American Airlines Insult to Injury

User Contributed August 4, 2010 1 Comment

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At the airport in Honolulu

At the airport in Honolulu waiting for our delayed American Airlines flight. The flight was cancelled shortly after.

My family planned a reunion trip for the month of February in Hawaii at the Marriott Ko Olina Resort in Oahu.  My husband and I booked first class flights on American Airlines departing LAX and arriving in Honolulu, while our adult children with their spouses and children booked economy/coach on the same flight.  Our reservations were booked over a month prior to our departure.  We paid for a First Class fare with restrictions, having read carefully the restrictions and decided to purchase along with it insurance in case we should get sick and have to make changes to our itinerary.  The total cost for my husband and I was $4,351.20 plus insurance cost (two tickets). The cost for 2 coach tickets was $778.80 which is what the rest of our family paid.

Our flight going to Honolulu was delayed about 2 hours due to mechanical problems with the plane.  We understood that delays do happen and waited patiently for them to bring in the replacement plane.  We eventually arrived and for the next 4 days we enjoyed a wonderful vacation at the Marriott.  It was our first time visiting that side of the Island and we really enjoyed it.

Our return flight #162 from Honolulu on American Airlines was again delayed at first for over an hour only to subsequently be cancelled due to a missing part for the airplane.  Rather than replacing the plane the way they did on our flight to Hawaii, the airline announcer told all the waiting passengers that there would not be a replacement flight and instead we would need to get in line and try to book ourselves on an already partially filled fight #284.  They told us it was “first come first serve” and that this was the last outgoing flight of the day. You can only imagine the mad rush to the counter in order to find room on that flight. Our son and daughter had very young children travelling with them including a newborn, and they were in a panic.  Thankfully they managed to book their seats on that flight, but when our turn arrived, there was no longer any room available on first class.  We were grateful to be accommodated in coach with the understanding that we would be reimbursed the difference of our expense between first class and economy after we returned.  The lady at the counter told us to call American Airlines upon our return and that they could arrange for us to receive a refund.  She was very helpful and even told us she was typing in notes about the situation into the computer and gave us a “locator” code which we assumed was similar to a trouble ticket number.

American Airlines First Class With Restrictions

From the AA.com website where I selected "FirstPremium" with restrictions

The next day when I contacted American Airlines to get our prorated refund, the agents on the phone were rude and dismissive.  One of them laughed and told us that our flight for which we paid $4,351.20 were in fact economy tickets!  I told them they were mistaken and that I had documentation proving this.  I further explained that  the rest of our family paid only $778.80 for each couple and still this was met with nothing but disdain and arrogance.  I tried to contact the refund office and was again told the same thing.

All our documentation showed “First Class” including our printed screen shots of the website, and our email confirmation.  Later on a woman named Ms. Barnholdt told us that our flights were really economy flights “upgradable to first class, based on availability”.  This was flat out false, and if we had seen any such wording we most certainly would not have bought such “iffy” tickets at 5 or 6 times the normal coach ticket price.  It was a classic case of bait and switch, something one might expect from an unknown and shady outfit.  That’s why being treated the way we did by American Airlines was nothing short of shocking.

Airport American Airlines Delayed Flight

Waiting at the airport with our family for the delayed flight.

We pretty much gave up trying after all the futile attempts to get our refund.  It was a tiring and frustrating exercise  and we felt we had no recourse until my son suggested that we take American Airlines to small claims court.  The prorated refund amount of $1,750 we were asking was well below the small claims ceiling and he told us how to go about serving them.  All he did was look up the American Airlines local California agent on the Secretary of State website and bingo.

Well, in the end we were vindicated by law.  We filed the small claim in court and the judge saw the case for what it was and judged in our favor; despite the woman who came to argue on behalf of American Airlines and resorted to a lie by stating that the flight was delayed and not cancelled.  First she tried to say that we purchased a coach ticket instead of First Class, but the judge almost laughed when we showed him how much we paid.  The American Airlines representative tried to say it was an economy ticket but that it was “automatically upgraded.”  Our documentation showing that the tickets were First Class cabin and the receipts we brought contradicted her statement.  When the judge said to her “it’s a scam, it’s all a scam…”, my son who was sitting back in the audience almost burst out laughing.  I have to admit it felt good to be proven right, but I just couldn’t believe how little class (no pun intended)  this once great airline was displaying. 

In 30 years we have not taken anyone to court either small claims or otherwise. Their refusal to make good on their commitment and their treatment of a paying customer was completely deplorable and unacceptable.  We were very unhappy when our American Airlines flight was cancelled with no effort to replace the plane, but we were stunned when the people we spoke to at American Airlines completely refused to honor our agreement of First Class seating by at least refunding our hard earned money for the prorated portion of that return flight.  We had plenty of evidence supporting our case including their own printed rules, screen shots of the entire process of purchasing the tickets, email receipts, etc., but they still persisted in wasting our time.  Insult to injury. 

American Airlines repeatedly told us on the phone and in writing that our First Class ticket was “actually a coach fare that allows for an automatic upgrade when available to the premium cabin”, yet there was no evidence of this anywhere and was in fact contrary to everything that we had.  We have not been to the AA.com website since this horrible incident, but I hope that whoever is in charge of the design and content of the site took the time to correct their misinformation and corrupt policy.  As you can imagine our entire family decided never to fly again with American Airlines.  They did eventually issue our prorated refund after the judgment was filed against them, but as expected there was no apology from the airline, and after our experience it was obvious to us that they are an outfit of very low integrity and not one to be trusted.

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Tags: Travel Disasters
One Comments to “American Airlines Insult to Injury”
  1. avatar Ben says:

    that is not good. I don’t think i’ll be flying with american airlines