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Trying To Get Compensation For Flight Problems

by joeheg

What type of compensation does an airline owe you when things go wrong? While I know plenty about how to book a cheap flight and ways to use points and miles, I fortunately have never needed to worry about this question. That was until My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Travel Day. I wrote in that post about the events of that day and how I managed to get to Texas to meet Sharon for our Schlitterbahn trip despite Southwest cancelling my flight and giving me no notice.

Once I was home, I contacted Southwest, Delta and Citi to make them aware of the shortcomings I experienced with each of them. Just to be clear, I didn’t contact them to ask for anything, but if they felt some sort of compensation was warranted after hearing  what happened that day, I was willing to listen to their respective offers.

I’m not the least bit surprised about the results, as they reinforced what I felt about each company already.



Here were the points I presented to Southwest:

  1. They cancelled my flight
  2. I didn’t receive any notification from them telling me of the cancellation
  3. I couldn’t rebook on another flight on the Southwest App
  4. The app said I needed to call
  5. The hold time was 135 minutes
  6. There were no available flights anyway.
  7. It took them 5 1/2 hours to answer my tweet asking about a refund

When I finally received a reply on Twitter, it was a pretty straightforward exchange. I only asked them about a refund at this point.

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I still wanted to find out why Southwest didn’t let me know about the cancellation. My Rapid Rewards number was on the reservation so they had my contact info in the form of my email and phone number. Since I don’t find Twitter to be the best forum for detailed explanations, I sent an email through the link on Southwest’s website meant for complaints and compliments.

It took several days to get a reply, including one saying they were handling a large number of requests so it was taking longer than usual to respond.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. I apologize for the inconvenience of arriving to your wife later than you were originally scheduled. We appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns now.

We’re sorry for any frustration with our long hold times when you were trying to reach us and that you weren’t notified of when the flight was canceled. Our Automated Outbound Messaging system is intended to proactively deliver computer-generated notifications when a flight time changes. During the booking process, Customers are given the option to choose the preferred delivery method for these messages. We sincerely regret that you did not receive notification of the flight’s status change prior to your arrival at the airport and were left unaware of the flight’s cancellation. Regardless, we recognize the frustration and apologize for the inconvenience.  

Furthermore, since we did not provide travel for you to your final destination of Austin, we have requested a refund of $xxx.xx (which is equal to your one-way fare) to the credit card used to pay for your original reservation. The credit will be processed within 30 business days and will post to the account ending in xxxx.

All in all, it is obvious that we have not scored a very “high grade” with you in regard to this situation, and it saddens us that you are questioning your future patronage of Southwest as a result. We hope that you will forgive us for such an atypical Southwest experience and give us another opportunity to restore your trust in us. We would love to see you onboard again soon.

Since I already had received the Tweet telling me I would be getting a refund, I figured they’d be refunding me an additional amount to cover some of the cost required to book a flight on Delta. After waiting several weeks, I called to ask about the refund.

It turns out that both messages were referring to the same refund, the cost of the ticket. That’s all. I understand that Southwest is under no obligation to give me anything more. They didn’t fly me so they only refunded the amount I paid for the ticket on their (cancelled) flight.

The rep on the phone was pleasant but told me Southwest does not provide any compensation when a flight is cancelled. They try to accommodate passengers on other flights but there may be many people who need to get on new flights and only so many open seats on those flights. If I chose to fly another carrier because I needed to get to my destination, that’s a decision I had to make taking into consideration the cost of a last minute ticket.


I wasn’t expecting much from Southwest but their “Oh, well” attitude left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I hope this is the exception and not the rule or I’ll have to reevaluate how often we fly on Southwest.

Delta Airlines


Delta was the airline to the rescue for my trip. Why then did I write them about problems I experienced before and during my flight? Here were my issues:

  1. I received no reply to my Tweet asking if I needed to show my Platinum AMEX or Delta Gold Amex to get into the SkyClub. I did, and didn’t have it so I had to pay the $59 entry fee. 
  2. When my flight was delayed, I tried Tweeting and Direct Messaging Delta from the plane asking to be protected on a flight the next morning if I missed my flight. I sent the message at 8PM and didn’t receive an answer until 9AM the next morning.
  3. The next Tweet was a survey asking me to rate the service, which I didn’t do.
  4. I sent another set of messages, spelling out all of the issues I had in contacting the airline and how Delta is usually better than the service I received that day.

Within 15 minutes of the last series of DM’s on Twitter, I received a message apologizing for the delayed responses (Weather in Atlanta, yadda yadda, yadda). As a goodwill gesture, they offered me a $100 credit voucher or 10,000 SkyMiles. Since I just paid 56,000 SkyMiles for the ticket, receiving 10,000 of those miles back was a generous offer since the only complaint was the slow reply time to my messages.

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I called Citi because they were the ones who booked my ticket. I used Citi ThankYou points to pay for the flight on Southwest. Since I didn’t get notified when my flight was cancelled, I wondered if they did. Is this why I didn’t get any notifications? If so, why didn’t they contact me in any way?

I spoke to the ThankYou Points travel department and asked my questions. I didn’t think there was anything they could do but I wanted them to know that if cardholders book flights with Southwest, it’s not a wonderful experience.

The representative I spoke to was nice. She confirmed that there is a department that gets notices of flight changes and cancellations and I should have heard from them when the flight was cancelled. Some the reasons we came up with for why I wasn’t contacted:

  1. Because it was so close to departure
  2. Because I was on Southwest
  3. Because it slipped through the cracks
  4. Who knows why

Hey, at least she was honest. I ended up saying that maybe using Citi ThankYou points for flights on Southwest might not be the best redemption given these problems I had. She didn’t give me any pushback to disagree with me.

Final Thoughts

When things go wrong, there’s no shame in letting companies know about it. These might seem like minor gripes or #FirstWorldProblems but if no one informs companies when things go wrong, how can we expect anyone to fix the problem?

I’m really happy with Delta for offering 10,000 SkyMiles. They stepped up and owned their service stumble and proactively offered a solution with two options. I’m a bit disappointed in Southwest. Their response to my concern was sloppily handled where I ended up saying “A better way to phrase that response would be…”. My final interaction was them saying it was my choice to pay for another ticket because I couldn’t wait for them to fly me when they were able to, so they’re off the hook. Citi, or more accurately the Citi Travel Desk, was generally helpless. They didn’t know why their system didn’t work and didn’t seem to want to bother to figure out why. I’ll just have to use my ThankYou points for reservations like hotels or transfer them to other programs where I can book directly with the airlines.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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