American Airlines Rule Changes for Delayed or Cancelled Flights

American Airlines Rule Changes for Delayed or Cancelled Flights

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American Airlines Has Updated Its Rules: if AA Delays or Cancels Your Flight, AA will no longer promise to get you there on the next available flight. In other words, you could be stranded. Here are the changes to American Airlines' Contract of Carriage, as noted by JT Gentner, as well as how AA's policy compares to United Airlines, bolding ours.

AA Responsibilities for Schedule / Operations Changes

“When your flight is canceled or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we'll rebook you on the next American Airlines or American partner flight with available seats. We’ll rebook you in your originally ticketed cabin or class with your original form of payment. If your flight was delayed or canceled and you don’t accept our alternative arrangements, or none were available, we'll refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees according to our involuntary refunds policy. Beyond that, we have no further contractual obligation.

If we or our airline partner fails to operate or delays your arrival more than 4 hours, our sole obligation is to refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees according to our involuntary refunds policy.

United Airlines

  1. When a Passenger’s ticket is affected because of Irregular Operations caused by UA, UA will take the following measures:
    1. Transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger; or
    2. At its sole discretion, UA may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier. United may also, at its sole discretion, and if acceptable to the passenger, arrange for the passenger to travel via ground transportation.

Analysis

The most damning change to American Airlines' updated Contract of Carriage is that AA no longer has the responsibility to get you to your destination, period. If your flight is cancelled or delayed by >4 hours, even if you're in the middle of your journey at an airport you never planned to have a stopover in, AA can simply refund your remaining ticket value (even if it doesn't cover the expense to get you to your destination, say because ticket prices are far more expensive than when you originally purchased your ticket) and wash its hands of you.

AA, similar to United, will only offer to book passengers on the next AA or AA partner flight with available seats in the same class of service. But United, unlike AA, does state that in its sole discretion, it may arrange for the passenger to travel on another airline. United doesn't obligate itself to do this, but it may, which is better than AA, which doesn't even dangle this possibility, since AA won't do it.

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AA Hotel Stay: Approved Hotel Only

If the disruption is our fault or you're diverted to another city, and we don't board before 11:59 p.m. local time on your scheduled arrival day, we'll arrange an overnight stay or cover the cost of an approved hotel, if available. We don’t guarantee reimbursement for hotel expenses if you book directly without written authorization from American Airlines.

If the delay is beyond our control [for example a weather event], or you book your own arrangements without written authorization from American Airlines, you're responsible to pay for your hotel, meals and other expenses.

United Airlines

UA will provide at its option either one night’s lodging, or, if no lodging is provided and upon the passenger’s request only, reimbursement for one night’s lodging in the form of an electronic travel certificate that may be applied to future travel on UA up to a maximum amount determined by UA when a UA flight on which a Passenger is being transported incurs Irregular Operations and the Passenger incurs a delay that is expected to exceed four hours between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. local time. Where lodging has been offered but not accepted by a Passenger for whatever reason, UA is not liable to reimburse the Passenger for expenses relating to alternative lodging secured independently by the Passenger.
EXCEPTION: Lodging will not be furnished:

  • To a Passenger whose trip is interrupted at a city which is his/her permanent domicile, origin point, or stopover point, or
  • When the destination city airport that is designated on the Passenger’s Ticket and the city airport that the Passenger is diverted to are both within the following city groups (for example IAD/BWI/DCA; JFK/LGA/EWR…)
  • When such interruption is due to circumstances outside UA’s control.

Analysis

American Airlines is actually not all that different from United Airlines and Delta Air Lines with its hotel policy; both United and Delta also only offer to provide accommodation at United or Delta contracted hotels, respectively, in the event of a forced overnight stay. No major U.S. airline lets a passenger pick a hotel and then get reimbursed.

But AA manages to be meaner and stingier: passengers only get an overnight stay if the flight doesn't board before 11:59pm local time, whereas United and Delta offer lodging, if available, when there's a 4 hour delay between 10pm-6am local time. And if accommodations are not available, both United and Delta will offer a future travel credit voucher, although don't expect it to be much. In Delta's case, the maximum amount is the hotel's contracted rate, up to a maximum of just $100.

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The Verdict

No major U.S. airline promises to get you to your destination on time; delays and cancellations can and do happen, and aren't penalized unlike with flights from the European Union (and flights to the EU on EU airlines), where EC 261/2004 provides for passenger compensation for delayed flights. But a basic tenet has been, even for U.S. airlines, that the airline is obligated to get you from point A to point B…at some point, even if it's days from now, when there's finally seat availability for the route on an AA flight. American Airlines has now broken that long held rule, with its change that absolves the airline of any obligation for a cancelled or 4+ hour delayed flight beyond refunding the unused value of the ticket. Needless to say, that could be especially painful to passengers and lucrative for the airline during peak or holiday periods for flights purchased many months ago, when a passenger could be left high and dry if AA opts to simply refund a passenger's cancelled flight and let a higher paying customer purchase an expensive seat on the next AA flight.

We've avoided flying American Airlines for years now, and these changes reinforce that decision. Doug Parker's American Airlines has all the customer service of a Low-Cost Carrier, and the employee morale to match. While a few years old, we'd be shocked if morale has improved much from an AA employee survey that found that only 33% believed leadership makes “the right decisions that support” employees, and just 32% believed AA's leaders listen to and “seek to understand the frontline team member experience.”

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