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American Airlines flight departs Manchester 22 minutes early without passenger - and blames passenger

  • American Airlines cite unwritten rule, which they claim allows the airline to cancel a reservation and abandon passengers airside 30 minutes before departure

Matt's boarding pass

When Matt Mascarenas showed up at Manchester's Ringway International airport at 7.30am for his 10.05am flight, he was chuffed at how early he was.

"I should've gotten an award for being so early ... I was prepared to waste time on YouTube," he told the Northern Quota yesterday from his home in Utah.

On 25 March, leaving a week of unseasonable Mancunian sunshine behind him, Matt checked-in for the return leg of his first trip to Europe. He was in no rush, but continued through security and reached the duty-free area by 8am.

Matt was flying from Manchester to Philadelphia on American Airlines flight 735. His final destination was Salt Lake City.

Matt Mascarenas denied passenger manchester american airlines
Denied passenger Matt Mascarenas (photo courtesy of culturecreature.com)

 

Matt spent the next hour drinking coffee and browsing shops, looking for the perfect meal deal before making his way to the boarding gate around 9.35am.

That's when Matt said that gate agent snapped at him: "Its too late!"

"I glanced at the boarding pass and it clearly said 'doors close 10 minutes prior to departure'," Matt told the NQ.

Unfortunately, by the time he realized what was happening, the boarding door was shut. By 9.43am the flight had officially departed from the gate.

Screencap from FlightAware, used with permission

"They didn't say anything about the flight being full. They just said it's too late. I watched the gate agent shut the door," he said.

The agent then informed Matt of a rule which states passengers are required be at the gate 30 minutes before departure time to keep reservations valid.

"We have established a 30-minute cut off on international flights, you must be present at the gate 30 minutes prior to departure to keep your seat and reservation valid," American Airlnes representative Anita Jackson told NQ.

However, a look at the airine's international rules (AA RULE: 0087 for 'denied boarding') tells a different story: "All passengers must present themselves at the loading gate for boarding at least 10 minutes before scheduled departure".

AA's conditions of carriage states that passengers should be at the gate at least "30 minutes before departure for international flights. If you're not, we may reassign your seat to another passenger. The doors close 10 minutes before departure and you will not be allowed to board once the doors close".

Matt does concede it's possible they reassigned his seat to another passenger, and the flight departed early because it was full. However, these conditions do not mean that Matt loses his reservation, or that he should have to pay additional fees for rebooking. In fact, EU261/2004 would classify this as involuntary denial of boarding.

We were able contact an anonymous source at American Airlines who told NQ the flight did not depart full, and his seat was not reassigned. If true, this appears to be a clear breach of their conditions of carriage agreement.

The source added that American Airlines closed boarding at 9.51am on their internal Sabre system, somehow eight minutes after the plane departed. This was 15 minutes after Matt was escorted out of the terminal by security to have his documents re-checked by UK Border Force. Although NQ was unsuccessful in obtaining any official information from the privately owned Ringway airport, burden of proof remains on the airline.

Back at the check-in counter, they told Matt it would cost £1,400 to rebook his flight. After many hours on the phone with customer service, however, he was eventually rebooked for $303.

American Airlines continues to claim they are not at fault and maintain that Matt was late to the gate.

They claim gate agents off-loaded him at the 30-minute-mark; which would, in any case, constitute a breach of contract according to their own International Rules and Conditions of Carriage.

Matt is continuing his fight for full compensation.

Some of the responses received from AA about Matt's claim:

"However, our ticket counter agents do not have this discretion as we ask them to strictly uphold the ticket counter cut-off time. While your client may have found the application of our cut-off procedure inconvenient this time, we hope he will understand the rationale behind it."

  • Ticket counters and gates are two entirely different functions of an airport.

"While you indicate that Mr. Mascarenas checked in at the airport at 7:36am, the time of check-in and the time that he arrived at the gate are separate issues."

  • At odds with the previous statement from AA.

"Despite the circumstances, our agents do not have the ability to override the check-in systems."

  • This has nothing to do with Matt's case, and how do they explain closing boarding at 9.51am despite a departure at 9.43am?

"While some elements of a particular flight may be unsatisfactory, we do not routinely provide compensation when transportation is provided."

  • Transportation was not provided.

"Accordingly, we established a 30 minutes for international flights which stipulates that you must be checked in and present at the departure gate at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time of your flight to retain your reservation and a seat."

  • Seat is reassignable at 30 minutes, agreed. However according to the terms, his reservation should not be affected and AA should have rerouted him at no cost under EC261/2004 for involuntary denial of boarding. The only way for them to justify voiding Matt's reservation would be if he showed up at the gate past 9:55, however flight AA735 left 12 minutes before that, so...

You can join the discussion for this on the FlyerTalk forum

 

UPDATE: American Airlines has released an official statement to the Northern Quota:

"We apologise to Mr. Mascarenas for the inconvenience he experienced. We are investigating further and are in touch with the customer’s attorney."

 

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