Sunday, October 12, 2008


What a way to kick off a vacation!

Headed for Disney World with his wife and two kids, Alan Sechrest of Mission Viejo, Calif., was in Los Angeles International Airport, standing at an American Airlines electronic check-in kiosk, when an airline representative told him that they could get a first-glass upgrade for $45 a person.

Bingo! The $180 upgrade seemed well worth it for the five-hour flight to Miami, where they would change to a one-hour flight to Orlando. Who wouldn't want to arrive at the gates of the Magic Kingdom a little more rested after a long flight east?

But after telling the representative "yes," they discovered that the upgrade applied only to the short hop from Miami to Orlando.

"Had we known that," Sechrest told the representative, "we would have refused the upgrade."

The representative apologized and directed the family to the check-in counter so that the situation could be rectified and they could get back to their original coach status.

There, Sechrest says, the agent told them that he had put them back into coach and assured them that their credit card would not be charged.

His parting words, Sechrest adds, were: "But check your credit-card statement, just to make sure."

It wasn't until they were boarding the connecting flight in Miami that they found that their flight information had not been corrected: They had been left in first class for the one-hour flight.

"We never checked the boarding passes for the second leg," Sechrest admits.

They boarded the plane and rode the one hour in first class, but they weren't happy about paying $180 for a privilege that they had been assured had been fixed back in Los Angeles.

American Airlines has refused Sechrest's request for a $180 refund, telling him that, since he flew in first class on the final leg of his trip, he should expect to pay for it. Now he has contacted his credit-card company to see if it can offer a remedy.

Sechrest wants to know if it was ethical for them to request a refund from the airline.

"They sold us a product that we did not want and cannot return," he says, comparing the experience to "a car wash charging you for a wash and wax when you only asked for a wash. You received the wax job, but should you have to pay for it?"

Perhaps Sechrest should have refused to get onto the plane once he found out that he was expected to fly first class. But at that point, five hours into the trip, with wife and eager children in tow and his coach seats no longer guaranteed, was it fair to expect him to give up the guaranteed first-class seats that would get him to his final destination?

I don't believe so. The airline agent committed to fix the problem, but he didn't. It's perfectly ethical for Sechrest to request a refund.

American can, of course, deny his request, arguing that the Sechrests sat in the upgraded seats, even if they didn't want to and had been assured that the family had been reassigned to coach. They may be legally justified in doing so.

But the right thing for the airline to do is to refund Sechrest's money and to instruct its agents to do a better job of following through on their commitments to passengers.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Bill Jacobson said...

Its American Airlines. So they're guilty. Case closed. :) So I agree that the initial problem was the airline's. It sold him an offer that could only reasonably be interpreted as including the major leg of the flight. It further claimed to have rectified the problem but didn't. I'm not sure why the poster didn't insist on documentation of the refund.

My question is why did our poster fail to inform someone when he discovered the error? Rather he and the family enjoyed the comforts of first class. Do they then expect that they should be fully reimbursed for this?

I'm not convinced that he is entitled to a refund. A consumer oriented company that cares about customer satisfaction (which is not American Airlines) would probably eat the cost but they aren't required to. Go ahead and challenge the charge. American will provide your credit card company with the signed slip and the charge will be validated.

Bill Jacobson said...

The previous comment was:

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

Typical American Airlines scam. They have gone from good to worst in airline business. Citibank gave me a VISA card that had a companion fare anywhere you wanted to fly. It turns out after all the catches involved to be about a 25% fare. Alan Sechrest got ripped off and the airline and their rep know absolutely what they were doing. Especially with the added caveat "watch your credit card bill"! What ethics have the airlines ever shown, especially of late!?

Anonymous said...

"It wasn't until they were boarding the connecting flight in Miami that they found that their flight information had not been corrected: They had been left in first class for the one-hour flight." If the airline failed to adjust it, then it could be construed as a gift. Was there room in coach anyway? Too many unanswered questions, and besides there was the hidden largely deceitful caveat. They should not be charged for this.