Bamboozled May 16, 2016: Should airline reimburse this customer for car rental?

Bob Monaghan of Pennington hopped an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to San Diego to visit family last Thanksgiving.

The trip didn’t go as planned.

Fog was an issue as the plane neared California, forcing it to land in Los Angeles, Monaghan said.

The wait began.

Monaghan and the other passengers sat at the gate for more than two hours while the plane refueled and they waited out the fog.

After the two hours, American employees told the passengers they wouldn’t be flying to San Diego after all, but would be taken there by bus, Monaghan said. Passengers were directed to the baggage claim area.

“After 90 minutes at the baggage area, we were told there would be no buses. That we were on our own. But we were told by an American representative to keep all receipts for the cost of getting to San Diego,” he said.

He believed that meant American was going to provide some form of compensation for whatever arrangements passengers needed to make.

So Monaghan rented a car, receipts show, and he drove to San Diego, arriving at 3 a.m. — six hours later than intended.

After the trip, Monaghan called the airline’s customer service to ask about the reimbursement.

boozle_AirlineMiles_miller_21 edited.jpgA copy of Bob Monaghan’s car rental receipt.

He was told the telephone line didn’t handle complaints and he had to email American, and he would receive a confirmation number.

So Monaghan sent an email to American on Dec. 5, detailing his trip and asking for the rental car money — $187.08 — to be returned to him.

He received a form letter response, but it didn’t include a confirmation number, records show. He didn’t receive any follow-up, either.

So he wrote again, and again he received a form letter with no confirmation number and no follow up from the airline.

He tried again, including the details of his trip, copies of the auto-replies from American, the receipt from the car rental and the details of his flight information.

Form letter. No follow-up.

He tried by phone once more, but again, the phone rep said they couldn’t do anything and Monaghan had to contact the airline by email.

By now it was mid-March. This time, he wrote to American Airline’s president, Scott Kirby, describing his experience.

“Do I need to tell you that I was caught in a circular loop that did not allow me to speak to a human and did not provide any satisfaction whatsoever,” Monaghan said. “I’m sure you can imagine my frustration after several months of seeking satisfaction and resolution of this matter.”

A month later, on April 18, he received another form letter, but this one at least had a confirmation number.

A more personal response came on April 23.

The rep apologized for the flight disruption, and said because “situations are largely out of our control, it is not our practice to offer compensation or reimburse for unexpected expenses.”

The note continued: “I have submitted a refund request for your unflown segment to my colleagues in Passenger Refunds for review.”

That was something, at least, Monaghan thought.

He received a second email on the same day.

“Ground transportation expenses are not something that we cover,” the rep said. “When applicable, we will offer a gesture of goodwill. Still, we have a responsibility to decline compensation requests when we feel it is not appropriate.”

There was no word on a reimbursement for the unused portion of the flight.

And no payments would be coming to Monaghan.

Once you buy your ticket, the cost of an airline flight continues to soar, with baggage fees, meals and extra legroom no longer part of package. A look at the fees tacked onto your next trip.

Monaghan said he understands fees for stowed luggage, less-than-ideal food options and paying for all the extras.

But he considered his ticket purchase a contract that American would get him to San Diego.

“They did not maintain their side of that contract even after saying that despite the foggy conditions in San Diego, we would refuel and fly there anyway, and then when that plan was discarded, that they would get us there via buses,” he said. “And then after reneging on that promise they told us to keep all receipts for the cost of getting there on our own.”

“Now telling me ‘tough luck?’ That’s taking advantage. That’s poor corporate practice. That’s not right,” Monaghan said.

He asked Bamboozled for help.

A RESOLUTION?

We reviewed Monaghan’s timeline, receipts, and copies of his emails with American.

We then reached out to the airline.

At first, it didn’t look good.

American said it doesn’t reimburse for “incidental expenses” if the delay is because of weather — something that’s out of the airline’s control.

“We would rebook passengers on the next available flight. According to our records, that would not have been until the next day, since the flight arrived late,” American said of Monaghan’s flight.

Indeed, that’s what the airline’s contract of carriage says.

We went back to Monaghan, and he said he was never offered a different flight. And, he said, he believed what the airline rep told him: that he should save his receipts and would be reimbursed for expenses to get him to his destination.

Given those details, we asked American to take another look.

American reviewed the claim again, and it came back with a different answer.

“As a gesture of good will, we will reimburse the traveler for the cost of the rental car,” American said. “However, our policy is what we previously provided.”

We took the news to Monaghan, and he was pleased.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but I felt once they said, ‘Hold your receipts, we’re going to take care of you,’  that overrides anything they could say about, ‘We can’t control the weather,'” he said.

This kind of dispute is a reminder that all consumers should get every promise in writing. We understand that after a five-hour-plus flight, another two-hour delay and yet another 90 minutes waiting for a bus that would never arrive, contract language might be far from a customer’s mind.

But if you want to make sure you get what you’ve been promised, you need proof.

Do you think American owed this customer a refund? Let us know in the comments section below.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.