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My American Airlines flight was on time. How did I arrive on the wrong day?!

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Evan H. made an embarrassing self-ticketing mistake on American Airlines that caused him to miss a business meeting. His time zone confusion led him to take a flight to Hong Kong that landed as scheduled but one day too late.

So why is he contacting a consumer advocacy organization about this blunder?

He says American Airlines did not inform him of the significant time zone changes (and date changes) involved in flying from Dallas to Hong Kong. As a result, he wants compensation of an undetermined value from the airline.

Evan’s case is a lesson in the complexities of planning international business travel and of personal responsibility. If you choose to make your own flight arrangements, it’s critical to confirm the time and date of your flight’s arrival. Because If you don’t, no airline is going to bail you out financially or professionally.

An American Airlines self-ticketing mistake

Evan’s saga began when he decided to book his own flights for his business trip half-way across the world.

“I had to fly to Hong Kong for some important meetings,” Evan recalled. “I booked an American Airlines ticket that said it arrived Sunday, March 25th at 4:10 p.m. The timing was perfect as meetings were scheduled for all day on Monday.”

On March 25, at 10:35 a.m. Evan headed to the airport in Dallas and boarded a nonstop flight to Hong Kong. All seemed to be going well as the American Airlines flight landed right on time 16 hours later.

Map, flying between Dallas and Hong Kong, 13 hours time difference, traveler forgot to factor in time change, his American Airlines flight arrived on time, but he arrived on wrong day.
The American Airlines flight from Dallas to Hong Kong would pass through many time zones and the international date line.

The local time: 4:10 p.m.

But Evan was in for a sudden shock when he cleared customs and turned on his cell phone. He immediately began receiving a multitude of urgent text messages and emails.

Something was wrong — very wrong.

“WHERE ARE YOU? YOU MISSED THE MEETING — EVERYTHING!” one of Evan’s colleagues texted.

Time zone confusion: What day is it??

Although Evan thought that his American Airlines flight had landed on Sunday — he had crossed multiple time zones during those 16 hours. His plane took off on Sunday but landed late Monday afternoon. As he was making his way to Hong Kong, he was missing all of his scheduled business meetings.

“My professional credibility felt shot,” Evan explained. “I wasn’t sure what the cost would be for my mistake. Additionally, I had lost a night in a hotel. What kind of compensation do you think is fair?”

Compensation?

I asked Evan how he had determined the airline was to blame for his own time zone confusion. After all, his American Airlines flight that he booked himself had landed on time.

“I am no stranger to purchasing airline tickets. If the flight is not going to arrive on the same day, it says ‘+1 day’,” Evan told me. “The different arrival day for my American Airlines flight was not noted. It was also not noted on the itinerary when I purchased the ticket.”

I took a look at the itinerary Evan included in his paper trail. He was correct; it didn’t explicitly say that the flight would land on March 26. But it also didn’t say that it would land on March 25 either(as Evan stated in his complaint). It had no arrival date indicated. 

But the trip showed a length of 16 hours and 35 minutes. Hong Kong is 13 hours ahead of Dallas. When the flight took off at 10:35 a.m. in Dallas, it was already 11:35 P.M. in Hong Kong — Sunday night.

There isn’t any possible way to take off in the morning in Dallas and land in the afternoon of the same day in Hong Kong. Despite these facts, Evan said he depended on American Airlines to display the correct arrival date. He based his request for compensation on the omission of the arrival date on the screenshot of his flights.

American Airlines: You made a booking mistake

When Evan returned from his futile trip, he began a letter-writing crusade placing the blame for his missed business meetings squarely on American Airlines. And although he did, for the most part, follow all the self-advocacy guidance we suggest to travelers, his complaint went nowhere. 

Repeatedly, the representatives at American Airlines explained why the company would not accept responsibility for his self-ticketing mistake.

One American Airlines agent explained:

I understand how frustrating it can be to learn that you’ve booked the wrong date when making your reservation online. While aa.com does offer several opportunities to review and confirm your selected itinerary prior to purchase, mistakes sometimes happen.

Based on the fact that the flight does list a flight time of 16 hours and 30 minutes and shows that dinner and brunch will be included, it would be fair to say that it was implied that you would not be arriving a 4:10 pm the same day.

I’m sorry, but we will not be extending compensation.

American Airlines

This response did not satisfy Evan. He continued to forward his complaint to other contacts at American Airlines.

“I triple-checked the time and date on the flight before I purchased it. I was going to Hong Kong for an all-day meeting that started first thing in the morning on Monday,” Evan complained to another representative. “So I would not have booked something that arrived after my meetings were completed.”

But he had.

Asking a consumer advocate about mediating a refund

Even though all the facts pointed to one simple self-ticketing error, Evan wasn’t ready to admit to it.

And that’s when Evan’s request for help landed in my inbox.  

Over the years, I have received and reviewed thousands and thousands of requests for help from consumers. A certain number of these requests are not reasonable. In these cases, the consumer is asking for something for which there is no basis.

Like the lady who told me that she had been nearly killed by an inflight accident onboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight. The truth? She wasn’t. 

Or the messy car rental customer who used his vehicle as a garbage can and expected Avis employees to clean up his trash. The upshot? He owed the cleaning fee. 

Our credibility with consumers and with companies depends on our team carefully vetting every request for help. We don’t directly advocate all cases that hit our helpline. But we are wholly dedicated to resolving the cases that we do accept. We do that by researching policies, regulations and finding every detail that supports and proves the consumer’s position.

When we contact a company to mediate a case, we do so when the facts are on the consumer’s side. Our goal is to present a logical, factual request in a friendly way – a case that no reasonable executive can turn down.

With that in mind, Evan’s case was not one that I could advocate. I explained to Evan that the details as he laid them out pointed to his own time zone confusion. It would not be fair to expect American Airlines to compensate him for his self-booking mistake.

How to make sure you and your flight arrive on time

It’s worth a business traveler’s effort to find a knowledgeable travel advisor to help book international trips. Professional travel agents are well versed in time zone changes, health concerns, entry requirements, cultural norms, tips and other relevant facts that would have been invaluable to Evan. If you ask your travel agent to book a flight to arrive on Sunday — you’ll likely arrive on Sunday and not Monday after your meetings are over.

If you’re intent on booking your own travel then a time zone converter such as TimeAndDate can help. Had Evan used such a converter he would have been able to see the dramatic time zone difference between Dallas and Hong Kong. And he would have realized that there is no way to leave in the morning and land in the afternoon of the same day for his itinerary.

But what if you miss a business meeting and the airline is at fault?

We often receive complaints from passengers who have missed cruises, non-refundable hotels, business meetings, or special events after an airline delay.

Unlike in Europe and in Canada where there are passenger protection regulations, in the United States, there are no laws that protect travelers in these situations. The airlines are free of any liability to reimburse for incidental expenses incurred as a result of a delayed or canceled flight (See: You are not owed a free hotel when your flight is delayed. This is why).

The Department of Transportation explains airline responsibility on the topic :

Q: Is an airline required to reimburse me for expenses if it cancels my flight and I am forced to miss my cruise, honeymoon, wedding, concert, or other activity?

A: No. Airlines are not required to reimburse you for any trip costs affected by the canceled flight, such as a prepaid hotel room, a cruise, a vacation, concert or other tickets, or lost wages.

The DOT recommends, as does our advocacy team that you always schedule your flights well in advance of any important event. And, of course, don’t forget to factor those time zone changes into your plans! (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.
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SB

I think that it’s interesting that AA points to the “reasonable person” standard in their response to this passenger. The line “fair to say that it was implied” seems like they are admitting that crossing the date line wasn’t abundantly clear in their booking system (nor do I think it is, just casually making a mock booking to look at it, either). In some ways I think that this case should be mediated simply to force AA to look at how these flights might look on the passenger’s end when booking (not to say that the pax deserves compensation, but that the organization should really make this more consumer-friendly).

jsn55

It’s one thing to make a huge mistake. It’s embarrassing and makes you feel like a dope. Especially if it was a business trip and now ‘everyone’ knows about your error. But to blame someone/thing else for your mistake? No sympathy here. The only positive to come out of this story is that the people at American must have had lots of laughs as he bombarded them with demands for a refund. Booking travel is complicated … but if you use your head and triple-check every step, you’ll probably be OK.

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