Weather-related Cancellation May Give You Options

Q&a Canceled Flights

August 02, 2009|By Catharine Hamm | Catharine Hamm,Tribune Newspapers

Question: : I recently booked and printed the boarding pass for a JetBlue flight from Long Beach, Calif., to Sacramento, departing at 9:15 a.m. July 1. At 1 a.m. July 1, I got a recorded message saying the flight was canceled. I incurred nearly $400 in added costs I think JetBlue should reimburse. If I miss a flight, whether or not it's my fault, there is no forgiveness. But if the airline does it, it's OK. Do I have any options?

Answer: : Maybe, depending on whom you're listening to.

The flight was canceled because of a weather-related (thunderstorms) delay on an earlier flight, said Sebastian White, a spokesman for JetBlue, "so the crew could meet its federally mandated duty rest."

"As a weather-related cancellation, this flight was not eligible for compensation under our Customer Bill of Rights," White said. "In these events, JetBlue provides a full refund or accommodation on the next available JetBlue flight." But the traveler's problem: JetBlue's next flight wouldn't get him there in time, and "JetBlue doesn't have ticketing arrangements to move customers between carriers when a flight is canceled," White said.

"I would encourage this specific customer to contact us through the Speak Up section of jetblue.com (jetblue.com/speakup) to voice their concerns. ... Our Customer Commitment team looks at every inquiry individually - there may be other factors involved in this case that you or I miss but that they'll be able to research, and that could affect compensation."

For another perspective, I asked John Lampl, a spokesman for British Airways, what his airline would do. "We will do everything to get a customer to a destination," he said. When a recent flight to Atlanta was grounded by thunderstorms in Charlotte, N.C., British Airways put passengers on buses to get them to Atlanta. One passenger rented a car and drove, and BA picked up the tab, though, Lampl noted, the passenger had elite flier status. Or, said another way, keep loyal customers happy.

And finally, there's the advice from Al Anolik, a travel rights lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area, who is a frequent proponent of small-claims court. "If they cannot take off because of weather - if it was because they didn't have extra crew - they are responsible for breach of contract." If other planes were taking off at 9:15, Anolik said, the traveler has a better case.

If I were you, I'd use some combination of the suggestions here: I would talk to (or e-mail) JetBlue's customer service folks, join JetBlue's frequent-flier program so I'd be considered elite, and I'd make the point that other flights took off (if, indeed, they did). I'd leave small-claims court as the court of last resort, but it's still a good tool to have in the travel bag.

Above all, when making your case, stay calm, present the facts and stay calm again. The key is always to be well-reasoned, even if the airlines aren't.

-Catharine Hamm, Tribune Newspapers

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