Photo: Flickr/Koroly Lorenty
It seemed like a good idea at the time. When a work project threw a wrench in his travel plans, J. Evans decided to eat half the cost of his round trip fare from Los Angeles to Heathrow airport.
He’d get to London on his own and join his fiancee, Jen, there.
Then he’d return with her on the second leg of his trip—or so he thought at the time.
American Airlines thought differently.
On the day of the first flight, Jen tried to notify the carrier that Evans wouldn’t be flying with her. But true to Evans’ expectations, “she was repeatedly met with the phrase, ‘I’m just a baggage checker. You have to talk with an agent,'” he wrote in a complaint letter to the company that he shared with us.
Evans missed the departing flight and no one seemed to notice — except Jen, who now had a new neighbour presumably since the airline resold his ticket.
“I expected as much,” Evans wrote. But he was blindsided by what happened next.
Less than 24-hours before the return leg’s departure, Evans attempted to check in for the flight, only to discover his name was not on the customer roster.
When he called customer service, the airline said it had decided to cancel both his departure and return tickets. Never mind that the airline didn’t make a phone call, send an email or make any other attempts to let Evans know what had happened.
The representative continued to explain that the ticket was non-transferable and non-refundable. But Evans hadn’t requested either — he just wanted to get back home.
At this point Evans had no recourse other than to purchase an exorbitantly-priced one-way ticket from American Airlines to LAX. The cost of the fare: $1,584.40.
Adding insult to injury, Evans and his fiancee boarded the aircraft to find that most of the seats were empty. He could have easily taken one of these, he wrote, however the airline effectively forced him to buy his return ticket twice.
The customer isn’t always right
Your Money spoke to consumer advocate Chris Elliott to dig further into Evans’ experience. Was Evans taken advantage of or had he been the one in the wrong? What Elliott had to say might surprise you.
“Normally what happens is if you miss one leg, your entire itinerary is cancelled,” he said over the phone. “That’s just a standard practice. They assume you can’t catch up or — and it’s an issue with revenue — they’re funny about how you use their tickets.
“They can charge more for a one-way ticket than a round-trip ticket,” he continued. “They don’t want you throwing away the first part of ticket and using the second part to fly back because that would allow people to game the system.”
To the airline’s credit, a customer representative got in touch with Evans and issued a credit for his original ticket. They refused to the refund the cost of his one-way fare, however.
“The customer has a responsibility to notify the airlines when they can’t make the flight,” Andrea Hughley, an American Airlines spokesperson, said over email.
And perhaps that’s where Evans went wrong. Despite his best intentions, Evans might have been better off alerting the airline the moment he realised his travel plans had changed.
“If he gave a good enough reason, sometimes the airlines will work with passengers,” said Elliott. “He may have been able to get a credit or buy a ticket that worked.”
Evans also should have purchased a roundtrip ticket instead of the one-way fare back to LA.
“Strangely, it works the other way around much better when it comes to these situations,” said Elliott. He could have have thrown away the return portion and just used the outbound portion to cut down the cost. The airlines don’t like that, but there’s not much they can do about it.”
Elliott, whose book Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals, covers consumer nightmares like these, said he constantly hears about this sort of thing from readers on his blog Elliott.org.
“People have no idea the airline will cancel their flight,” he said, before adding that “you have to be a frequent flier to know this will happen.”
Hopefully, now that you’ve read this it won’t happen to you.
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