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Call Kurtis: Seniors Stranded After Airline Cancels Flight

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(Sacramento) — The day before their flight to a family wedding and reunion in Arkansas, five Sacramento Senior Citizens learned American Airlines canceled their flight. It was a flight these seniors aged 75 to 89 booked more than a year earlier, using the frequent flyer miles they spent years earning.

“At our ages, we’re not flying much,” said Nancy Wolford-Landers. “And we had saved up for this big occasion.”

“I had been looking forward to it,” her sister Jackie LaCournu said.

American said their plane was damaged in a hail storm two days before they were scheduled to leave.

“I’m sure they could’ve had other planes they could’ve substituted,” Nancy said.
Instead, American Airlines refunded their frequent flyer miles and told them they were on their own if they still wanted to get to the wedding.

“It was a huge disappointment,” said Barbara Griffin.

Barbara and her elderly husband people call “Griff” don’t want their frequent flyer miles back. They’re in their late eighties and don’t think they’ll have a chance to use them. All five just wanted to get to the wedding.

“Certainly isn’t our fault. Why should we do all the suffering?” Jackie said.

They faced the dilemma of missing the wedding, or buying last-minute tickets on another airline, which would cost $5200 total.

Not willing to miss the big day, they bit the bullet and bought the tickets. They think American Airlines should reimburse them the $1043.80 they spent for each ticket. After all, they are all on fixed incomes and never expected the last-minute expense.

“If you just knew how long you were going to live it might help. But you don’t so you want to be sure you have money on hand for any eventuality,” Barbara said.

Travel law attorney Al Anolik says we have weak consumer protection laws in this country when it comes to Airline passengers and thinks there is little chance they’ll get their money back. He says if an airline cancels your flight, they have no obligation to get you to your destination. All they have to do is give back the frequent flyer miles you used to book your trip, or the amount you paid for the tickets.

We reached out to American Airlines, and they explained in an email 62 planes were damaged in that hail storm. An unnamed spokesperson said it took several days to inspect and repair the aircraft and the cancellations extended several days after the event.

As to why they wouldn’t rebook these seniors on another airline, they responded, “No airline will rebook customers traveling on award tickets onto other carriers.”

“I just think it was a kind of dirty deal for American Airlines,” Barbara said.

Jackie now knows even if you book a ticket a year ahead of time, doesn’t mean the airline will get you to your destination.

Anolik says high paying customers will be re-booked before customers who booked tickets with frequent flyer miles. He says the airlines take the highest revenue seat, and everybody else has to wait in line.

AMERICAN AIRLINES FULL STATEMENT

We are very sorry for your unhappy experience as you traveled with us. Unfortunately, on May 24 severe storms passed through the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Along with these storms came large hail, which fell directly on the airport. After the storms passed, American and American Eagle had nearly 90 aircraft out of service for hail damage inspection and repair.

As you might imagine, such a high number of aircraft out of service forced us to cancel many flights throughout our system. While we worked hard to get these aircraft back into the operation as quickly as possible — in fact, we even brought down 40 additional technicians from our Tulsa maintenance base to speed up the process — inspecting and repairing this many planes took quite some time, necessitating further cancellations in the days following the hail storm.

We are also disappointed that you encountered such difficulty contacting our Reservations personnel for assistance. Because of the magnitude of this disruption in our operation, our call volume was significantly higher than normal. While we did enlist the assistance of additional personnel to field these calls, we understand that many customers had difficulty reaching us, and we are sorry for the inconvenience that this caused.

There’s probably nothing more frustrating than having to travel when situations such as this play havoc with airline schedules. From your description it certainly sounds as if the disruption in your plans was aggravating and uncomfortable, and it’s unfortunate we didn’t do a better job of overcoming the many challenges we faced. We are especially concerned that we missed opportunities to lessen the effects of the weather disruption.

Many times we don’t have too many options to help make such situations less trying. Still, your comments enable us to understand things from our customers’ perspective, which is crucial as we strive for better performance next time.

Although we do whatever we can to minimize such problems, the many uncontrollable factors associated with air travel make some delays and cancellations inevitable. For this reason, and in keeping with airline industry practices, we cannot assume financial responsibility for our customers’ personal time lost or for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of operational difficulties. Instead, you have my assurance that we will always work hard to get you to your destination on time. We hope you will give us another opportunity to do so.

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