Two days before they were to fly to Arkansas for a family wedding and reunion, American Airlines canceled the flight of five seniors, reports CBS Sacramento. They were handed back the frequent flyer miles they had used to buy the tickets, miles they spent years racking up, and told to find another flight on another airline. The only way to do it was for each of them to buy a $1083.40 last-minute ticket. They feel AA should have found them another flight or should reimburse them for the tickets, but according to both law and policy, they have no recourse.
The seniors say they would rather have the money than the miles. At their age, they don’t think they’ll have many more opportunities to use the frequent flyer miles and would prefer to have the cash for any life surprises.
American Airlines, while sympathetic to their plight, said their hands were tied. The seniors’ plane, along with many others, had been damaged by hail a few days prior and no plane was available. As for helping the seniors find other accommodations, an American Airlines spokesperson told CBS Sacramento, “No airline will rebook customers traveling on award tickets onto other carriers.”
If you’re worried about getting dumped the same way, use frequent flyer miles for less important trips. In the event of a cancellation, an airline is going to rebook the people who paid the most for their seats first, and someone who paid with frequent flyer miles is going to be a much lower priority.
Here is the official statement American Airlines gave to the seniors. It’s so heartfelt without promising or apologizing for anything at all, the perfect customer kiss-off letter:
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.