Get Gephardt: Two Utahns get different compensation after airline cancels flight

Nov 1, 2022, 11:32 PM

SYRACUSE, Utah — When an airline cancels your flight, you might expect them to offer some sort of financial compensation for turning your vacation plans upside down. Well, when a Utah woman had a pretty good idea the airline was not giving her a fair shake for upending her trip, she decided to Get Gephardt.

It is a tale of two Melissas.

American Airlines canceled Melissa Lopez’s flight on the day she was to fly back to Salt Lake City from Costa Rica. She had to pay for another day of lodging, parking, and food for her family. For that, the airline offers her $125 in compensation. That barely makes a dent.

“It cost us over $300 just for the hotel room,” Lopez said. “And then you have food for the day. We had to pay for airport parking.”

In the other corner, we’ve got Melissa’s good friend, Melissa Olsen. She made the same trip as Melissa Lopez, but the airline offered her $1,200 worth of compensation.

“Do you hold this over her head a bit?” I asked Olsen. “Is there a little neener neener going on?”

“Sometimes,” Olsen laughed. “But I just feel bad that we had this same experience and I got the quick reply, and she’s been fighting it for so long.”

Yeah, same flight, same hotel, each in a family of four, same everything — yet Melissa Lopez got over a thousand bucks less in compensation.

“Do you look at that other Melissa sideways now because she got so much more than you?” I asked Lopez.

“Yes, now, we’re bitter enemies,” she joked. “No, no. We’re great friends.”

Lopez said there was no bitterness in her contact with the airline.

“Were you too nice on the phone?” I asked. “Were you too mean on the phone?”

“No, because you couldn’t call, so there was no phone call.”

So, what’s behind the split outcomes for the two Melissas?

“This sort of disparity isn’t common, but it is illustrative of a really important factor when it comes to airline compensation,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Agents have a lot of discretion in terms of what is offered.”

Keyes said many airlines have no set formula for compensation. It is largely up to what the agent handling your case thinks about it. So, treat agents with more honey and less vinegar. They are dealing with upset customers all day.

“You’re going to find more success and be taken care of better if you can get on an agent’s good side, if you can sympathize with them,” Keyes said. “And hopefully in return, get them to sympathize with you.”

If you’re not getting an offer, hang up politely and try again.

“You’re going to get patched through to a different agent, one of the thousands of airline agents that are available, who might take a more sympathetic view than the previous agent.” Keyes explained.

He also suggested contacting the airline by email or web chat. A helpful benefit is that it gives you a written record of any promises made by the airline agent that cannot disappear.

On phone or by email, make sure the airline knows specific ways their cancellation hijacked your plans.

“The law says that if an airline cancels your flight and you no longer wish to travel with them, you’re entitled to a full cash refund,” Keyes said. “Unfortunately, you’re not entitled to reimbursement of any additional out-of-pocket expenses that that cancellation caused. At the end of the day, your case is being judged by an airline agent who has discretion to decide, ‘Does this person deserve to be compensated for their troubles?’ And you need to try to put forth your best case about why you deserve compensation for your troubles.”

So, we tried on Melissa Lopez’s behalf, to put forth her best case with American Airlines. It worked. Within days, she received the same deal Melissa Olsen got.

“Do you feel you’re a better person than the other Melissa, you know, karma?” I asked Olsen.

“No,” she laughed. “She’s a way better person.”

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Get Gephardt: Two Utahns get different compensation after airline cancels flight