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What can we do when an airline discontinues service on our routes and doesn't notify us?

Dear Anita,

On October 5, six of us flew on American Eagle from Boston, MA, to Ottawa, Canada. While en route to Ottawa, we learned quite accidentally from the flight attendant that American Eagle was pulling out of that market effective October 6. We asked how could that be because we had return flights on October 9, but he said "If you are not on tomorrow morning's flight, you don't have a return flight home." Our round-trip e-tickets had been purchased months in advance.

After we arrived in Ottawa, I contacted American Airlines immediately, and asked why four different entities—travel agent, American Airlines, and two different ticket counter agents—neglected to inform us of this major change. I was told that "they probably didn't know."

I was particularly upset that the ticket agents, who had our computerized records and a paper printout of our itinerary in front of them, didn't call this "pullout" to our attention. American found us a return flight on American Airlines from Ottawa to Boston via Chicago, but what would have been a 1.5-hour trip from Ottawa to Boston, turned into a six-hour one. And, the time we had in Ottawa was cut short by a day.

We feel cheated and that we were deliberately kept in the dark by American Airlines. What would have happened if we called to reconfirm our flight on the day of travel only to learn that it didn't exist, or worse, to have shown up at Ottawa Airport for a flight that no longer existed?

Do we have any recourse? We'd like to send American a nasty letter, but need to know what our rights are first.

Many thanks for your help.

Mary G.
Boston, MA

Dear Mary,

There's absolutely no excuse for American Airlines not contacting you. I contacted them to see what had happened.

American said that like every major airline, American Eagle was forced to reduce its flights immediately following the September 11 attacks when passenger demand dropped to lower levels. They noted it is the airline's policy to notify customers of any changes, such as service cancellations.

American Eagle "regrets" that communication was not established prior to the departing flight of the trip. The airline does make arrangements to "protect" the prior reservation on a competing airline, or to re-route the traveler through another hub, as in this case. They noted with more advance notice, more options for the return trip likely would have been available.

With the aforementioned "advance notice," it just shows that it never hurts to confirm your reservation directly with the airline to avoid last-minute surprises at the airport. When you call to check on your reservations, this will give the airline the opportunity to update you with any changes in flight information.

I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!

Anita Dunham-Potter

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