Maybe I’m Just Out of Touch With Appropriate Compensation For Delays

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.


  1. I agree with your assessment that airlines so often are miserly in ‘making it right’ for inconvenienced passengers. But there are so many who flew on the coattails of United for so long, that anything less than that (precious) gold mine of compensation seems draconian.Tthen again, I’ve been accustomed to that with US for years. For all of the over three to six hour delays I have had the most I ever received from them at any one time was a $75 voucher. Get ready for post merger….I don’t see that improving.

    1. Susan, I doubt it’s getting better either. If I had a six-hour delay due to a problem with the airline and they gave me a $75 voucher that would make me a bit nauseous. Maybe not as nauseous as a revenue-based program…..

  2. *precious should have need *previous – sorry for the auto-correct! Although I guess it could have been considered precious as well!

  3. You got where you were going within two hours of you original schedule and came out even money-wise. That sounds pretty good to me. There have been lots of times I’ve been delayed for two hours just because of weather, and I don’t expect any compensation for that. An airline has more control over mechanical failures, but still they can’t prevent all of them.

    1. Scottrick, I definitely don’t expect compensation for weather. That’s just a risk of flying. I do, however, have a higher expectation when it comes to mechanical delays. I know not all mechanical issues can be prevented, but the airlines are one of the only industry I know that collectively shrugs their shoulders when something breaks. If you walked into a restaurant and they told you after you paid for you food that it would be significantly longer than expected, most restaurants would give some sort of incentive to maintain that relationship with the customer.

      The same goes for many parts of the service industry. Take my recent Hyatt stay where I had no power. The hotel proactively offered to refund all my points for the night.

      We’re trained well to think the airlines don’t owe us much when the plane breaks and we get there much later than normal. Ultimately, I think that’s flawed.

  4. At 2 hours, I’d probably be happy with what you got.

    But I entire agree with your view that airlines seem to ignore that they are in the customer service business, in a way that companies in no other industry could do and survive. So while I’m generally a fan of a self correcting market, in this case I’m a huge fan of the EU rules on delay/cancellations and other passenger-screwing items.

  5. I wonder if AA still issue taxi vouchers, so at least you are not out of pocket to get back to where you need to be.

    Also, on a total side note, AA is not as generous as UA in terms of compensation in case of IRROP. Case in point: I misconnected MIA due to weather, and there are no other flights to La Paz that evening (there is only 1 per day). While they preserved my upgrade on next evening’s flight, no hotel was offered, and they would only print out a distress rate coupon for hotel. Granted, the delay was weather/ATC-related, so they did not have to provide any hotel, but UA would have provided a hotel room for 1K members, even in case of weather/ATC delays, at least during the pre-SHARES era.

    1. ptahcha, I was pretty surprised a year or so ago when I got a room voucher during a weather delay on UA. NEVER experienced that on AA. Nor do I really expect it. Weather’s really nobody’s fault, IMO.

      Regards, Edward Pizzarello

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