Beware of the Cluttered Inbox: Passenger’s Claim For a Missed Connection Fails After Ignoring an Email From the Airline

cartoon illustration running for flight - clocks in the back

On August 23, 2017, Mr. Hauer booked an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The flight was scheduled to depart Los Angeles on March 27, 2019 at 1:50 p.m. and to arrive in Honolulu at 4:42 p.m. On December 1, 2017 (four months before the scheduled flight), Mr. Hauer received an email with the subject line “Your trip confirmation”. He did not read that email, which contained notice of a schedule change. The new schedule would see him land in Honolulu two hours later than planned, thereby making it impossible for him to catch a connecting flight he had booked to Lanai, Hawaii. He sued the airline in the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal (“CRT”), alleging misrepresentation.

Although the decision does not outline the facts in detail, it would appear that Mr. Hauer’s planned flight from Honolulu to Lanai was scheduled with a different airline (American Airlines does not fly to Lanai). In the normal course of airline operations, if a schedule change affects a passenger’s itinerary, and the remaining legs are booked through the same carrier (either on that carrier or through a codeshare agreement), the airline will ensure that any changes allow for sufficient connection times for subsequent flights. However, where a passenger books flights themselves through different carriers, he or she runs the risk that a schedule change could disrupt their travel plans.

In Mr. Hauer’s case, he argued that he did not read the body of the email, but rather believed that the word “confirmation” in the subject line indicated that the flight details were unchanged. He did not discover the change until after his arrival into Los Angeles. When he realized that he would miss his connection, he was forced to make last-minute travel arrangements at a significantly increased cost. He argued that the use of the word “confirmation” in the subject line amounted to a negligent misrepresentation by the airline. He sought $2,507.70 CAD in damages.

The parties made a number of legal arguments before the CRT, including whether the Montreal Convention applied to the claim, whether Mr. Hauer was bound by American Airlines’ Contract of Carriage, and whether BC or Texas law applied to the dispute. The CRT tribunal found that it was unnecessary to address those arguments to dispose of the claim. The tribunal assumed that the law of British Columbia applied (as was alleged by Mr. Hauer) and considered the law of negligent misrepresentation.

The CRT found that the email was not misleading. The word “confirmation” simply indicated the flight was still scheduled to depart and that Mr. Hauer held a valid ticket. The tribunal noted that a subject line saying “Important Schedule Change” would have been clearer, but it was not prepared to accept that the word “confirmation” reasonably misled Mr. Hauer to believe that his flight details were unchanged. Even if the email had been misleading, the CRT found that it was unreasonable for Mr. Hauer to choose not to read the body of the email message. The tribunal’s decision included the following ruling:

“I do not agree that a person can choose not to read a relatively short communication and then succeed in a claim for being unaware of the content of that communication. I find the applicant did not exercise due diligence with respect to the December 2017 email.”

The outcome of this case correctly illustrates that a carrier cannot be held liable for a missed connection when the carrier had no knowledge of a subsequent flight. Although not addressed specifically in the disposition of the case, it is routinely held that these types of claims are too “remote” at law to be compensable.

Perhaps more importantly, this case may serve as a warning to consumers that the Courts may not be forgiving if they try to argue that they did not receive information because they were too busy to read their emails.

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