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Getting Compensation For A Flight Delay On Alaska

by on September 20, 2012 · 23 comments

in Alaska

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TPG Managing Editor Eric had an all-too-common experience while traveling home from Mexico on Alaska Airlines this past weekend: a flight delay which no one could say for sure how long it would last. Here’s what he did and what the airline did. What would you do?

I spent a few days outside Puerto Vallarta last week in the beach resort of Punta Mita. I flew there from San Diego on Alaska Airlines and though my outbound flight went off without a hitch (and even got me in early for some extra beach time!), the trip back proved to be an ordeal.

Because I was coming from Punta Mita, about an hour from the airport, I made sure to check the flight status online since I didn’t want to get stuck waiting at the airport if there was any delay. My non-stop flight from PVR-San Diego was listed as on-time departing at 3:55pm, so I hopped in a taxi and headed to the airport.

The Tale of Woe Begins
At the airport, I used an electronic kiosk to check-in and everything seemed fine until I went up to the counter to drop my bags off, at which point the ticket agent grimaced and said the flight was actually delayed and they couldn’t say when it would be departing for sure. Turns out there was a mechanical problem with the aircraft after it had left from Los Angeles, and it had to turn around, land again and get serviced.

I was given a food voucher for the airport restaurants and told to check back an hour later. I asked about flights the following day, but was told everything was oversold so the earliest I could get out if I wanted to change my flights would be Tuesday or possibly Wednesday. So I took my voucher and went to one of the restaurants where I used the WiFi signal to make a Skype call to Alaska Airlines to figure out what was going on.

The representative there tentatively put me on a flight the following day even though it was oversold and said one of two things would happen:

1. The original aircraft would be fixed and sent down sometime later that evening and the flight would be delayed until about 10pm.

2. The airline would find a new aircraft and send that down, possibly faster, but no way to know for sure how fast.

I was told the next update would be at 6:00pm, another 3 hours to wait in the airport! The folks at the ticket desk said the same thing, so I sent a Tweet to Alaska asking if someone there could tell me what was going on and whether I needed to stay at the airport or if I could leave for a while to get dinner in the city.

Going To The Source
Here’s what I said: “@AlaskaAir, you’ve got to do a better job updating passengers on flight delays! I’m on #241 and it could be 3-7 hours late. No one can tell me.”

While I was sending that out, I got an email from Alaska announcing the original flight delay, right around the time the flight was supposed to have departed. Seriously!

The Alaska Twitter account responded almost immediately with this: “The aircraft left LAX at 5PM and should arrive just before 10PM…”

So at least I had a new ETD, which I was able to confirm with the ticket agents. For some reason, though they had this updated information, they hadn’t made an announcement.

With some extra time on our hands, my mother and I took a taxi to the city and walked up and down the Malecon with families out for a Sunday evening stroll, then had a quick, light dinner in a restaurant she likes before coming back to the airport around 8:30pm just in case the situation had changed again.

It hadn’t – they were estimating an arrival at 10pm and our departure at 10:30 or so, so we had some more waiting to do, but at least we had a flight.

We Have Liftoff
There were only 30 passengers or so aboard, and the airline provided pizza from Sbarro and free drinks (booze too) to passengers during the 3-hour flight home. The crew apologized several times over the course of the flight as well, and handed out complaint postcards that would get each passenger who turned one in 2,000 Alaska miles. It seemed like paltry compensation, but I hadn’t ruled out calling in to the airline and asking for more since we eventually got in about 7 hours later than we were supposed to, almost at midnight.

The Letter
That was Sunday evening, and though I hadn’t had time to contact the airline yet, by Tuesday morning, I received the following email:

“September 18, 2012

Dear Mr. Rosen,

On behalf of Alaska Airlines, please accept my personal apology for the difficulties experienced with Flight 241 in Puerto Vallarta on September 16, 2012. While passenger safety is our highest priority, we understand your time is valuable and regret that this situation caused disruption to your travel plans.

As you are likely aware, the inbound aircraft that was to be used for your flight experienced a mechanical delay in a previous city, which in turn delayed your flight. Our maintenance staff made every effort, but it was determined that additional time would be needed to complete the repairs on the original aircraft and the decision was made to use a different aircraft for both the inbound flight into Puerto Vallarta and your flight. However, I realize that this resulted in a lengthy delay to your flight. Please rest assured that we are reviewing this situation and we will do all we can to ensure that a similar scenario does not repeat itself. I would like to once again extend my sincere apologies for this extended delay and for any resulting inconvenience you experienced.

It is never our intent to provide a level of service that does not meet our customers’ highest expectations. As a customer service gesture, I have issued you each an electronic Discount Code, which may be redeemed for a discount off future travel at www.alaskaair.com. Discount Codes are valid for one year from the date of issue. Please reference the appropriate code below at the time of booking on alaskaair.com. Discount Codes do not require a pin and need to be entered in the Discount Code box at the beginning of your reservation. Complete rules and restrictions can be found online at www.alaskaair.com.

Eric Rosen, Discount Code ____in the amount of $250

We value your business and hope to have the privilege of welcoming you onboard another Alaska Airlines flight in the near future.

Sincerely

Jeff B___
Vice President
Customer Service- Airports”

I appreciated Alaska taking preemptive action to offer passengers compensation in a timely manner. Especially because according to the airline’s international contract of carriage, all we were entitled to was: If your flight is delayed two hours or more, one of our airport Customer Service Agents will provide you with an Apology Brochure which includes 2,000 Mileage Plan Bonus Miles to be deposited into your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account.”

What They Do In Europe
Just as a reference, the EU has stringent passenger compensation rights for delayed and cancelled flights known as Regulation 261/2004, though airlines are still fighting it in the courts, which are expected to issue a final ruling later in 2012.

The law mandates compensation between 250-600 euros ($326-$783) depending on how far you fly and how long you’re delayed when traveling on an EU airline with an EU airport as your point of departure or final destination. Theoretically for my flight, I would have gotten 400 euros ($522) based on the time and distance.

Though I’m still annoyed by the huge delay, the $250 voucher (my original ticket cost $400) and the consideration the various Alaska representatives I communicated with showed us means I’ll probably be taking the airline again in the next year, and I’m not going to carry a grudge.

What do you think? Was there something else I could have done, and should I have gotten more?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jjd477

    Do these rules apply to just EU citizens or does it include anyone? Also, do these rules apply to award tickets, say on LH with a US Airways issued award?

  • Ron

    Seems to me that the airline handled the situation appropriately. However, they should have better communicated the situation prior to your arrival at the airport via text and/or email and they certainly should have given passengers better and more frequent communication at the airport.

  • Itc

    What thy did was great, was recently delayed for hours AND had to deboard a plane on my way to Zurich due to mechanical failures and we weren’t even offered as much as free peanuts. Good bye good ol continental.

  • Itc

    This was on united

  • Amrx03

    That’s a rough delay. Though it sounds like they did a pretty good job with sincere apologies and above and beyond compensation. I highly doubt you’d receive better on any other American carrier.

  • Sfobuddy

    If you have zero status with Alaska, you got exactly what you you’re entitled to and in the case I think it is pretty good.

  • AP

    I was delayed approximately 4 hours leaving BOS going to LHR. Delta offered meal vouchers (upto $15.00) and $100 Delta Flight voucher for each passenger that was handed out as everyone boarded.

    I think they could get away with a smaller compensation due to the fact that they provided it right then and there.

  • John

    take what you got and be happy

  • a320rob

    So you had a delay of a few hours. Alaska compensated you and fed you what more do you want. Would you rather have them fly a broken airplane so you could be on time? I am a pilot for a major airline so i have seen this type of delay befor and some time the airline just cant tell you when a broken airplane will be fixed. This is for many resons, do they have the parts in LAX, if not can they barrow them from another airline, will that repair fix the problem, some time it is more extensive than originally thought, will the pilots time out by the time the A/C is fixed, ect. I would have expected a less winey post from someone who is in the travel industry. It sounded like you have never flowen before.

  • Foo

    If it is mechanical or weather related, you aren’t entitled to anything. $250 is amazing.

    Alaska once preemptively canceled all the flights out of PDX for a storm that didn’t happen. All other airlines were flying normally, and I missed my first day in Cabo. Passengers got nada–weather related. LOL.

  • Travis Swanson

    Alaska Airlines overall handled this situation pretty well, other then not notifying you before you got to the airport. Contacting you before you contacted them went above and beyond in my eyes. As far as the time at the airport, I really don’t believe the airline knew how much time it would take to fix to take the plane. They were also trying to decide if they should swap planes. These things take time.

  • Jimgotkp

    Glad to hear that they took the initiative!

  • Paul S.

    I think you were very well compensated. Two years ago my Continental flight out of TUL was cancelled because the captain would run out of time in his allotted work day (14 hrs?) so the plane never left Houston and while they were trying to find a captain with enough time, the first officer ran out of time, so they cancelled the flight. Since this was the last flight out of TUL, my connecting flight was a once-a-day to CCS and the next day’s CCS flight was full, they wouldn’t rebook us until 48 hrs later! My wife only gets to see her family in CCS every 18 months or so, so 48 hrs was kind of a big deal for her. We weren’t compensated at all and the gate agent said “This happens all the time. You shouldn’t ever book the last flight out of TUL, especially on a Friday.”

  • Stephan

    EU article only applies on flights into/out of the EU. It seems AS handled this pretty well except for informing passengers – much better than what you would have gotten with Air Canada! They could have given you a few more miles, but if you have no status why should they? I wish people would get on with life and stop demanding compensation for every little thing – too much of this entitlement attitude these days. Mechanical issues are a fact of life, no? To be honest, you sound kind of petty demanding more IMO.

  • StockShooter

    Subtact cost of extra round-trip taxi…?

  • Linda

    I think the proactive email was very well done and generous! I had a canceled flight on US Airways that stranded me in Charlotte. I’ve heard NOTHING from them! I say, you did well!

  • eaamx

    Good for you! Where did you stay at Punta Mita? We love the St. Regis.

  • Elizabeth

    Your compensation was more than fair for a 7-hour delay.

    We had a 16-hour delay on Alaska/Horizon this past spring resulting in a deplaning, a wait in the airport, an overnight at a local motel, another deplaning in the morning and then a change of equipment brought in from another airport. Our discount vouchers were $300/passenger.

    Communication on Alaska’s part was excellent throughout the entire ordeal as they kept us informed on what was going on at all times, and their personalized apology email was a nice touch.

  • Eric

    Crap happens. It’s all about the follow up.

  • Saddfsffd

    U r lucky they didn’t find a plane while u were sightseeing

  • Pingback: Destination of the Week: Puerto Vallarta | The Points Guy

  • Red G.

    First of all, get all your flights paper-ticketed. Then you should’ve checked the ARRIVALS section and searched for the arriving aircraft using your gate. You could’ve smelled a rat right then and there, and would’ve been able to execute Plan B, which is to then use your paper ticket as a coupon for a flight home. Not just any flight home, but THE next flight home.

  • Red G.

    I mean, THE next flight home on the same or another carrier.

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