Stranded in New Zealand – Flight Cancellation Drama
Flight Cancellation! January of 2018, we were finishing up a fabulous long three-week vacation across Australia and New Zealand. I intentionally booked our flights as the crow flies in order not to backtrack. The final destination was Auckland, New Zealand, so it only made sense to fly from there back to the US. We were scheduled to leave on Friday, Jan 6th, 2018, on American Airlines Flight 82.
We arrive at the airport, and everything appears normal until we go downstairs to the gate area and no plane. Clue number one! Then a delayed notice appears. Time passes, no information, and people start to get restless. Two hours in and no plane in sight, it becomes apparent there isn’t going to be a flight out of this gate, but when happened next is downright scandalous.
The gate attendant announces that the flight has been canceled because six of the thirteen crew are six – bull. I am not buying this at all. And, legit or not, how about they get a new crew. Wait. That might be too logical for such a large corporation.
Everyone was advised to proceed to the American Airlines ticketing counter upstairs. I assumed this would be straight forward. We would get rebooked on the next available flight. Wrong!Instead, we were met with a hotel voucher and directed to load a bus. Now, hindsight is priceless. Should this ever happen again, I am not going anywhere till I am rebooked. American Airlines knew full well what they were doing; they wanted to divert everyone out of the airport vs. rebook. Why they did, this becomes apparent later.
Leaving the Airport
Ignorantly we board the bus and head to the hotel. Brian, my wonderful husband, did what he does best. He left me there to check-in and went and got himself a beer – twat! In his defense, Brian hates confrontation; I don’t, I enjoy the occasional showdown. I am also by far the more assertive of the two of us. His rationale is simple: let the big dog deal with anything that involves the potential of a showdown! He also gets a royal laugh watching the antics unfold as he knows my process and anticipates what I will say next! It’s now a running joke. Brian runs color commentary as I go into attack mode. Brian in the background, wait – she’s going to say……………… And he’s always right!
Checking into the Hotel
I start to check-in, and the hotel wants a credit card. I said call American Airlines for theirs or use their corporate billing that you are applying for the hotel charge. They insisted, I refused and said I don’t have one. FYI, several other people refused! Don’t fall for needing a credit card – you do not need one – be firm. We check in to the room, and now I begin planning my attack! Brian runs to the local store, grabs me a couple of bottles of wine, knowing this is going to be a long night of treacherous phone calls. He knows I need supplies for the long haul of the upcoming debate.
Researching the Options for a Flight Cancellation
I do some quick research. Which flights could we get on that would get us back to the states before Monday, who does American codeshare with, etc.? Plenty of options but not necessary with American Airlines! We had insurance for every leg of this trip. Worst-case scenario I could have just booked new tickets. However, I also know from experience that if I used insurance. I would have to pre-pay and then submit a claim and wait for reimbursement.
The first line of defense is to hold the Airline accountable and get them to rebook you. We used our travel insurance several times on this trip. First, for the flights going to Australia because we were delayed by over 12 hours. And, on the way back, due to the American cancellation. This delayed us more than 24 hours. And, while the Airline paid for the hotel, we had to pay for a cab to get back to the airport! Yes, we had crap luck with flights on this trip.
Calling American Airlines
Armed with the available flights, costs, and knowing my legal rights, I get ready to call American Airlines, and the phone in our room starts ringing. Still optimistic, I think, that will be the Airline. Brian answers, and its front desk is asking for a credit card. He passed the phone to me. I am irritated. I told her I had already explained there is no credit card, and I gave them American’s phone number to call. The lady got stroppy with me, so I told her to f*** off and hung up.
Back to American. I call American Airlines. Naturally, the wait was horrendous. There were 600 plus people all trying to re-schedule due to the flight cancellation. American’s initial stance was we will rebook you once a new flight is available. What? As in wait in New Zealand until you can get a crew and a plane? Nah, that’s not going to fly. I send my first tweet of many quoting them verbatim.
The agent I am speaking to states there is nothing she can do. Really? I want to talk to a manager, please. Save your self some time here; skip the conversation with the representatives. You will be getting routed to a manager at some point to go for it upfront.
The manager advises there are no flights back until Tuesday. Wait? Is she high or blind – or both?
It’s Friday! Are they proposing that we are now stranded in New Zealand for four days due to the flight cancellation? I advise her that I am looking at 20 plus routes for the following day – Saturday that would get us home on Saturday. Silence. Tick, tick…………. After a few minutes of a standoff, she says hold on. Twenty-five minutes later, she comes back with a new flight for us that leaves the next day.
Yes! Except, there are four connections, and it’s over 72 hours from point A to B. Again, is this woman high? I get assertive and say to her that this option is as ridiculous as sitting in New Zealand indefinitely until American can pull a flight together.
She gets assertive and advises she would be happy to cancel our tickets and refund me. Oh, of course, she would! My response. “Oh, that’s lovely of you… except I only paid $1,356 for two one-way tickets, and the cheapest one-way flight is over $2k or $4K for both of us”. She’s a little taken aback, and I don’t think she expected me to have done the math – she wants me off the phone. Tweet number two goes out, and I also tag into all the other tweets shaming American Airlines online.
The Real Deal Regarding Flight Cancellations
To save you some boring details, we go back and forth on crazy routes and options, all of which I decline. Now we get to the essence of the issue. Remember I told you about the buses? It was all pre-arranged as we sat at the gate for two hours. American does not want to put us on a route with a carrier they do not partner with or with who they have a codeshare agreement. A dirty deceptive rouse I tell you!
Per the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), code sharing is “a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline and sells tickets for that flight.”
It should be no surprise that the rules that govern United States flight cancellations are corporate-centric, not passenger-centric. It’s all about the money period. And, the airlines have their hand in politics and lobby to ensure it stays this way! In other words, American does not want to put us on a flight that will have to pay for. They would rather stay in a cheap hotel until it’s financially beneficial to them to return us to the USA – bull.
Time for a New Technique
Now I use the beg and plead technique, peppered with some passive-aggressive jabs. I can sense that if I appeal to this woman’s emotional side, she might book us – I could sense it. She kept trying to get me off the phone. I refused to come off the phone, and I advised her explicitly that I had all her information and would promptly tweet it if I got disconnected. I asked her this:
How would you want to be treated if this happened to you?
How would you feel if you had to be home and return to work on Monday?
Do you think you are treating us fairly?
She paused, asked me to wait. Thirty minutes later, she came back with the original flight I asked for that left the next am and got us home on Saturday. I thanked her and told her she did the right thing! Almost three hours of phone tennis and the new flights are booked. I jump on the internet to confirm it all while the manager is still on the telephone. I assign seats, success for us!
The Not So Happy Ending
Now the ugly side of this story. I was able to sort out flights for Brian and I. Being honest, and this might sound cocky. I assumed I would be able to. I am no stranger to flight cancellations. And, as mentioned, I had travel insurance, so one way or another, we were heading out the next day.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for almost everyone at dinner. There was one gentleman that was on route to his father’s funeral, who did not get a new flight. I felt tremendously sorry for him. Delta tried (stress tried) to bump me off a flight due to overselling years ago when I was en route to a funeral in the UK. I could relate to how he felt. I would have helped, but he was distraught and kept his distance from everyone else in the restaurant. All of which were people victims of the canceled flight. There were families in other hotels that were ended up stuck in New Zealand for several days. It was all over the news!
The Aftermath of American’s Flight Cancellation
So how did Americans handle the flight cancellation aftermath? American issued me, and Brian 20,000 points each. Aw, how nice of them! Not even enough for a standard award round trip ticket. So, I opened their CC, got the 50K points which gave us 90K points combined then promptly canceled the credit card. I used our 90K points for four supers save awards last year. And, I have enough for one more round trip! Now, was it worth it? No! No one in their right mind wants to be stuck overseas’ s fighting with an airline about how they are going to get home. However, if this happens to you, capitalize on what you can get out of it.
For cancellations, airlines do have to rebook or refund you, but even this can be challenging.
Rebooking your delayed/canceled flight When your flight is canceled, or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we’ll rebook you on the next flight with available seats. If you decide not to fly because your flight was delayed or canceled, we’ll refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees.
Delays caused by us If the delay 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.
Delays beyond our control (like weather) If the delay is beyond our control, you’re responsible for paying for your hotel, meals and other expenses. An American Airlines agent may be able to help you find a hotel.
Wow, how lucky were we that they provided a hotel and food. Not! Sarcasm folks! The right thing to do would have been to rebook people first, then book a hotel if needed.
For this reason, I will never use American as a revenue passenger. In short, I will never pay to fly American Airlines again, period. The way Americans handled a flight cancellation was dismal.
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.