When Robert Hughes’ aunt dies, he books a flight to the funeral in Omaha, Nebraska. But when American Airlines cancels his flight, it issues a voucher. Shouldn’t he get a full refund?

Q: My aunt Marian recently died at age 92. I was very close to her and she was the last relative of her generation to pass away. My own mother died when I was an infant, so Aunt Marian was an important person in my life, and it would have meant a great deal to me to attend this funeral and be with other relatives.

I bought a ticket to fly from San Francisco to Omaha — with a connection in Phoenix — in order to attend the funeral. American Airlines canceled the flight from Phoenix to Omaha and then could not fly me to Omaha in time for the funeral. After many hours in the Phoenix airport, I flew home. 

American Airlines issued a voucher to compensate me for not getting me to my destination. I am a senior citizen and I travel infrequently, I have no plans to return to Omaha, and I believe I am entitled to a full refund. I never reached my destination and I missed an irreplaceable experience in my life. Can you help me? — Robert Hughes, Pacifica, California

A: My condolences on your loss. I’m sorry you missed your aunt’s funeral. American Airlines should have gotten you to Omaha in time. If it didn’t, it owed you a full refund — not a voucher.

According to American Airlines’ condition of carriage — the legal agreement between you and the airline — the company owed you the value of the unused travel if the ticket is partially used. I would interpret that as a refund, but American interprets “value” differently. For the company, a voucher that expires in a year is adequate compensation. I disagree.


First of all, you didn’t choose to connect in Phoenix, where your delay happened. American Airlines scheduled your flight to go through its Phoenix hub, which saves it time and resources. So I would push for the full value of your trip in vain.

And, even though American is careful to say that it is “not liable” if it is late or if you don’t make your connection, most passengers don’t see it that way. If you booked a ticket to get to Aunt Marian’s funeral, and American Airlines said it would get you to Omaha in time, then it should have gotten you there in time. 

Of course, American wants to give you a voucher for a new flight. The odds of you using the credit are not good, considering that you only die once. Even if you do, the credit expires in a year, so you would need to plan another trip quickly. Giving you a voucher basically lets American keep your money. I think airlines should be required to fully refund passengers like you.

You could have appealed this problem to one of the executive contacts at American Airlines. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site.

 I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. The company agreed to refund your ticket.