Is this enough compensation? Wrong information leads to a missed flight

Christianna Kreiss thought she would be flying to India with her family a few weeks ago.

Instead, she spent hours in Pittsburgh trying to sort out a messy airline reservation that involved Air Canada, Lufthansa and Orbitz.

Kreiss eventually made it to India, but lost two vacation days and had other out-of-pocket expenses. Is she owed anything?

In order to answer that question, let’s take a closer look at the Kreiss family’s itinerary. It started with an Air Canada flight from Pittsburgh to Toronto. Then they connected to a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. From there, they flew on to Hyderabad, India.

Orbitz listed their departure time in Pittsburgh as 3:30 p.m., and the family also received an email from the online travel agency on their departure day confirming the time.

But it wasn’t right. Turns out the outbound flight had been rescheduled to 2:55 p.m., so when they tried to check in at 2 p.m. — five minutes after the cut-off time — they were denied boarding.

When we then called Orbitz at 2:30 p.m., we were initially told that the Air Canada flight should still be leaving at 3:30 p.m., and the gate agents should just check us in.

After prolonged discussions and checking on their part, they did agree, that the flight was rescheduled to leave already at 2:55 p.m. In the interim, we received an e-mail from Air Canada at 2:26 p.m., that the flight we were supposed to be on was now supposed to leave at 2:55 p.m.

This information was of course useless, as their own policy posted at their check-in counter states that check-in is required at 60 minutes prior to departure.

Kreiss’ husband started working the phones, asking Orbitz to help get the family to India. Over the next four hours, he spoke with various agents and supervisors, without success. Finally, the family boarded a cab to go home.

Five minutes after we got in the cab, a supervisor from Orbitz called us and said that they might be able to get us on a flight through Washington D.C., leaving Pittsburgh at 7:15 p.m. It was at 6 p.m. We were asked to return to the airport and wait for his call.

He never called back.

My husband called again one hour later, talking now to a different supervisor. They were unable to rebook us and told us, that we might have to pay an additional $700 per person to rebook.

Kreiss eventually decided to bypass Orbitz and contact Lufthansa directly. She learned that Orbitz was notified in May about the schedule change for the Air Canada flight.

She contacted Orbitz again, and this time received even more bad news: A supervisor told her the online agency wouldn’t rebook her flight and that it owed her nothing.

We feel that this constitutes fraud as the whole situation arose based on a wrong departure time provided to us and confirmed on the day of departure by Orbitz.

Orbitz has taken our money but is refusing to provide the service, which it had promised in return. Also, Orbitz has lied to us repeatedly through various agents, who kept telling us that they will rebook us, we should just wait for a call back, which never came.

I think the Kreiss family might have avoided all this by calling Air Canada directly to confirm their flight times and by showing up for their international flight at least two hour early. I note that they were flying with three young children — all the more reason to give themselves a little extra time.

But still, Orbitz apparently supplied an inaccurate departure time and then confirmed it. Had it not done so, this would have been a non-issue.

Problem is, in order to fix this, Orbitz will have to buy the family a new ticket. Air Canada and Lufthansa have the family as a no-show in their system, which means the $5,521 they spent is lost.

I contacted Orbitz on their behalf. A few days later, I got an email from Kreiss in India.

Orbitz did offer us a round-trip flight from Washington, with one day later return than what we had initially planned. We had about half an hour to pack and leave, and had to make a four-hour drive to Washington, but everything worked out OK and we are here now. We don’t know what caused them to change their minds.

Nice of Orbitz to fix this. But is it enough?

We had two ruined days of hard-earned vacation. There’s also the emotional distress caused to our children and family members as well as us – all of this caused because of faulty communication of flight times provided to us by Orbitz and too late communication in flight time changes given to us by Air Canada. We will certainly travel overseas again, but will not again book with Orbitz.

She raises an interesting question. When something goes wrong — really wrong — is fixing the flight enough? Or should a travel agency also offer to cover cab fare, parking and other incidentals that were incurred by the client?

(Image of Pittsburgh airport by csee man/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Google Plus

  • Tony A.

    Pizo, for EUROPE, generally speaking you can book WITHIN an ALLIANCE and get their good fares. The most important thing to remember though is where the HUBS of the alliances are. For example, if I choose Skyteam (DL/AF/KL/AZ) I know I can create an itinerary as long as I pass CDG/FCO/AMS. If I choose Star Alliance (CO/US/LH, etc) I’m almost sure I need to pass FRA/MUC/BRU. Finally with OneWorlds (AA/BA/IB), I will pass through LON/MAD.
    In your example AMS/CDG is a dead ringer for Skyteam and Delta should be able to sell you that itinerary to BUD via these hubs.
    If it gets more complicated that that since you have so many stops, I would use a good brick and mortar (person) travel agent since even Orbitz and the other OTA’s machines will likely give you lousy options.

  • Absherlock

    I don’t know. They’d have to keep track of the up-to-date flight info for every ticket they sell and maintain the contact information for the people, so it’s probably not a negligible effort. Especially when compared to the effort needed by the person actually taking the trip (i.e. checking the airline website 24 hrs. before the scheduled flight).

    And no, I’d buy through Orbitz if they had the best price and because they offer a price assurance refund. But once they sell me my reservation, keeping track of it is my responsibility. I use a real travel agent so I don’t have to worry about everything myself.

  • Tony A.

    I am pretty skilled in using my GDS (Worldspan). PIT to HYD took me 1-2 minutes to make a sample itinerary on Lufthansa’s LOWEST PRICED Booking Class with AVAILABLE SEATS.

    Here is the sample itinerary and what it would cost:
     1*AC8041V 30AUG TU PITYYZ  255P  408P
     2 LH 471V 30AUG TU YYZFRA  625P  825A#1
     3 LH 752V 31AUG WE FRAHYD  1055A 1110P
     4 LH 753V 15SEP TH HYDFRA  100A  705A
     5*LH5426V 15SEP TH FRAYYZ  1000A 1215P
     6*LH5444V 15SEP TH YYZPIT  435P  551P

     NONREF/0VALUAFTDPT/CHGFEE
    * PRICING RULES VALIDATING CARRIER DEFAULT LH
    ** 30AUG DEPARTURE DATE/ 26AUG IS LAST DATE TO TICKET
     
    TICKET     BASE USD                TX/FEE USD       TKT TTL USD
     ADT01       974.00                    614.40           1588.40
    *TTL          974.00                    614.40           1588.40
     
    *AS BOOKED
      LOWEST FARE ALREADY BOOKED IN THIS COMPARTMENT
    FBC ADT VLX7NCE
    ADT PIT AC X/YTO LH X/FRA LH HYD 487.00LH X/FRA LH X/YTO LH PIT
       487.00NUC974.00END ROE1.00LH XT32.60US5.00XA2.50AY8.20SQ
       1.10RC18.80DE52.40RA41.30IN5.50WO430.00YQ4.50XF PIT4.5
     TX 5.50YC 7.00XY 32.60US 5.00XA 2.50AY 8.20SQ 1.10RC 18.80DE
        52.40RA 41.30IN 5.50WO 430.00YQ 4.50XF

    I would guess most travel agents would charge about $45 booking fee (since they probably don’t earn any commission). For a family party of 4 on the same itinerary, the work is essentially the same so $25 per head is acceptable. So for $100 booking fee, I think the Kreiss family could have avoided this big problem by going through a real travel agent.

    Also, I doubt if Orbitz charged any cheaper than Lufthansa.com. So I don’t think the Kreiss family saved anything going to Orbitz.

  • Tony A.

    Sorry Pizo you are dead wrong on AA not having a fare and offering for PIT to HYD and back. Go to their website and also to Orbitz and query a fare for 30AUG-15SEP. Right now Orbitz will display an AA/IW (Kingfisher)/AI (Air India) flight for $1,450.49. AA’s website will display an AA/AA codeshare with Jet Airways (9W) for $1475.50 USD.

    Orbitz is selling the AA/IW/AI flight combinations on ONE TICKET PLATED (validated/sold)  BY AMERICAN AIRLINES. This is not a separately ticket flight from DELHI.

    Any travel agent who knows what they are doing can duplicate either AA’s itinerary and Orbitz’s itinerary. For example, I duplicated Orbitz’ itinerary in Worldspan and got this:
     2 AA 292V 30AUG TU ORDDEL  450P  545P#1
     3 IT 804Q 31AUG WE DELHYD  840P 1050P
     4 AI 840T 15SEP TH HYDDEL  715P  920P
     5 AA 293S 16SEP FR DELORD  1230A  520A
     6*AA4142S 16SEP FR ORDPIT  850A 1110A
    * RESTRICTIONS APPLY
    * PRICING RULES VALIDATING CARRIER DEFAULT AA
    ** 30AUG DEPARTURE DATE/ 23AUG IS LAST DATE TO TICKET
     
    TICKET     BASE USD                TX/FEE USD       TKT TTL USD
     ADT01       895.00                    548.50           1443.50
    *TTL          895.00                    548.50           1443.50
     
    *AS BOOKED
      LOWEST FARE ALREADY BOOKED IN THIS COMPARTMENT
    FBC ADT VLXRIND*SLWRIND
    ADT PIT AA X/CHI AA X/DEL IT HYD M461.00AI X/DEL AA X/CHI AA
       PIT M434.00NUC895.00END ROE1.00AA XT32.60US5.00XA7.50AY
       10.50IN16.90WO450.00YQ13.50XF PIT4.5ORD4.5ORD4.5
     TX 5.50YC 7.00XY 32.60US 5.00XA 7.50AY 10.50IN 16.90WO
        450.00YQ 13.50XF

    As you can see the GDS says this itinerary only costs $1443.50 but Orbitz is selling it for $1450.49. So I assume Orbitz is charging a $7 booking fee. Note, any agency with appointment from American Airlines can sell the exact itinerary of Orbitz.

    IMO, The reason why AA chose to sell the Jet Airways flights in their website is because those flights are CODESHARED by AA. So it will look like (to unwitting passengers) that AA was the one flying those planes when in reality they were not. I also suspect the revenue sharing using Jet Airways was better for AA so they would sell that first.

    Finally, the Kreiss family couldn’t care less to guess the statistics of Orbitz failures. As far as they are concerned they just want to get their own money’s worth. IMO, Orbitz hasn’t made them whole since Orbitz negligence caused them to miss a few days vacation and make them drive to Washington DC from PIT.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Most of the time, you don’t get the desired fare on the dates you want to travel, unless reserved well in advance. And if you are numerous people traveling the number of seats are rarely available. I am not a travel agent but we are family of 6 traveling together often and most of the time, my TA must call the yield manager to get the desired fare for 6, we got it always.
    The OP should use the service of a TA.

  • Raven

    So people with kids deserve more compensation for “emotional distress” than people without?

    Huh?
    Your train…it doesn’t run through the logic station, pal!

  • Raven

    It’s not “emotional distress” either.

  • Raven

    Yes, but it’s not “emotional distress,” either. C’mon, this sounds like one of those people on the daytime court shows saying they’re owed “emotional distress” for a contracts case.

  • Grant

    Ms. Kreiss may not realize it, but she’s already received the BEST kind of compensation… she’s learned not to deal with Orbitz. I dealt with them exactly once, got burned, and never went back. Sorry, Christianna… but welcome to the club.  :-)

  • Eric

    You screw-up, you pay, simple as that.  If it had been the OPs fault, they’d have been expected to eat their tickets.  I don’t see why Orbitz should somehow be granted a pass.

  • Sershev

    I
    use to not to check and just go directly to the airport with minimum time before
    the flight, but so much time was wasted when flight is delayed or cancelled
    that I try to check flight status every time I fly. If a flight is delayed I
    can spend an extra hour or two at home or in the office and not sitting at the
    airport. And now with mobile applications I just enter my flight info when I
    book it and I get notifications on flight status and gate: saves a lot of time
    and troubles. For instance, my flight was delayed and I would miss connecting
    flight, instead of going to the airport I called United and they rerouted me on
    different airline and I didn’t have to spend night in Denver.

  • Tony A.

    I agree. I often have to book 14 family members  (11 here in NYC and 3 in LAX). I book the reservations myself using a GDS and transfer ownership of our PNRs to the “consolidators” who will give me the best deal. The buddy-buddy relationship you are referring to exits mostly for Asia. Most of the times I can put passengers on a waitlist and call to have them cleared.  I have yet to see the same flexibility for Europe. For large family travel, it’s best to use a travel agent and make a deal for any booking fees (if required).

    Many readers here need to know how a travel agent searches for low fares. They do not have a search engine like ITASoftware’s QPX. TA’s first display Fare Basis Codes (from low to high BASE fares) that are applicable to the passengers travel dates and length of stay. From there they can determine the lowest booking class code of each airline they are interested in. Then the TA looks at seat availability for the dates of travel (depart and return). They search for flights that have the available number of seats they need at the Lowest Booking Class. Once found, the sell the flight segments to create an itinerary; only after which, they can actually price the itinerary.

    So the basic difference is the TA knows what fare is the lowest and which booking class they are targeting. On the other hand most consumers simply observe flights and price. They really have no idea what is the basis of those prices. The reason why consumers find low fares online is based mainly by frequent comparisons and luck.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thanks for the education.

  • Grey83

    Or you could be like me…My 2 hour window is a worst case scenario. I have made it to the airport 3 hours early sometimes

  • Tony A.

    HrmCoocoo – it is possible. Usually the travel agents gets time changes (as messages from the airline to the TA’s GDS) up to the date of travel. In this case the flight departure time moved from 3:30PM to 2:25PM well before the departure date. According to the airline, they send Orbitz a message last May while the flight probably was for July. So I assume that Orbitz had the new and correct information for about 2 months before the flight.

    The airline can email the passenger if one of the following is TRUE. The airline has record of the pax email from either a frequent flyer account or if the pax opted for flight notification with the airline when she got her seat assignments (I suppose very early as soon as she bought tickets). At that time maybe the flight was still scheduled for 330P.
    The other way the airline can get her email is if it was noted in the PNR. This is rare since most TA’s are only required to enter a phone number. But if the airline sensed or needed to get in touch with the pax because of an emergency, they will call. So I assume the email sent by AC/LH was nothing but a regular flight notification since the pax opted for it.

  • Rosered7033

    TMI

  • http://oussamastake.blogspot.com/ Oussama

    Orbitz screwed up, but Air Canada could have checked them in, they were only 5 minutes late from the cut off time. 

  • Rosered7033

    Perhaps the point that is being made is that this is the first leg of an international trip, and since overseas flights tend to be fewer and farther between, the more cushion you give yourself at the airport may mean the difference between making and missing the connection.  If you miss a flight from Pittsburgh to Toronto, there is more likely to be another one, whereas if you miss your flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, you may be leaving 24 hrs. later. 

  • Tony A.

    Ha, ha. I was trying to make a point how absurd it is to design your own route from PIT to HYD on Lufthansa. The routing rules they use for Star Alliance to Europe are this ridiculous.

  • Phil

    The 15% that voted that Orbitz did enough, must be Orbitz employees. Why oh why don’t people stop booking throught these web sites and start booking directly with a face to face travel agent or with the airline.

  • Carver

    I suspect that the effort really is negligible.  Of course Orbitz keeps track of every ticket it sells already. Else it couldn’t process refunds.  Plus, the tickets are booked electronically which means that Orbitz is electronically linked to the various airlines.

  • Tony A.

    And… one going to India can actually go to a destination specialist (probably a sub agent of a consolidator) and get face-to-face service at a LOWER PRICE than the published fares Orbitz offers. The fact that Orbitz added $7 to the fare as a booking fee and actually did nothing to contact the passenger for a critical time change shows why it’s useless to use these kinds of vendors. Lufthansa does offer a decent commission for tickets from USA to India and that should be enough earnings to book a family without having to add a fee.

  • Brooklyn

    You don’t like the term “emotional distress” – we get it.  But don’t you think they owe her something for all the stress, worry and hassle (another way of putting it)? It’s real, and you would feel it too in her place! Get past the language and look at the reality; courts do make awards for more than the actual monetary loss in such cases.

  • Rosered7033

    And the sooner the general public realizes that Orbitz is a ticket VENDOR (love the way you put it) and not a TRAVEL AGENT, the better off they will be.

  • Rosered7033

    Because TA’s have a brain and Orbitz doesn’t.

  • LarryB

    IMO, Orbitz caused the whole mess by not passing along information they had months ago.

    Not everyone is an experienced traveler. I would have checked each flight with each carrier to verify times, but that’s me – not a million-miler with any one alliance, but darn close in aggregate. Enough of the hand-wringing about not using Orbitz or buying expensive travel insurance that probably wouldn’t have paid out anyway or showing up hours and hours early. If an anvil had fallen out of the sky, some regular commenters would have found a way to blame the passengers.

    Also, what experienced traveler EVER shows up 2 hours early for any flight originating in the US? They showed up just short of 90 minutes before what they thought their departure time was – totally reasonable for people traveling with children.

    Honestly, Air Canada should have tried to get them on their first leg rather than arguing. Nonetheless, this was ALL Orbitz’ fault, and they should pay for all incidental expenses, including lodging, meals and ground transportation, plus a few dollars in credits to make things right.

  • Dillon

    First this is why I do not book on Orbitz when things go wrong you do not get a fast response.  Second this is why I get to the airport 2 hrs for international flights and I check with the airline the day before as to the time of the flights (they know best, they become liable then). Third  she should have for done a number of calls until they got on a flight.

  • Cory Juse

    Why do people insist on booking travel through sites like Orbitz?!?  Use them to get fare information so that you have an idea how much a trip will cost you, but then book directly with an airline if you’re a do-it-yourself’er or through a qualified and trusted travel agent.  Especially for an itinerary such as this one.  And who shows up for an international flight 1.5 hours before, it’s pretty much a given to allow for 2 hours minimum.

  • Charles B

    Hold Orbitz to the new standards required of the airlines. They should compensate travelers for bumping them off flights by their poor information.

    “Under the new rule, bumped passengers can get up to $650 if the airline can get them to their destination within a short period of time (within one to two hours of their originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights), or up to $1,300 if they are delayed for a long time.”

    So there you go – at least $2600 for the two adults. Quit letting Orbitz claim to be a travel company, and yet not have to abide by the same rules.

  • Guest

    And besides, how many among us are just as willing to compensate our customers or so for “emotional distress”? I mean, if we ourselves aren’t willing to render the same, then why expect others to do so?

  • MDDCFlyer

    The mistake was to trust Orbitz. In one of my recent travels I used Orbitz (to avoid the booking fee on the airline site). The flight not only changed it departure time several times, it changed the departure DATE. I only find out about it because I was monitoring my flights on a weekly basis. I never heard anything from Orbitz about the change. Now if I would not have checked and just arrive in the airport on the wrong day -I shudder the thought.

  • Bodega

    If you are going to be a DYI’er, then you need to do your homework.  It is your responsibility to be informed. 

  • Bodega

    As TA’s we see class of service where online all consumers see are flights that the online company wishes to provide and pricing.  There is NO online site that provides the most accurate information to the consumer as the GDS gives to the TA.  It is also live availability, not cached.

  • Geoff

    Use A REAL LIVE TRAVEL AGENT! YOU AND THE COMPUTER = “I GET WHAT I PAID FOR-0’s and 1’s” I am held responsible for the tickets that I issue. I react immediately and and at my cost. Orbitz, Expedia, etc are 0’s and 1’s to you and your computer. You saved how much for “your computer’s error”? Wow, I hope it was worth it. I know of 20 excellent travel agents in Pittsburgh, and everyone of them got a copy of this article and are laughing themselves silly.