Travel Troubleshooter: Airline delay made us miss grandmother’s funeral

DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: My family of four was scheduled to fly from Austin, Texas, to Quad City International Airport for my grandmother’s funeral in Moline, Ill. The first leg of our American Airlines flight from Austin to Dallas was initially delayed because of a crew problem. Then it was delayed even more because the plane had been mistakenly overfueled and they needed to drain some fuel. These delays made us miss our connection in Dallas.

Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter ...
Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter

After waiting eight hours for the next flight, American Airlines canceled that flight. We had to fly back home to Austin and we missed the services. If it weren’t for the delays, which were the sole responsibility of American Airlines, we would have made our connection with no problem.

I was supposed to sing at the funeral and my husband was going to be a pallbearer.

I have contacted American Airlines and they are trying to give us vouchers that have to be used this year. I explained that we no longer have a reason to fly since we’ve missed an experience we can never get back. I believe we are entitled to a full refund. Can you help us?

— Jeanette Franz, Austin, Texas

ANSWER: My condolences on the loss of your grandmother. American Airlines should have transported you and your family to Illinois as promised.

But wait. A closer look at American Airlines’ conditions of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline, “We do our best to be on time but our flight schedule is not guaranteed and not part of this contract,” it notes. So American Airlines wasn’t required to get you to your grandmother’s funeral on time, unfortunately.

This is what’s called a “trip in vain,” and it’s a gray area for airlines and other travel companies. And for good reason. They don’t want to advertise that they will offer a refund or credit if you can’t make it to your destination on time. But they do. That’s because the airline’s published schedule certainly implies some kind of guarantee, even if the contract says otherwise.

American Airlines offered you a voucher, but as you note, vouchers expire within a year of the initial purchase. For you, the funny money was worthless — and you’re right, American Airlines could do better. After all, the crew problem and the mechanical issue were within the airline’s control.

I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the American Airlines customer service executives. A brief, polite email to one of them might have yielded a better outcome.

I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. A representative called you and offered the airline’s condolences on your loss. American Airlines has issued a full refund.