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I was supposed to be on a flight from Columbia MO to Dallas to JFK to Delhi, India. It turns out the flight from Dallas to JFK, AA998, was so delayed that I would have missed the flight from JFK to Delhi under normal circumstances.

There was a small delay with my Covid form for entry in New Delhi airport. American Airlines did not notify me that I needed to fill out this form although they will argue I needed to do this myself.

The form required me to compress images and upload passport photos in pdf, compress images of vaccination details and then upload pdfs, and this took some time given that I had only arrived 80 minutes before departure. However, I still got this done 30 minutes before departure today and got an email confirmation at that time from Delhi Airport at 11:28 AM (The form was also conflicting in that we know for a fact that vaccinated travelers don't need Covid test to get there, but still it forced us to upload something for a RTPCR document). The flight was supposed to leave at 11:59 AM. They refused to let me board this flight, saying it's too late. Just as they did so, I found another couple of passengers a couple of minutes later who did get a boarding pass and were able to get through to the flight. It was such a small airport that it takes 1 minute to get to the gate after security, and security itself was completely empty then. I am not sure if they had overbooked the flight. The boarding had not even started when I was near the security gate.

The other argument I made initially with them was that since I was having some difficulty uploading images of the documents I all had with me in person, I could show them that I did have all the documents that Delhi needed, and I could spend a few minutes in Dallas or JFK compressing and uploading the files and getting a confirmation email from Delhi. This seemed a reasonable argument since I was only traveling domestically up to that point. They can say it would have needed them to contact someone in JFK to ask to see my form uploaded, and that would have been extra work for them, but in that case they could have made separate tickets in Columbia itself, treating the first leg as a domestic journey.

I was eventually told to get on the next flight to Chicago and figure it out from there. In the counters at Chicago, they almost booked me on the next flight to London in a few hours through their code share, but then at the last moment refused when they came to know that I had missed the flight from Columbia MO due to this delay with the form.

They will only put me on a flight that leaves 24 hours later. They also refused to give me a hotel voucher either.

I don't know if the flight to Dallas from Columbia MO was overbooked. Even then it was grossly unfair to not let me board when the boarding would not even have started until 11:40 AM. For the flight that I later took from Columbia MO to Chicago, the boarding only began 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I had to be on wait for literally 2 hours 30 minutes with an American Airlines representative, before they booked me for my flight to Chicago.

Should I have been entitled to at least a hotel voucher, if not a faster route out of the US, which they stopped at the last moment? Even if I was on the Dallas flight, I would have missed the JFK flight to India because the Dallas-JFK flight was delayed.

What recourse do I have? Because of this 24 hour delay, I am also missing my connecting flight in India, and thus losing $130 on that booking as well as the cost of a night's stay at Delhi. In addition I am having to pay for hotel and ground transport in Chicago, all with a delay of over 24 hours.

I would be grateful to know what avenues for redressal I have. I apologize if this is not meant to be a complaint forum. Would they be able to get away by claiming it was my fault to begin with, when I know for a fact that a couple of people were allowed to board the flight even after I had tried to show them the Delhi self-reporting document (and I didn't make a case near the security gate)?

My specific query is, can I ask for a refund or some form of compensation? The issue with the self reporting form(which I now understand is something they don't even bother about in Delhi airport) was not something so serious that (a) they shouldn't have let me board the flight when probably the flight had not even arrived in such a small airport (b) and to have my schedule delayed by over 24 hours, (c) to have me pay for hotel in transit and have to change onwards bookings in India for substantial costs.

Edit: It's funny that since a long time has passed, I will have to completely fill out a new form on the Delhi airport website, mentioning the details of my new flight tickets. So even more than before, the objection for not letting me board yesterday is ridiculous, since I would have to repeat the process today again. It seems they have an extremely poor knowledge of how the process of filling out this self declaration form works, which I won't blame them a lot for.

Part of my new trip is through British Airways now, and when you try to check in online, BA's website very prominently and specifically alerts that travelers to India have to fill out this specific self-declaration form on the New Delhi airport website. I had been looking many times at the AA website yesterday and earlier, and they never mentioned this anywhere during the check in process. This is why, like most normal passengers, I went to the Columbia regional airport with 80 minutes in hand, and not with 3 hours in hand which would be very strange, and when, who knows, they may have been looking at me weirdly (as has happened before in that airport in a different context) for coming in so early when no counters were open.

Edit: It's useless to argue any more here given the tone and tenor of the responses; but I checked the website of Columbia regional airport, and it states as anyone can clearly see: "Airline ticket counters close 30 minutes prior to departure times. Passengers which arrive 45 minutes or less prior to departure times listed on their tickets may be denied boarding by the airlines and TSA."

I had the form ready exactly 31 minutes prior to boarding,as I have stated, and even after that, they allowed a couple of people through. I didn't arrive 45 minutes or less prior, I was there for half an hour with them.This adds another dimension to the clown show

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    AA requires you to check-in 45 minutes before departure. That includes having any required documentation for a connecting flight. You missed that. Be thankful they put you on a later flight without charging you for it, and consider this a learning experience.
    – Doc
    Jun 3 at 3:17
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    Doc has the best of this, I'm afraid. You didn't make the check-in deadline, and you didn't have the documents ready. The airline's T&C of Carriage make you wholly responsible for these matters, and in any dispute will give the airline all the cards. Protesting that other travelers were afforded some flexibility will be as effective as arguing with the traffic cop that you shouldn't receive a ticket because other drivers were also speeding. I urge you to take it all as a learning experience. Jun 3 at 4:45
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    Most every airline will require that you have sorted out and present all required travel documents before they can check you in for the first leg of your flight. Even if you have domestic legs first, they need to see that you're able to enter the destination country before they check you in for any part of your trip. If something goes wrong and the airline is penalized for not checking that you have the proper documents at your destination, it's the first agent who checked you in who is ultimately going to be blamed, so they need to everything by the book. Jun 3 at 4:51
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    According to your timestamps, you only got one of the required travel documents you needed for your trip 31 minutes before departure, and the check in deadline was over well before then. As such, AA's position is presumably that you missed the check in deadline, by a fair amount. I have no idea what the situation was with those other passengers: perhaps they had already checked in online, already had boarding passes, didn't have checked bags, weren't traveling internationally, or any number of other reasons we can only speculate about. Jun 3 at 4:55
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    AA's conditions of carriage says you're responsible for having whatever travel documents are required for international travel. No, there is no expectation that AA send you an email about the travel documents needed for your situation, and if they do send such an email, it's only as a courtesy. The website provided by AA states that a "Mandatory health declaration form for vaccinated travelers" is required. Jun 3 at 4:59

1 Answer 1

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American Airlines did not notify me that I needed to fill out this form although they will argue I needed to do this myself.

Yes. Every airline clearly states that it's the customer's responsibility to have all required documentation. Many airlines will help with identifying what exactly that is, but they are in no way obligated to do so. Unfortunately Covid has made a mess of things and it's hard to keep up. But the responsibility is with the passenger and not the airline.

What recourse do I have?

None legally, I'm afraid. You were lacking proper documentation for check at the check in cutoff time, which in your case was 11:14am. American's rule states 45 minutes before departure. This means that American had every right to refuse to check you in at 11:28am and deny you boarding.

Obviously AA didn't handle this well and could have done a lot better. You can post negative reviews, share your experiences on social media, write complaint letters, etc.

can I ask for a refund or some form of compensation?

You can ask, but they can (and probably will) refuse.

Look, I understand that you went through a frustrating experience and that AA could have done a much better job in communicating requirements and managing the situation. However, they didn't do anything illegal, followed the letter of the law and acted in full accordance with their terms and conditions that you agreed to (but probably didn't read) when you made the booking.

The sad truth is the Covid has made a total mess out of travel. Rules change quickly and are poorly documented, but it's the travelers responsibility to keep up. A good resource is IATA which maintains a site that allows you to check all requirements against your personal specific details (which are different for everyone).

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  • BA and presumably Gulf carriers and others, specifically alert passengers when they try to check in online, that they need to get redirected to the Delhi webpage. AA doesn't have any compulsion to do the same, but it's fair to highlight that they don't. A couple of my other Indian friends traveling recently to India also didn't know of this document requirement. I did mess up with the timing, even though I can argue they could have provided the same courtesy they did to at least one of the later passengers, but whoever's fault it is,it is very frustrating having to wait 26 hours. Jun 3 at 15:40
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    It sure is frustrating but it's also the reality of business. There is no legal requirement for AA to be a good airline and do a good job. Your natural recourse is the same as in any other bad transactions: take your business somewhere else. Next time, fly with BA or the Gulf carriers
    – Hilmar
    Jun 3 at 15:44
  • Fair enough; I realize that there is no legal recourse here, and they can get away with providing whatever alternates they deem fair, but still it's fair enough to point this out as AA in combination with the Columbia Regional airport as not having done a very good job. Jun 3 at 15:46
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    I don't disagree but this is a Q&A site, not a ranting site. That's what social media is for
    – Hilmar
    Jun 3 at 19:07
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    @AritroPathak: Don't bother, they won't do it. For international travel from the US, the vast majority is served by the "big three" Star Alliance, One World and Skyteam. Within one alliance, no airline will step on the turf of a partner airline. BA and AA are both OneWorld. If you want an alternative to AA you would have to look at United or Delta.
    – Hilmar
    Jun 7 at 12:30

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