Delays and cancellations are part of a frequent traveler’s life. I think I’ve been pretty lucky over the last few years, only getting stuck occasionally. When I first started flying United Airlines on a regular basis a couple of years ago they were pretty generous when a plane ended up broken, usually with sizable vouchers for future travel. That ship pretty much sailed early in 2012, at least as far as compensation was concerned. There were still plenty of issues systemwide, especially last summer, though I managed to avoid most of them.
A few weeks ago one of my return flights on American got canceled due to mechanical reasons. I ended up getting re-routed to an airport about an hour away from my final destination. I needed to spend about $100 to get myself back to my original destination airport and ended up being about 2 hours behind schedule due to traffic. One could argue that the traffic wasn’t American’s fault, but I was flying to an area that’s notorious for unpredictable traffic and I originally selected the airport that would avoid that issue.
I contacted American late yesterday evening to lay out my case for compensation in a respectful manner. The surprising bright side to me? I received a reply from a human being about 6 minutes after I sent my note.
The part that doesn’t thrill me? The following text from the note:
While it is certainly our goal to operate each and every flight as planned, we have the responsibility to make changes to our schedules to resolve problems caused by weather, flight conditions, mechanical difficulties or other operational challenges. Accordingly, it is not an airline industry practice to assume financial responsibility for our customers’ personal time lost or for out-of-pocket expenses when extenuating circumstances prevent us from operating as planned.
It’s largely understood that weather is really nobody’s fault. The airlines do their best when there’s a weather issue to get everyone where they need to go. But, I’ve always viewed mechanical difficulties as a different issue and I don’t think I’m alone. The letter went on to say that they were authorizing a $100 eVoucher because I was an important customer. So, I essentially end up even on the money I had to spend to get back to where I originally was supposed to land.
I guess that means I understand how American values the two hours of time I lost. 🙂
Seriously, though, I’ve said in the past I would rather the airlines just get me where I’m going on time, and that the compensation generally never makes up for what I’ve missed due to the inconvenience. And, largely, American has gotten me where I need to go on time and happy.
But I wonder if my expectations are too high when I say that an airline who can’t get me there on time because of a mechanical issue has a burden to make that right in a meaningful way. I’ve been in the customer service business for a long time and I can’t say there are many times I could shrug my shoulders when I promised something to a customer and then ultimately didn’t deliver because of a deficiency in our equipment or staff.
I don’t want to sound overly “preachy”. This really is an isolated incident in my recent travel. I suppose it wouldn’t have irked me all that much, but the appointment I had was with my daughter. Ultimately, she was happy that daddy was home even if he was later than expected. But you don’t get those minutes back as a parent, and the less my travel partners value my time the less I’m sure I’ll inevitably value that relationship.