Our flight was downgraded after check-in – and the airline won't refund us

·3 min read
american airlines flights downgrade refund - Getty
american airlines flights downgrade refund - Getty

Gill Charlton has been fighting for Telegraph readers and solving their travel problems for more than 30 years, winning refunds, righting wrongs and suggesting solutions. She takes on a different case each week – so please send your problems to her for consideration at asktheexperts@telegraph.co.uk. Please give your full name and, if your dispute is with a travel company, your address, telephone number and any booking reference. Gill can’t answer every question, but she will help where she can and all emails are acknowledged.

This week's question...

Dear Gill,

In October 2019 my wife and I were scheduled to fly direct from Heathrow to Charlotte, North Carolina, in business class on American Airlines. We checked in and went through security to the Admiral lounge where we received a phone call from the airline.

We were told our boarding passes were no longer valid due to an aircraft change. Instead we would be put on a flight to Miami with a connection to Charlotte. We were upset, especially as we are nervous flyers. American Airlines said we had no alternative but to accept the re-routing or be downgraded to economy on the original flight. We chose the former and arrived in Charlotte five hours later than scheduled.

On our return we complained to American Airlines, which agreed to pay the fare difference for the downgrade on the Miami-Charlotte sector and offered us each $300 (£222) in vouchers which we refused. We have asked for proper compensation but this has been denied us. Can you help?

Dear RW,

Mr Wood wrote to me in February 2020, prior to the pandemic, and I contacted American Airlines to remind them that he and his wife could claim compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004 (now entered into UK law) on the basis of either being denied boarding or for the delay of more than four hours in reaching their destination.

American Airlines replied that as the Woods had been offered a downgrade on their original flight they were not due compensation under the EU regulation. It is correct that if the airline downgrades a passenger at check-in, the compensation due is 75 per cent of the sector fare excluding taxes and charges.

However, my reading of the regulation is that as the downgrade was proposed after the offer to re-route via Miami and after the Woods had checked in for their original flight, they should each receive the full denied boarding/delay compensation of €600.

Bott & Co (bottonline.co.uk), solicitors specialising in flight delay compensation claims, agreed and took up the case. It took nearly two years for a hearing to be scheduled in the County Court and a few weeks beforehand American Airlines caved in and agreed to pay the full compensation. The Woods have now received £380 each after the legal fees were deducted.

Sadly, this does not set a precedent for the future because only cases that go through a full hearing in a higher court become part of English case law.

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