postponed, but some times it pays to be flexible.

Posted by: NYC | April 11, 2008 12:36 AM

Please note that flights on US-licensed carriers that originate in the European Union are subject to the EU's laws on compensation, which are far more generous than the FAA's rules.

Posted by: Rich | April 11, 2008 9:22 AM

Hello

On 11 September 2007 my wife and I flew from Heathrow to New York, JFK, via Washington with United Airlines. The flight from Heathrow to Dulles was on time and we were scheduled to fly out to JFK at 1630 only to learn at 1615 that our flight was cancelled. We were with a party of 27 going on a 21 day tour. We eventually arrived at La Guardia at 0130 after going from terminal to terminal. United Airlines said we were not entitled to a anything. From reading this article it seems that United Airlines is not alone. I am English and from what I understand internal flight cancellations in America are quite normal.

I must admit that knowing how particular Americans can be that you accept this situation.

From now on I will only go on direct flights in America.

Posted by: Adrian Ball | April 16, 2008 6:20 PM

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