American Airlines changes family's flight to another country, asks them to pay $30K, passenger says

Sam Taussig claims his family was forced to charter a plane at their own expense to another island in order to return to the U.S.

ByGio Benitez and Sam Sweeney via GMA ABCNews logo
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Family: Airline changed flight to another country without consent
A family filed a complaint against American, alleging that the airline changed their return flight to depart from Saint Vincent to Saint Lucia.

A family alleges American Airlines tried to force them to pay roughly $30,000 to change their itinerary after the airline switched the family's return ticket to leave from an airport in another country, according to a complaint filed by the family with the Department of Transportation and American Airlines.

Sam Taussig also claims his family was forced to charter a plane at their own expense to another island in order to return to the United States on American Airlines.

American involuntarily changed the family's flights multiple times over the course of several months after the family purchased their tickets in January for their summer vacation, Taussig said. It wasn't until July 4 when Taussig said he wanted to ensure his family was sitting together for their upcoming trip that he noticed not only was the family not together, but their flight was leaving from St. Lucia instead of Saint Vincent. There are no scheduled flights or ferries between St. Lucia and Saint Vincent.

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"I called American Airlines thinking this must be some sort of clerical error and spent nearly three hours with the American Airlines customer service teams learning that I have, in fact, been bumped and seven of the nine family members were bumped to another flight departing from a different country at a different airport because of an oversold situation," Taussig said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

Taussig said he did receive an email from the airline that there had been a change to his flight, but he said the airport change notification was in tiny, fine print.

"American Airlines was not very apologetic at all. They blamed me, the customer, for not catching this sooner," Taussig said. "American Airlines offered a couple of different, I think, absolutely insane solutions where they said, well, we'll have to split up part of your family and put most of you on a flight a week later, if not longer. And to do that, we're going to charge you change fees, reissuing fees, certain other fees, which were not clear to me, and new fares, which totaled about $30,000 to get all of us back. And we'd be stuck on the island for a week with no offer of compensation for hotels or meal vouchers or anything like that."

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The airline said one of the brakes on the plane overheated. No passengers were injured.

The airline ultimately found a flight leaving a day later from Barbados and asked him to pay thousands in fees, he said. Taussig said he refused to pay the fees, but was forced to book a private charter flight to get his family to Barbados.

"We researched a private charter to get us to a third country, Barbados, where American Airlines might be able to get us out the next day from our original departure day, where they then told us that it would be $3,000 in change fees to make that happen. And [American told us] we should be so lucky because this whole situation was putting the company out $3,000, even though they originally bumped us for an overbooking situation. So all in all, where we are today is out a couple of thousand dollars. On our dime, we're flying to yet a different country to meet American Airlines to get back to the U.S.," Taussig said.

In a statement to ABC News, American Airlines said: "We are concerned by the experience our customer is reporting. A member of our team has reached out to discuss their travel."

"In this situation, there was obviously a significant change by the airline and the person could get an involuntary refund. And if they could construe it as being bumped, which is a little unclear, then they would also be entitled to bump in compensation. Now, in the United States, that means if it's one to four hours, you get 200% of the one-way fare up to $775. If it's all or four hours difference in delay from the original flight, you can get 400% of the one-way fare up to a maximum of $1,550," Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for airline customers, told ABC News.

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Taussig says he's grateful he discovered this error before the family plans to leave for their vacation later this week, and says American Airlines still has not provided any compensation.

Taussig said he hopes his story fosters change at the airline and serves as a warning to other travelers.

"I hope American Airlines uses this as an opportunity to learn about the inefficiencies and arbitrary decisions that are just crazy for passengers and how their customer service agents either can't or are unwilling to solve this situation. I hope American learns from this," Taussig said. "I tell fellow passengers, fellow travelers, really pay attention to those schedule changes. Try to invoke your rights for travel waivers. Call the airline to make sure that you are flying out of the correct place at the correct time, that you'll make your connections and get to where you're going or where you're coming home to on time and all together."

The Department of Transportation says consumer complaints against airlines are soaring, up more than 300% compared to pre-pandemic levels. DOT regulations say passengers are entitled to a full cash refund if an airline cancels or makes a significant change to a ticket.