How Cancer, A Tornado, And American Airlines Took Away Our Honeymoon

Roxanne and her husband got married last year, and had to delay their honeymoon until April due to her illness. They spent the night before their rescheduled trip huddled in a hotel bathtub near the airport. It was clear that the universe did not want them to vacation in Cabo San Lucas. An American Airlines rep put their rescheduled tickets on hold, and they had until February 2012 to use them for another trip. Or so they thought.

My husband and I married August 28, 2010. A very generous vacation package was given to us for our honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico by a family friend. We were set to leave at the end of September, however were asked to cancel our trip due to a recent diagnosis for myself.

As I underwent treatment from August through December I could only dream of our honeymoon that was rescheduled for the end of April 2011. Excited and packed, we stayed the night in St. Louis for our red eye flight the next morning…then a tornado hit our hotel. As we sat in the bathtub because we were instructed to by the overhead PA system (or we could’ve put the mattress over our heads and NO way was I putting THAT on my head), we heard “the train” and loud crashes, sirens and wind, we tried to listen to the tv and understand what had just hit us.

Once we got the “all clear” from the hotel PA system we watched the news and saw the damage to the airport. Planes and cars were hit, windows blown out, trees uprooted, buildings collapsed, the highways closed, etc. Lambert was hit and officially closed indefinately.

As any other couple would do, we went to the bar downstairs and spoke with other travelers to explore our options. I sat next to an American Airlines pilot on a barstool and he showed me the damage inside the airport on his phone and told me that we wouldn’t be going anywhere and to call customer service. After several hours on hold with customer service in Dallas we finally got a representative to assist us and put our tickets back on hold. We were instructed to write down our ticket numbers and the date we had to use these $2500 tickets was 2/18/12.

Because we thought we had made the best decision that night to put our tickets back on hold we decided to sleep off the stress and nervousness and go back home with our packed bags the following afternoon.

Since that night in the hotel bathtub, we’ve been planning and saving for a trip to travel to New Zealand to stay with friends. Last night I called four different times to talk with American Airlines about my unused tickets and kept getting redirected. It wasn’t until the 10th person or so who told me that our tickets had expired! I was befuddled and confused about how I had been so misinformed. The representative told me that our tickets were only good from the very first date they were issued, not the second date we had them reissued.

This made absolutely no since to me since we paid reissue fees and had new tickets for our April trip, and how one of their employees had “accidently” misinformed me. Supposedly our tickets expired 10 days after the tornado hit, which wouldn’t have worked out anyway since the airport was shut down for seven days or more and our timeshare was only good for our week of travel. BUT had I known that THEN I would’ve used these tickets for sure elsewhere! I was told to email my complaint, so I did.

My complaint was “resolved” by customer service via email by giving me half the value of my tickets. Now, my husband and I can’t afford to go to New Zealand for our third attempt at a honeymoon.

American Airlines is full of greed, ignorance, selfishness and corporate crap. There are two things I can’t control–Cancer and Mother Nature. What CAN be controlled is just admitting to human error and giving back my full value of my tickets so we can enjoy our honeymoon. I feel robbed and am saddened by their poor customer service.

It was nice of them to give give back half of the tickets’ original value, but taking their case and its special circumstances up the food chain might help get that dream trip after all. Try an executive e-mail carpet bomb, or contacting one of the executive customer service numbers that we have on file for them.

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  1. LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

    Seriously, try Chris Elliott. He’s one of the best travel ombudsmen out there; maybe he can get them to have a bit of compassion (I know, scarce in the airline industry these days but hey, one can hope).

  2. Rebecca K-S says:

    Well, shit. I hope they find a way to get AA to work with them. Unfortunately, I am without any advice.

    • bluline says:

      Go to the media. Many newspapers and TV stations have consumer affairs reporters who LOVE stories like this. You’ve got all the right elements: a serious illness, a tornado, a delayed honeymoon, and a cold, inhuman, couldn’t-give-a-shit corporation. The media will be on this like ants at a picnic, and if there’s one thing companies like this hate, it’s adverse media coverage that makes them look like crap, even if that’s what they are. I’m betting you’ll get your tickets back and get upgraded to first-class as well.

  3. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Roxanne – I hope you’re feeling better. :)

  4. wetrat says:

    From AA.com:

    Q: I have a nonrefundable American Airlines ticket that I am not going to use. Can I use it toward the purchase of a new ticket?
    A: Subject to certain restrictions and charges defined in the rules of the fare, the value of a wholly unused nonrefundable ticket may be used toward the purchase of a new ticket. Travel on such reissued tickets (or subsequently reissued tickets) must commence no later than one year from the date of issue of the original ticket.

    One year from date of issue of the original ticket. It sounds like the original AA rep gave them incorrect information, so AA should be willing to help the OP.

    That said, if you write an EECB, make your letter much shorter and to the point (as in, “An AA rep told us these tickets would expire 2/18/12. It turns out that they expire a year from issue. We were going to use them for our honeymoon– please help.”)

  5. glebe says:

    In times like this I wonder, what if she had recorded the conversation?

    And then I think, with today’s smartphones, the era of automatically recording all conversations you have with customer service representatives must be just around the corner.

    • JoeDawson says:
      • JoeDawson says:

        ^ the second link is for the Iphone… I didnt bother looking up Windows Phone since no one owns them (lol)

    • Sneeje says:

      I’ve been thinking this more and more lately that this is necessary to each and every time to talk to customer service. There are two major barriers to this:

      a) Not all states are a one-party state, meaning it differs between states whether one person can record something without the others knowledge. It is not clear legally what happens when the recording party is in a one-party state and the other is not.

      b) Whether or not statements made by CSRs on the phone are binding. Yes they are acting as agents of whatever business, but if they promise something that is contrary to policy or contractual terms that you have signed, it will not be binding. If they promise a deal or something that isn’t codified in any agreement, it is less clear.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        This may indeed be a problem, since many times I’ve called customer service and it’s NOT in the same state I am in. I think it has to apply to both states, doesn’t it?

      • Peggee is deeply offended by impetulant, pernicious little snots disrespecting her and violating her personal space at Best Buy. says:

        If you, the person recording, are in a one-party state, you may record regardless of the rep’s location. They could be in India, for all you know.

        IANAL, but I have personal experience with this.

        The statements you record may not be binding, but at least you’re not stuck at he said/she said from the outset.

      • Anna Kossua says:

        Maybe defeating the barrier of it possibly being illegal would be do the same thing customer service helplines do to us: Say to the AA person “this call maybe monitored (or recorded) for quality assurance.” It seems like every time I call customer service, regardless of the company or their location, they always give me that spiel.

  6. anime_runs_my_life says:

    Firstly, I’m glad you made it through that night. I live less than a mile from Lambert International Airport and I’ll tell you, I was never so terrified in my life.

    Secondly, you deserve that vacation! Also seconding Chris Elliott. He’s gotten some good results. Just go to Fox2now.com and e-mail him. Or go to the Fox 2 Facebook page and message him there. Let him shame them into fixing this.

  7. Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

    This would have been a fantastic opportunity for American Airlines to do something incredible, and get a really good story out of it…. Although I’m sure that wouldn’t mean much to their short-sighted employees. I really hope that Roxanne gets through to somebody high up, who makes their honeymoon finally happen.

  8. novajersh says:

    Are philly fans cheering for the cancer?

  9. consumeristjohnny says:

    “There are two things I can’t control—Cancer and Mother Nature”

    So I guess AA can control these things? Its too bad you got cancer and lived through a tornado, but I am sure AA didn’t have anything to do with them. If you want to write a letter that gets results, quit playing the sympathy card, and explain what you were told and what you expect. Your honeymoon, time share, the bathtub and cancer are not relevant to the story. Your argument is, YOU showed up expecting to use your ticket, but AA could not fly due to storm damage. I would also suggest you ask for confirmation of anything you say is said in the form of an email. Not just for the airlines, but for anything told to you over the phone. Otherwise the WRITTEN contract prevails over an oral contract. ALWAYS. It would be like your landlord telling you pets are ok, while the lease says NO PETS. Then they evict you for having a pet. What option would any judge have in that situation?

    • Misha says:

      Wait, did she somehow imply that the airline DID have control over those things? We must be reading different articles.

    • theduckay says:

      She isn’t saying that they can control those things, she is saying that they can’t but that they CAN control admitting to human error. Read it in context with the sentence immediately following. Its called telling a story.

      It sometimes seems like Consumerist readers would like all stories to be two sentences long and void of any emotional input or additional information. That isn’t going to get your story noticed. A woman with cancer who is unable to take her honeymoon trip due to sickness, a tornado, and AA error? Much more newsworthy and interesting, despite the fact that the cancer and tornado are “irrelevant”.

      • kobresia says:

        I think Johnny’s point is that she goes on for over 5 ample paragraphs on all the things that are beyond AA’s control, rather than just discussing the one thing that is under their control.

    • kobresia says:

      Yeah, hate to say it, but the second someone starts laying on a sob story, the less I care. The entire narrative could be distilled down to one or two sentences, and anytime folks feel the need to go on and on and on about how terrible everything is, I figure maybe an extra “tragedy” or two on top of it all would go well with the rest of the WOE IS ME pity party.

      It’s best to keep it concise for customer service reps, too. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to hear it, and it’s not like they have keywords like “honeymoon”, “tornado”, “cancer” or the like which allow them to escalate a request or grant an exemption.

    • ovalseven says:

      I agree with condensing it a bit, but I wouldn’t remove it entirely from the complaint. A little sympathy could lead someone to want to help even though they don’t have to.

      As long as you don’t sound like you’re whining (she didn’t), it’s fine.

  10. Verdant Pine Trees says:

    Here’s how her cancer treatment and tornado experience are… “relevant”. They indicate she is not some flake who decided on a whim to change the date of her vacation.

    As for comments about “save the sob story” etc., in a letter, mapped out with no self-pity, such details do add color to the story. Over the telephone to a rep she could simply say the first was cancelled for a health emergency, and the second was cancelled due to the airport issue (and she may have; she wrote this post for the Consumerist, it’s not a verbatim transcript of her discussion with ten AA representatives).

    Don’t assume that everyone would equally respond to the same flat, black and white, Mr. Spock version of events that you would yourself send. Some people would respond better to a letter that shows the complainant as being a person. As a business person, I find it is sometimes helpful to understand where the person is coming from. Now, someone who provides a cold tirade and super-succinct demands – how do I know this isn’t some demanding little perfectionist who isn’t going to milk my company because I forgot the mint on his pillow? Someone who isn’t going to run off and then bitch at length online about my company, saving all the poison for the internet?

    Maybe I read a more “emotional” letter and take into account that because it’s their honeymoon they may be less rational, or require a certain approach to be satisfied because honeymoons are often a big deal to people. Maybe I understand that the customer is upset because they have a diagnosis hanging over them that is very stressful. From a strategic standpoint, if I can win over someone like this, by going above and beyond to resolve the issue, they’re likely not to bitch about me online (perhaps they’ll even thank me).

    The key about great business is that if you want to get loyal customers, it’s not enough to resolve a problem and get them out of their hair, but to make them feel better. That feeling can be accomplished for some people with cold hard cash alone and no apologies. Other people need to feel that you empathize with them, that you respect the money they shelled out, and that you are working to make things right.

    What I don’t understand is, if you don’t want to hear about the elements of a consumer issue that you are unsympathetic to, but repeatedly see them in Consumerist stories, why do you continue to bash your head and read them? Why get so ticked off?

    • kobresia says:

      Who’s ticked-off?

      Just saying, the best way to get results is not to give anyone your life story unless they want to hear it, but anyone who’s worked for any length of time in any sort of customer support role has had someone (or many someones) give his/her life story in an attempt to elicit sympathy and earn an exception.

      Saying something like “This is for a honeymoon, but a serious illness delayed our travel for a few months, and then a tornado trashed the airport. I understood the representative we spoke with to say that we had more time to use our tickets, but that apparently wasn’t the case. Is there anything you can do to help us extend these tickets out a little longer?” would nail it.

      A *little* color is great to add to a narrative, but the ultimate point of Consumerist is to discuss consumer issues. This was a somewhat excessive amount of reading to get to the point, which is that AA isn’t really an evil ogre of a corporation (at least not in this instance), but it needs some motivation to do a good turn for someone. Maybe they have an uninformed, entry-level CSR, they probably have many of them, but I really wouldn’t say they’re in the wrong over a he-said, she-said phone conversation when the written terms for tickets are clear enough. A little indulgence on AA’s part would be very nice, and sometimes the best way to get good results is to ask someone in a position to exercise discretion in a very nice way.

  11. simonster says:

    Airline customer service representatives are either trained to lie or (perhaps more likely) frequently misinformed about the policies of the airline they work for. I’ve learned my lesson: if an airline promises you something, ask for it in writing. If you mess up, they will screw you for it, and if they mess up, they will also screw you for it.

  12. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    To Whom it May Concern,

    I was married on August 28, 2010 and as a gift I received two tickets and a vacation package to Cabo St. Lucas from a family friend. Due to a medical emergency, we had to put these plans on hold. At this time, we had the tickets reissued for a trip to commence in April 2011.
    Unfortunately, we were set to fly out of Lambert Airport, located in Saint Louis, MO and that very night a devastating tornado hit and put the airport out of commission for several days. Since our time share was only available for a week during this time, I contacted your customer service department to again place the tickets and travel on hold until further notice. I was told by one of your representatives that the tickets would remain on hold and not expire until February 18, 2012.
    My husband and I planned to use these tickets as a credit toward travel to New Zealand this fall, however when I called to place this order I was notified that my original tickets had expired. Had I known that your representative gave me false information, I would’ve used the tickets sooner. As it is, I am no longer able to afford the tickets for our New Zealand trip, and our delayed honeymoon.
    The expiration date given by your representative has not yet elapsed, and I request that my tickets be reinstated so that I can purchase air travel with your company and finally take the honeymoon I have been waiting for.

    Sincerely,

    THIS is what she could’ve written. The sob story wasn’t necessary.