David Shaw of Whitehall Township just got the refund he says he was promised in September, and he got it only after the Watchdog repeatedly pestered the airline about it. That's so un-American.
Shaw and I had just about given up hope that he'd see the $150 American had said it would refund him after a booking glitch. Then the airline told me last week that Shaw's refund had been paid this month. The airline just never bothered to tell Shaw.
He didn't know about it until I relayed the good news. I guess customer communications and satisfaction aren't priorities for American either.
The last time Shaw heard from the airline was in mid-January, when it emailed him to say it was reviewing his request and any refund would be returned to his credit card within two billing cycles.
When that didn't happen, I jumped on board and contacted American Airlines on March 18. The airline left me in stand-by for three weeks, responding only after I called to follow up April 7. A spokeswoman told me then that the airline would check into it and get back to me.
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Another week passed with no word, so I contacted the airline again last week and was told the money had been paid, on April 7.
"We sincerely apologize for the delay in issuing his refund," an airline spokeswoman told me in an email.
She ignored my question about why it took so long, saying only that the refund "didn't meet our goals for timeliness."
I would hope not.
Shaw wasn't surprised about how he was treated. He's been bounced around by airlines before. Several years ago, he turned to the Watchdog for help when it appeared United Airlines and Chase bank were going to stiff him out of frequent flier miles. He told me he fears customers will endure more mistakes as airlines such as American and USAirways merge and grow larger.
This problem started in September when Shaw and his wife were preparing to return from an overseas trip. They went to the airport in Berlin to check in for their flight and were told that despite the confirmation paperwork they had, their reservation wasn't valid.
They had only an hour to straighten things out before takeoff. Shaw said he reached American Airlines and was told it never charged the credit card he used to book the trip. He gave the representative his card information again and they got their tickets, barely making it aboard.
But they weren't home free.
American Airlines had charged an extra $150 to his credit card. Shaw said he called to ask why and was informed there was a $75 fee for adjusting each itinerary by phone.
He wouldn't have had to call if the airline had processed his reservation correctly and charged the card he supplied. He pointed that out to the representative, noting he had received confirmation of his purchase and the airline hadn't contacted him to say it had a problem charging his card.
Shaw said the rep agreed to refund the fee. Three months later, at the end of December, the airline hadn't returned the money. He wrote a letter asking where it was and got an email Jan. 14 saying his request was under review.
It's a good thing airline regulators don't track American's on-time performance for paying refunds, because I suspect seven months wouldn't garner a top rating.
American Airlines is used to its rating slipping, though. Its performance dipped in a study released this month by researchers at Wichita State and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical universities, which combined the results for American and USAirways due to the merger.
The universities annually review federal data about airlines' on-time arrival rate, lost baggage rate, passenger bumpings and customer complaints, including those about refunds. The latest report found the airline industry as a whole performed worse last year than in 2013.
Shaw said if he and his wife had missed their flight, they would have been out at least 700 Euro (about $750) to get another flight. They also would have had to deal with the domino effect that would have had on their connecting flights home.
He said from now on, he won't trust a reservation confirmation from an airline.
"I learned a lesson from a hard way," he said. "We must double check our bookings before leaving home for a trip."
If you have a beef with an airline, you can seek help from the U.S. Department of Transportation at dot.gov/airconsumer or 202-366-2220.
The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-841-2364 or The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. I'm on Twitter @mcwatchdog and Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.