Travel Troubleshooter

Travel Troubleshooter: Airline doesn’t deliver promised vouchers

Q: My wife Nancy and I recently were scheduled to fly on US Airways from Santa Barbara to Hartford, Conn., with stops in Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C. When we checked in at the airport, a gate attendant asked if we would consider moving to a different flight in exchange for $450 flight vouchers per person. We agreed, and then were placed on a flight plan that sent us through Phoenix and Philadelphia, with a final destination in Hartford.

The agent neglected to give us the vouchers or a number before we boarded the flight. We are seniors and inexperienced fliers. We asked about the vouchers in Hartford, but a US Airways representative told us we needed to get them at the original airport. Nancy called US Airways and was assisted by a woman who was extremely helpful and recorded all this information. The woman also contacted the Santa Barbara Airport and made its staff aware of the situation.

It’s been several months, and we haven’t seen the vouchers. Can you help us?

Robert Fletcher, Suffield, Conn.

A: US Airways should have issued the $450 vouchers, as promised, when the offer was made. But since you’re not an experienced air traveler, you couldn’t have known that.

For future reference, though, if a gate agent or front-desk employee makes any kind of promise, get it in writing. Talk is cheap, especially in the travel industry.

Your flight from Santa Barbara to Phoenix was overbooked, which means US Airways had sold more seats than it had available. In almost any other business, that would be illegal (remember “The Producers”?). But in the airline world, it’s common. Had you waited a little while longer, and if the airline had to do what’s called an ”involuntary” denied boarding, it would have been required to pay you real money for the inconvenience.

It’s unclear why the US Airways representative didn’t give you the vouchers while you were standing in front of him. Maybe it slipped his mind? At any rate, I’m not sure you were the ideal candidates for taking the voucher. By your own admission, you don’t know much about air travel, and you probably don’t want to extend your trip by more than two stopovers. Remember, the more complex your itinerary, the greater the chances that something will go wrong.

When your vouchers didn’t arrive, you could have appealed to someone higher up at US Airways (now American Airlines). I have a list of American Airlines’ executives on my consumer-advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/american-airlines/.

I contacted the airline on your behalf. A representative promised to send you the $450 vouchers. But guess what? No vouchers. I asked again, and this time, you received the vouchers, as promised.

Email Christopher Elliott at chris@elliott.org.

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