DETROIT - American Airlines apologizes after members of a Detroit-area non-profit said they were stranded for the night in Miami without any hotel rooms, and very little sympathy from the airline.
The company contacted Ruth to the Rescue to tell its side of the story about the technological meltdown that left a group of Metro-Detroit residents stranded in South Florida.
Members of RainCatchers.org were in Haiti for a week and got stuck in Miami when American Airlines' system went into meltdown mode.
The volunteers were in Haiti building systems that allow Haitians to filter rain water and use it for their everyday needs.
When they arrived in Miami on their journey home, their connecting flight to Detroit was canceled. The volunteers said American Airlines told them it could not provide any hotel rooms, despite urgent pleas.
"We have someone that's completely ill, needs a hotel room, we need at least one and they said no," said volunteer Olivia Taylor. "It was no apologies."
The group said it spent $900 on six rooms for its 13 members. Members said it's not about the money, but what the money could be used for.
"Any money that we lose in, let's say American Airlines, it actually takes away from being able to provide systems for Haiti," said volunteer Brian Meloche.
American blamed the outage on a loss of access to computer networks that are used for flight reservations and many other functions. Airlines commonly rely on such systems to track passengers and bags, monitor who boards planes, and update flight schedules and gate assignments.
The computers are also used to file flight plans and tell employees which seats should be filled to ensure that the plane is properly balanced.
American Airlines responds
While American Airlines apologized to all of its customers, a company representative also spoke with Ruth to the Rescue about the plight of the volunteers of RainCatchers.org.
"We apologize. We did as much as possible for as many people as possible," said Martha Pantin, a Director of Communication for American Airlines.
Pantin told Ruth to the Rescue that American was able to give 800 vouchers for hotel rooms to passengers stranded in Miami. At that point, the vouchers ran out, and about 1,000 customers were left without accommodations.
That huge group of people included the volunteers for RainCatchers.org.
Pantin pointed once again to the airline's Conditions of Carriage, which she said puts the airline under no obligation to provide hotel rooms for passengers in this situation. She called the technical meltdown an unforeseen incident, and said the 800 vouchers were given out as a gesture of good faith.
The only relief for many stranded passengers could be some refunds. They will get money back for any unused portions of trips that could not be completed on American Airlines. For example, some of the RainCatchers.org volunteers took a Delta flight back to Detroit.
However, passengers will have to pursue those refunds by filing a claim. She said the best way to file is to go to www.aa.com and go to the bottom of the home page to Contact American. Click and that will bring up a window that says "April 16 System Outage."
Pantin said American has also given many passengers extra mileage on the Advantage frequent flier accounts.