Southwest Airlines Won't Pay Your Train Fare

Bad weather forced a recent Southwest Airlines flight to divert to Baltimore instead of its destination of Philadelphia. The only option for a couple eager to make their granddaughter’s birthday was to take a train, at a cost of $118. The couple claims a Southwest employee told them they’d be reimbursed for their trip if they called the 1-800 number and explained what had happened–but when they called, the reimbursement was refused.

Christopher Elliott, ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine, examined the fine print in Southwest’s legal agreement and determined that Southwest is obligated to deliver you to your destination, but on their terms. That means you shouldn’t take an employee’s verbal promise as anything more than one person’s opinion. Elliott advises you go to a ticket counter and ask the employee how they intend to get you to your destination; in other words, put the ball in their court.

In this case, Southwest made good on the train fare and gave the couple a ticket voucher for future travel. But unless you can manage to get a journalist to follow-up for you like they did, you probably should make sure you can afford to add Amtrak to your travel expenses.

A diverted flight, a broken promise [CNN]

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. theblackdog says:

    They should have called and checked on the reimbursement before leaving the airport. I’m in agreement with Southwest on this one, they didn’t have to reimburse the train ticket, though it was nice that they did.

  2. superlayne says:

    Traveling grows even more unappealing by the day.

  3. SodeDogg says:

    I believe the Philadelphia airport story trifecta is now complete.

    In some places, that could be called a “wake-up call” to management.

  4. SJActress says:

    The WEATHER diverted the flight. Doesn’t everyone know that the airline doesn’t owe you anything if there’s a weather problem?

    I’m glad they got there money, simply because it was promised to them by an inept employee, but I can’t believe they expected any reimbursement in the first place.

    I love Southwest Airlines, by the way. I take them from Houston to Nola, a 55 minute flight, and they’re always on time and pleasant.

  5. B says:

    Normally, I would be with Southwest for this one, but if a Southwest employee promised to reimburse the train ticket cost, then Southwest should honor that promise.

  6. SadSam says:

    Yes if weather delays or cancels your flight the airline is off the hook, but if the airline delivers you some place besides the final destination they have an obligation to get you to the final destination. I had a similar run around with SouthWest, got stuck in Atlanta b/c of bad storms paid for a hotel for a night (understood that was on my dime) SouthWest flew me to an airport an hour or so from my home instead of my home airport (5 minutes from my home) and my original final destination. Before I got on the flight I confirmed, alas verbally, tht SouthWest would pay for the van/taxi/limo to get me home as my car was at my final destination airport. When I landed the SouthWest provided van/taxi/limo was no where to be found. SouthWest did eventually come around to my point of view but I learned to get all of these type of agreements in writing with employee name/badge #, etc.

  7. Crazytree says:

    always remember to tell them you accept their offer: train ticket reimbursement in consideration of the inconvenience and delay caused by the airline.

    then sue for breach of contract?

  8. reeg2 says:

    @B:

    but how many people say they were told something by some employee. it puts the company in a hard position because if there were no evidence or documentation or even simple facts like employees’ name, position, etc then it’s just your word against their policy.

  9. swalve says:

    How about learning to not plan with razor-thin destination times? “Let’s see, the plane lands at 3, the party is at 5. Plenty of time!”

    Secondly, it would have been cheaper to rent a car. I rented a car at BWI for a week and drove to NYC and back, and that was only $165 or so. $118 a ticket? Did they take a sleeper cabin?

  10. swalve says:

    Heck, I think a taxi cab would have been cheaper.

  11. jnachod says:

    $118 from Baltimore to Philly does seem a bit high…. I have purchased a one way ticket from Baltimore to Philly for as little as $34 in the past… but depending on the time of day and what kind of train ( Acela, Regional, etc.) is chosen the cost can vary dramatically

  12. politicfool says:

    In my experience with Southwest, if you’re reasonable with them they will make every effort to keep you as a customer.

    I once experienced a situation like this one. I was flying home to Chicago, and they had a storm somewhere else that was having a ripple effect with delays all through their system, so my flight didn’t land until 1 am. I usually take public transportation home from the airport ($1.75) but by then the train had stopped running. So I took a cab ($40) and then wrote a nice letter to Southwest, understanding that they aren’t strictly responsible for weather delays but asking if they could compensate me in some way anyhow — and complimenting the way their staff handled the delays. I got a call a week later from a manager at HQ who said she was going to send me a $100 voucher for my trouble and as a thanks for sticking with them despite being inconvenienced.

    I would have to say that writing an extremely reasonable letter after the fact will get you MUCH farther than speaking to an employee on the spot. Especially if you indicate that you’re likely to give the company more business in the future.