Alaska Airlines pays Ashley Cates $239 when she's bumped from her flight. Then it stops payment on the check. Why? And is there anything she can do to get the money back?
Q: I was recently denied boarding on an Alaska Airlines flight from Boise, Idaho to Sacramento. I was unable to check in early online, making me one of the last to check in at the airport.
I had to cancel an appointment and was rerouted through Portland. What should have been a half-hour stopover turned into a half day, and I arrived in Sacramento late in the evening.
Alaska Airlines wrote me a check at the airport for 200% of the amount of the original one-way ticket as compensation for the major inconvenience. Nice, right?
Not really. I've just found out that Alaska Airlines stopped payment on the check. My bank is charging me $7 for depositing it, too.
Needless to say, I'm absolutely furious with Alaska Airlines. Overbooking is a horrible practice. I can't support a company that allows me to purchase something they don't have to give. Is there anything you can do to get Alaska Airlines to make good on its promise? -- Ashley Cates, Boise, Idaho
A: Yes, overbooking is a horrible practice. And once Alaska Airlines cut you a check, it should have honored it.
But should it have paid you for the denied boarding in the first place? According to Alaska Airlines' contract of carriage -- the legal agreement between you and the carrier -- the answer is "yes." It says that if you're bumped from a flight, you're owed 200% of the sum of the value of your remaining flight coupon to your next stopover, to a maximum of $800, or half that if the airline can arrange comparable air transportation.
But hang on. Were you really denied boarding? You say you tried to check in online, and couldn't, so you were one of the last passengers to check in at the airport. The cut-off time for domestic flights is 30 minutes before departure, meaning that you would lose your confirmed seats if you show up with less than half an hour before your flight leaves.
Is it possible that the airline stopped payment on its check because you missed your flight?
It doesn't really matter. There are more appropriate ways of withdrawing a compensation offer. Alaska should have notified you and explained why it needed to stop payment on a check -- not left it up to your bank to give you the bad news, along with a $7 penalty.
One way you might have avoided all of this is by showing up to the airport with plenty of time. After the airline stopped its payment, I would have sent a brief, polite e-mail to the airline, asking it to fix the problem.
I contacted Alaska Airlines on your behalf. A representative called you and explained that payments had inadvertently been stopped on an entire batch of checks. In other words, your compensation was legit, as far as the airline was concerned.
Alaska Airlines issued another check for $239 and a $50 voucher for a future ticket. It also offered to refund your bank fee.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.