Is this enough compensation? My airline ticket is “illegal” and all they’re offering is a voucher

When you buy an “illegal” airline ticket — which is to say, a ticket that violates a carrier’s booking rules — the penalties can be severe. It’s not uncommon to have your frequent flier account suspended or for your travel agent to receive a debit memo, demanding the fare difference.

But what happens when your airline books an unlawful ticket?

That’s the question Ron Laufer wants answered after his Continental Airlines ticket ran afoul of cabotage laws.

His itinerary took him from Vancouver to Chicago and then from Chicago to Halifax. But he was denied boarding on the Chicago-to-Halifax leg because it was determined that the flight would have violated federal law.

Here’s the actual routing:

20 February 2011 – YVR-ORD on UA 246
20 February 2011 – ORD-YHZ on UA 7626

Laufer explains,

While this protected the airline from breaking international cabotoge laws, I was unable to travel on the itinerary I was sold.

I had a seat on the plane, but was unable to use it. This is quite comparable to an involuntary denied boarding and should be compensated accordingly.

So what was the problem? Cabotage laws prevent an airline from offering service from one point in one country to another one in the same country using another country as a stopover point. Laufer was told that because he started and ended his trip in Canada, but had a stopover in Chicago, his itinerary was illegal. (Note: I have updated this post to clarify his routing.)

He asked a manager to address the problem, which delayed his return to Halifax by almost an entire day. Continental offered a $150 for what it called a “booking error.”

Had the government caught Continental in the act, it would have had to pay much more for the infraction.

Laufer thinks he’s entitled to more than a voucher.

This instance was not a standard misconnection error or the like, but an illegal itinerary issued by the airline that caused me to take 2 extra flights and a 20 hour delay. I would equate this situation with an involuntary denied boarding.

This is a fascinating case. The airline sees this as little more than an inconvenience as the result of a booking system error. It sees this as delay that’s beyond its control, like a weather delay or air traffic control delay.

Laufer begs to differ. Continental’s booking system — which is being merged with United Airlines’ — has elaborate controls designed to protect its revenues. It cracks down on travel agents who book tickets it says are “illegal” on a regular basis. Can’t it also ensure its own tickets are legal?

Then again, Continental could have told Laufer “sorry” and offered him nothing. I don’t see any rules in its own contract of carriage — the legal agreement between it and a passenger — that provide compensation for an illegal ticket.

Indeed, Continental got him from point “A” to point “B” in accordance with its contract, didn’t it?

(Ed Bier 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 - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Anna

    I’m confused; was he going Vancouver-Chicago-Halifax-Chicago-Vancouver, or Halifax-Vancouver-Chicago-Halifax, or something else? And on which part of the trip was he denied boarding? 

  • Dave

    The airline needs to take responsibility for the fact that their booking system is capable of selling itineraries that violate cabotage laws. They owe the OP nothing less than a full refund of the extra flight(s) purchased – cash on the barrel-head – NOT worthless vouchers!

    I would also think that the OP should also immediately get the DOT in the loop on this situation – I would think that they would be very interested in the fact an airline is attempting to profit from having sold an illegal itinerary.

  • Anna

    This story reminds me of the Icelandair JFK vs LaGuardia booking fiasco of 2009 – not because of cabotage laws, but because in both cases the customers booked (linked) tickets directly from the airline’s own site, and in both cases the airline’s online booking system came up with a faulty product. I was surprised Elliott didn’t do more for the customer in the 2009 story – in my opinion, a full refund was warranted, and the same goes for the present case.

  • Carver

    I suspect that the mere selling of the ticket and accepting compensation consitutes cabotage.  The OP might consider explaining that fact to the airline. 

  • Anna

    Thanks for the update, but… isn’t it a bit of a detour to fly Chicago-Halifax via Vancouver!? Or did he have a stop in Vancouver, i.e. Vancouver was a destination and not just a via? I’m asking because I don’t know exactly cabotage laws and itineraries play ball – would it have made difference if he had bought separate tickets or linked tickets with different carriers?  

  • $16635417

    SOOOOO many questions! I cannot give an opinion with so many pertinent facts lacking.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Let me know which pertinent facts you need, and I’ll try to fill in the details.

  • Guest

    I also don’t understand the itinerary. Sounds like he was travelling YVR-ORD-YHZ, but that’s not the way it’s explained. In any case, if he was, in fact, travelling YVR-ORD-YHZ, then this is clearly a violation of cabotage laws. I would ask for more compensation from CO and threaten to report this to the DOT if the compensation is not provided. CO would probably get in serious trouble for selling this ticket. Also, it sounds like he flew the first half of this trip already (although it’s hard to tell based on how the article is written) which violated the law.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    I agree with the traveler. This is denied boarding. If the specific cause for the airline’s failure is not enumerated in its contract of carriage, then only what’s left in the contract of carriage is the only thing that needs to be be considered, and if nothing there applies, the default is common tort law.

    Without trying to look up and quote Continental entire COC, it’s likely to be the case where it states what’s the compensation in case of denied boarding, or delays, then it specifies the amount of compensation, and then lists the exclusions where the compensation wouldn’t apply: weather, strikes, etc…

    They denied him boarding. The reason for the denial is a separate issue. But, he was denied boarding. That’s a fact.

    So, unless the reason for the denial of boarding is given as one of the exclusions — which is unlikely — whatever compensation is given in the COC is therefore owed to the traveler, including hotel voucher, etc… Open and shut case.

    Yes, Continental also got him from point A to point B; however Continental is also contractually obligated to compensate the traveler in the event they failed to get him from point A to point B on time. The traveler had a contract with Continental, in form of a booked itinerary. Continental failed to live up to their obligations. And, Continental’s COC also spells out what they owe.

    In the event that the traveler also wants to file a formal complaint with the DOT, and any other relevant federal bureaucracy, the traveler’s complaint does not need to mention the specific reason why the airline failed to carry him. It’s completely irrelevant. The complaint should be nothing more than: the carrier failed to transport him to the destination as per the itinerary in a timely manner, and the delays were such and such. The carrier’s COC specifies that the compensation for this length of a delay should be such and such. The reason for the delay is not listed as an exclusion in the COC. The carrier refused to pay compensation as given in the COC. The End.

  • Carver

    I have a different take

    1.  There is no such thing as Federal common law except in some obscure areas such as admiralty and international relations

    2.  The reason is absolutely germane to why the airline didn’t fulfill its obligations.  The fact that the airlines failure to perform was due to them initially breaking federal law might spur the airline to try to settle so that the Complaint can be withdrawn quickly

  • Raven_Altosk

    The OP deserves a refund on his ticket, an apology, and some good will vouchers. This is a classic case of CO/UA’s declining customer care. The PAX was sold an itinerary he can’t use because of some ridiculous outdated law. CO/UA decided to treat him like garbage for their own mess up because if they had been caught selling the routing, they’d be in big trouble.

    I encourage the OP to find out whoever oversees “cabotage” laws and send them a copy of the itinerary anyway. CO/UA can do much better for this PAX–or at least the old Continental could’ve…

  • Absherlock

    Just for clarification – when you say “federal” and “government”, you mean Canada, not the U.S., correct? Because I would imagine that the US would be more than fine with the idea of their airlines running domestic routes in other countries while allowing the same in ours (not our job to enforce their laws and what have you). 

    And if I’m correct in my assumption, what are the penalties for the airlines in Canada vs. in the US?

  • emanon256

    I know people on this site always accuse me of being an undercover airline mole and/or being an airline sympathizer, which I assure you, I am not.  I do sometimes side with the airlines in a select few of Elliott’s cases; however, this is not one of those times.Continental sold the ticket, Continental did this in error, and Continental is fully responsible for the outcome.  I don’t think the OP should go threatening to report CO to the DOT, that will cause lawyers to get involved and put up a wall, and CO has a great defense: they didn’t allow the passenger to travel so no laws were violated in the end.This was all due to Continental selling a ticket it should never have sold, and not having proper controls in place.  CO should refund the ticket in full, and pay the difference between whatever the OP paid and the new fair, which I am assuming was much more purchased a day in advance. This will leave the OP whole, having paid the same fare.  I also think CO owes the OP more on top of that as good will, because the OP was inconvenienced and arrived a day late.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Any cabotage laws in play here would be Canadian ones, not the US ones.

    Furthermore, since the booking was not completed, as given, no cabotage laws were broken in the first place. That was the whole reason why Continental denied the boarding in ORD — had they transported the passenger, they would’ve broken the cabotage laws by that act.

    Without looking at the wording of the actual laws, it’s very likely that the exact wording prohibits “transport”, and not “booking”. So, since the airline did not actually break any laws, this would be a completely empty threat.

  • John Baker

    CO sold this guy an illegal ticket (and not just based on their booking rules. It violates the law). He should get a full refund.

    No different in my mind than CO selling someone a ticket to a destination they don’t go to.

  • sirwired

    A full refund is certainly in order here.  Just because the CoC does not specifically cover this matters not.  CO/UA sold a product they could not possibly provide.  That’s fraud.  It may not have been intentional, but it was fraud nonetheless.

    If the OP is Canadian, does Canada have a Small Claims court where a full refund + costs could be recovered?  (That would be the proper procedure in the US.)

  • BillC

    If the airline was the cause of the problem then they should solve it. I would think that they owe him any out of pocket expenses as well as a voucher.

    Part of the problem I believe is that United is not allowed to fly a passenger from Vancouver to Halifax and the itinerary he was provided with was just a way around that situation. Perhaps he booked each leg separately which might not raise any red flags until he arrived in Chicago.

    Chris – did you reread the link on cabotage laws?
    Here is a quote.
    ‘Letting foreign carriers in might raise questions about security.
    Fortunately, the U.S. government has a new federal agency, the
    Transportation Security Administration, to make sure such questions are
    resolved. ‘

    I don’t think many people are feeling as fortunate these days.

  • Chris in NC

    Before I throw UA under the bus, I am curious:

    1) How did Laufer book the tickets? Directly through UA? or via a booking site (Expedia)?
    2) Did Laufer book the segments together or separately?
    3) How did Laufer initially travel from YHZ to YVR? Was it also through an “illegal” itinerary?

    UA does offer YVR to YHZ itineraries, but at least ONE of the International segments is code-shared on an AC flight. As I understand, the itinerary posted is an “illegal” itinerary, so UA was justified in its actions.

    As far as compensation, a full refund is a bit much. UA did transport him from point A to point B, however, he should be compensated for out of pocket costs (ie hotel costs). Also curious why UA didn’t route him through YYZ on A/C instead of making him overnight in Chicago?

  • Chris in NC

    CO/UA, due to code share/Star alliance, does offer the YVR/YHZ routing. Its that one of the international flights is on AC. So, CO/UA did not sell a product they could not provide, as the CoC is based on transport from YVR to YHZ.

    The particular routing was illegal. Calling it fraud is a bit harsh.

  • Tony A.

    In my opinion, the routing of YVR-ORD-YHZ by a U.S. Airline does not violate CANADIAN cabotage laws. If the routing was YVR-YHZ it would. Why? Because the flight had to be been WHOLLY (point-to-point) between 2 Canadian airports for it to be a violation of Canada’s cabotage rules.”The transportation of passengers between points in Canada, by a U.S. airline as part of a trip originating in or destined to the United States, is international transportation and not a “cabotage” movement.” UA and CO regularly offers the YVR-ORD-YHZ flights and there is nothing wrong or illegal about it. You will see the flights in all commercially available GDS.Now that said, the OP should have not been denied boarding.

  • Chris in NC

    YVR-ORD-YHZ is NOT an illegal itinerary, if one of the segments was on AC metal. Problem with above itinerary is that BOTH segments are on “foreign” metal.

  • Chris in NC

    I realize that the OP was booked on CO, but since CO/UA are both merged, I simply used UA. Didn’t mean to add confusion

  • Guest

    Yes, I know that. Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

    But the article says that this was all on CO/UA, which would make it illegal.

    In fact, I wonder if one of the flights was on AC metal, if that would be legal. I believe it would still be illegal, if all the flights were sold under CO/UA flight numbers.

  • cjr001

    A voucher is worth nothing.

    And this man’s time – 20 hours wasted because of Continental’s incompetence – is worth a lot more than worthless paper or even $150 in cash.

  • $16635417

    I see the routing information was updated, that had me very confused over the 1st (and 2nd) cup of coffee this AM! That knocks out a LOT of questions and assumptions.

    I am still interested in:
    Where did he purchase the ticket? (United or through a travel agency of some sort?)
    Was it issued all on one ticket or separately?
    Were there any changes to the ticket after the original ticket was issued? (Usually there are inhibitors that prevent from “illegal” tickets from being issued. If there was a change made this could be a factor, especially if there was a routing change.)


  • Guest

    Why don’t you actually do some homework before throwing out ridiculous and inaccurate statements? Cabotage laws are neither “ridiculous” nor “outdated.” These laws are put in place to protect countries’ domestic airlines (and with that, thousands of jobs) by preventing some foreign carrier coming in and transporting passengers on domestic itineraries. Just like UA can’t fly someone “within” Canada using a YVR-ORD-YHZ routing, so too can’t AC fly someone “within” the USA using a SEA-YYZ-LGA routing. The law makes sense, whether you agree with it or not. And it is definitely not outdated, like you claim it to be for whatever reason.

  • Chicky

    Any time I see a post on Chris’ site that involves cabotage laws or the Jones Act, it’s ALWAYS fun and games time. I don’t think anyone currently alive truly understands all the ins and outs of how either of those laws actually work. And apparently, they are sufficiently open for interpretation that no one can apply them consistently.
    Just give him the bleeping refund, CO. Somebody screwed up somewhere, probably you people. So give him the money and a nice apology and update your computer systems.

  • Mark K

    But, the flight did not originate from nor was it destined to the US.  It had a stopover in the US between two Canadian cities.  
    If both segments were on AC, then it broke the US cabotage laws and UA/CO was wrong to allow the OP to purchase it.  Similarly, if the flight was all UA/CO then it broke Canadian law and still should not have been sold. I attempted to book the same flights the OP did just now on both the UA and CO websites choosing several different future dates.  Neither UA or CO websites would allow it today unless I booked each segment separately.  All flights offered to get from YVR to YHZ in a single booking had at least three segments, two of which were on UA or CO metal and the third on AC.  Some had more segments and some really crazy routing, but none were a single stopover in ORD or a single airline.  (I realize travel professionals have access to systems that give alternate options not available to ordinary travelers so it is possible that the original routing still appears for them.)  I also checked AC and they offer the flight with stopovers completely within Canada.However the OP got the routing he did, the CO system should have noticed before the flight started and informed him he would not be allowed to make the flight as expected and worked out something that was legal instead of waiting for him to get halfway there.  But that seems to be the new CO/UA way of doing things:  Let’s get the passengers stranded at some inconvenient spot in the itinerary and then charge a couple extra thousand to get them where they thought they were going.

  • Mark K

    First of all, the airline should not allow the booking of illegal flights.  Even if the passenger does something like book two segments at different times, this should be caught by the same process that goes through and catches and cancels multiple tickets on the same plane for the same passenger.  The passenger should be notified immediately of any bookings they make that are illegal.  I’m not saying that a passenger should be punished if it was simply their mistake in trying to get what looks like a better routing for their trip, just informed that the chosen flights cannot be allowed (and why they cannot be allowed) and offered to be rebooked or refunded.

    Second, I do feel that the OP is owed more than the offered $150.  It is not stated if the offer is cash or vouchers, but knowing airlines I am sure it is vouchers.  Being delayed 20 hours would almost require the OP stay in a hotel and the airline should cover that plus meals at the minimum.  

  • Mark K

    However, if the airline sold a ticket to the OP that it knew it could not allow to be flown, then the airline is at fault and owes the OP more compensation.  On the other hand, if the OP booked the flight as two separate tickets to get a routing he wanted instead of what was offered by the airline, then (even though I feel the airline should have caught this before the first segment was flown and stopped him there) not so much.

  • othermike27

    Couple of thoughts:

    1. The booking early this year was through CO but on UA metal.  Since the companies are not yet fully merged, perhaps they missed the step to check for cabotage issues.  (But also see 4 below)

    2.  Did CO present this flight combination as a choice, or did the OP work it up by himself?

    3.  Don’t want to let CO off the hook in any case. If they sold the ticket they ought to make the OP whole on expenses.

    4.  Just for fun, I went to the UA site and selected the following itinerary from the choices given to me for travel on 25 Oct 2011:

    UA246 YVR-ORD, then UA3538 ORD-YHZ

    There was no warning about an illegal itinerary for these choices. Maybe that comes later in the booking process, or maybe not.  I would expect to see it when I first pick the flights, since that is where you also find warnings about not allowing enough connection time, etc.

  • othermike27

    Oops – forgot to say that both flights I picked are on UA metal – first one on the mainline, second on United Express

  • Anna

    Is it because the YVR-ORD-YHZ trip is on a linked itinerary that it violates the cabotage laws?

    And, do you know if it would be illegal for CO+UA to sell two separate one-way tickets; #1 YVR-ORD, #2 ORD-YHZ?

  • Steve R

    I don’t think calling it fraud is too harsh. He booked a ticket from Vancouver to Chicago to Halifax, only to be told by Continental midway through the trip that they couldn’t allow that itinerary. Thus, they couldn’t provide the product he paid for. IMHO, the fact that they do sell legal itineraries between Vancouver and Halifax is irrelevant.

  • Tony A.

    ‘Mark, I should have not added this –
    The transportation of passengers between points in Canada, by a U.S.
    airline as part of a trip originating in or destined to the United
    States, is international transportation and not a “cabotage” movement.”
      – in my post. It just added to the confusion.
    What I meant was I believe that IN TERMS OF ENFORCEMENT Canada interprets its cabotage laws different than the USA.
    It seems to me the Canada looks the other way when a modified sixth freedom right is involved. The YVR-ORD-YHZ by a U.S. airline is transportation between 2 Canadian cities by way of a US city. I believe that Canada seems to ignore this as “HARD” cabotage  and looks at it as international travel (for customs purposes). Canada, however, enforces HARD cabotage rules when it comes to *point-to-point* travel between 2 Canadian cities.

    However, in the USA, the DOT enforces cabotage rules between US cities strictly. They were fined by the DOT for offering SEA-ICN-GUM service. Asiana was cited for violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41703, which prohibits foreign carriers from engaging in air commerce between two U.S. destinations.

  • $16635417

    Yes, the reservations systems generally prevent cabotage markets from being reserved in a single reservation.

    I asked the question about separate tickets/reservations to see how the OP had purchased the original ticket. I believe he could still travel but would need to claim bags at Chicago and then check in for the Chicago-Halifax flight. I could envision a scenario where he may have been attempting to claim bags at Chicago and then end up missing the cutoff for international check in for the Halifax flight. Just curious.

  • LFH

    Another problem I see here, both with Mr. Elliott’s original article as well as the comment above, is the use of the word “stopover.” Oftentimes the word is used as a synonym for the word “connection,” even though the two have different meanings. A “connection” is a direct transfer from one vehicle to another. On the other hand, a “stopover” is an intentional break of a journey at an intermediate city, for the purpose of conducting some type of business or other activity at that intermediate point. Generally, any break in a journey at an intermediate point in excess of four hours is presumed to be a stopover.

    Mr. Elliott used the word “stopover” and I took that to mean that the passenger conducted business in Chicago. In that case, the passenger made two international journeys, one from Vancouver to Chicago, and another from Chicago to Halifax. That is an entirely legitimate journey. But if the passenger used Chicago as merely a connection, then it is a domestic journey within Canada, and the connection in Chicago was designed as an attempt to circumvent cabotage.

    The problem as I see it is one of intent. How does one establish that Chicago is a real “destination”?

  • Bodega

     I find the routing YVR-ORD-YHZ still in available for booking but the ORD to YHZ is with AC.

  • Douglas Muth

    How hard is it to write business logic into their reservations system that keeps a ticket like this from being sold?  Let’s find out!

    $country_start = (The country of the starting airport);
    $country_middle = (The country of the stopover airport);
    $country_end = (The country of the ending airport);

    if ($country_start == $country_end) {
       if ($country_middle != $country_start) {
          throw IllegalTicketException(“You cannot have a stopover in another country.”);

    There, that wasn’t very hard, was it?  There’s no excuse for this ticket having ever been sold to the customer.

  • Mark K

    Thanks.  I confused the terms as well meaning to say connection.  If it was a connection I feel it was illegal.  If it was a stopover, which it turned into by way of the 20 hour delay, then cabotage should not apply.

  • Mark K

    Your logic would also have to include a check to see if the airlines were the same on both parts since if one is a carrier of the start country and the other is not the flight is legal.

    We do also have to consider how far in advance the original ticket was booked and how the flights may have changed over time.  When this specific ticket was purchased, one or the other segments may have been on AC.  If one of the segments changed since the original booking, the airline may have changed as well resulting on both being on UA/CO.  I do believe that at the time of the change some exception should have occured that would have caused the airline to contact the OP letting him know the flight was no longer legal.

  • Mbods2002

    Horrible customer service!  I would never fly with them again.  Of course I’m boycotting the whole experience so I don’t fly ANY airline anymore.  That’s what all the nickel and diming, cramped, awful seats, terrible customer service and the TSA, has reduced me to.

  • emanon256

    If it were not for these laws, I would fly AC everywhere!!  So what if I change planes in Canada.  Getting AVOD and full meal service on regional jets is worth the extra hour in route v. UA and COs old junk Regional Jets.  I tried to find a way to get to Hawaii recently via AC.  UC, CO, and ACs websites all blocked me from booking an intra US trip via Canada.  That’s when I learned about these laws, and I do see how valid they are.  Everyone in the US would switch to AC and the US Airlines would be in an even deeper hole.

  • Tony A.

    I also think we should not view CANADA with AMERICAN assumptions. They do not have the Jones Act. And they seem to be cozy with CAN-USA-CAN routing whereas the U.S. would be very mad with USA-NonUSA-USA routings.

    That said the CO/UA airport agent was simply overzealous and did not understand the difference between Canadian versus American enforcements.

  • sirwired

    What do airline alliances have to do with the fact that CO/UA sold flights that could not be taken?  Now, it may have been an accident, but promising a product you can’t provide (and you should have known this ahead of time) is still fraud.

    Yes, CO/UA eventually got the pax to his destination, but it took far longer than they promised, and that delay was foreseeable and was because of something that was entirely within their control.

    The contract wasn’t for eventual transportation between the airport pairs, it was for the flights the tickets were sold for.  Certainly if I ask the airline to take any ‘ol flights that will get me from point A to point B and will they please ignore the specific flight numbers on the ticket, I’m going to get laughed away from the ticket counter.

  • LFH

    Do you have a link to the relevant Canadian statutes or cases? My understanding is that Canadian cabotage policy is rather similar to that of the United States.

    In a related matter, for many years I was confused over the operation of the Atlantic, a train once operated by Via Rail Canada (and before that, by Canadian Pacific). It operated from Montreal to Saint John through the state of Maine, and carried passengers entirely within the state of Maine. I still don’t know how that was accomplished (a U.S. subsidiary of Via Rail Canada, perhaps?).

  • Tracy T.

    How did the passenger end up getting from Chicago to Halifax? If he flew on CO/UA – even though it was 20 hours later – wouldn’t that trip still be illegal?

  • $16635417

    You can do a stopover on a cabotage route, but not a connection. (The difference has been explained in previous posts.)

  • $16635417

    Does this provide for stopovers, or does it treat it the same as a connection?

  • Chris in NC

    but, CO/UA CAN sell YVR to YHZ, so its not like they are selling a flight that they are selling the route with no ability or intention of delivering the product. 

    Everyone is making some assumptions here. Without knowing HOW the plane ticket was constructed or ticketed, we don’t know if CO/UA sold the YVR>ORD>YHZ routing. 

    As others have pointed out, you can fly YVR>ORD>YHZ if one of the segments were on AC which subsequently could carry a CO/UA flight number (due to code share and Star Alliance). 

    I, unlike others, CANNOT book the YVR>ORD + ORD>YHZ flight without getting an error message. So, unless CO/UA has fixed the error, important facts are left out of the story

  • Chris in NC

    until I hear how the itinerary was constructed, I will not throw CO/UA under the bus. I have tried to duplicate the itinerary using, and I keep getting an error message. 

  • Roger B

    One comment raises the issue of “connection” and “stopover”, and states that an ongoing flight within 4 hours is a connection,  otherwise it is a stopover.   In fact, a connection, which does not require paying an extra charge for a stopover, can be up to 24 hours, thus allowing a short stopover, over night and part of the previous or the following day, which falls within the rules for a connection.   I have done this through Chicago on United – no problem, arriving late from Europe, and continuing the following day to California.  Many years ago, their online system at United caught you for the stopover charge if you asked for an ongoing flight more than 24 hours after your arrival on the previous flight.

    But more to the point:  why not work on amending, and perhaps ultimately abolishing, the cabotage rules/laws between the US and Canada.  As this disputed itinerary shows, it is quite reasonable to fly via a central point in the US or Canada on an east/west or west/east coast to coast trip.   This passenger chose UA for his trip between two Canadian points, but I can think of many who would choose Air Canada for east/west trips within the US but via a Canadian airport.   And while we are at it, why cannot we unify the US and Canadian security systems, so that once we are inside secure area in either country we can continue without a second security check.  Would the Canadians have a problem with this?   It might help to have some Canadian input on the workings of the TSA.

  • Tony A.

    I want to add one more piece of information here.
    Even if you can route a passenger YVR-ORD-YHZ on UA/CO (see example below):

    1*A#CO 246   YVRORD-1115A 514P     319 0E
    2*A#UA3531        YHZ- 644P1146P     E70 0E

    There are no LOCAL fares defined by UA and CO for this market!  To force ticketing on UA/CO you will need to combine YVR-ORD and ORD-YHZ fares end-on-end.
    Note: A combination fare is NOT separate ticketing.

    The only local fares I can find is from Air Canada and WestJet, and it as almost half of CO/UA’s combo fares.

    I am not sure why the passenger paid almost double AC’s fare just to fly CO and unfortunately got denied boarding in CO.

    Finally, it would be interesting to find out how he eventually made it from ORD to YHZ when almost all the flights I see are using UA metal from ORD to YHZ direct or to YYZ, or YOW first. So I guess they forced him to BREAK his journey in Chicago first, then resume it on UA? Looks pretty stupid to me. How on earth will CAN customs notice the difference?

  • Tony A.

    Canadian “Cabotage Laws” on Air Traffic is embodied in its Domestic Travel section, Chapter 61 of the Canadian Transportation Act –

    However, Canada seems to have a pretty laissez faire attitude towards cabotage.Read what they think of “cabotage” here -

    Also Canadians are gung-ho in trying to have modified Sixth Freedom Air Traffic Rights Bilateral relations with the USA. –  and as a means to lower prices for Canadians.

    I am in the opinion that Canada is not enforcing their cabotage provision as tough as the USA is.

  • Michael

    If not at that point,  I’d say it would definately run afoul of cabotage laws once he takes the first leg of the flight.  I’m sure the customer in this case would testify that he had no purpose in Chicago other than the layover.  Delaying that layover for a day and rerouting him doesn’t really change any of that.

  • Carver

    Well, I did my homework and I concur with Raven.  Cabotage laws are a form of protectionism.

    Consider, if Virgin or BA wereto set up shop in the US, it would be more competition, more choice, potentially more jobs.  Of course, only if the US airlines were permitted to fly in the other countries as well.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Beginning at square one. CO shouldn’t issue this illegal ticket. It’s clearly CO fault to cause inconvenience and stress to the traveler. It isn’t beyond their control, like a weather delay or air traffic control delay,  they control the programmers of the reservation system and should compensate traveler inconveniences cause by programming errors. Don’t blame on the merge with United, merge or not, any program should check Cabotage restriction. 150$ voucher is a real joke.

  • Anna

    Possible scenarios:

    #1; Laufer had two separate tickets, booked separately. Would the anti-cabotage restriction in the online booking system catch this?

    #2a; Laufer had linked tickets with a “connection” in Chicago of such a length that it would be considered a stopover in cabotage terms (therefore OK). The something happened; a delay, a rescheduling, whatever, which shortened his stay in Chicago so that it was no longer a stopover but a connecting point (not OK).

    #2b; Laufer had linked tickets that were somehow OK (see 2a). Then an airline employee in Chicago got the rules all wrong and denied him boarding.

    #3; Mikegun has a interesting theory about Laufer missing the cutoff for international check-in in Chicago. Had Laufer made the cutoff, YVR-ORD and ORD-YHZ would have been separate, international flights per the Canadian interpretation of their own cabotage laws, and therefore OK.
    NB: This is pure speculation, I know nothing of which I speak.


  • Lenny

    Raven is 100% right that they are ridiculous and outdated. Just think if we had actual airline competition in the US, we wouldn’t be treated like cattle. I’d love to fly Cathay Pacific coast to coast!!!

    Cabotage laws are nothing more than tools of the airline unions.

  • y_p_w

    I’m curious how this all went down when he booked and what he was aware of regarding documentation.

    As far as I recall, air travel between Canada and the US requires going through customs as well as a valid passport book.  WHTI documents (like NEXUS or a passport card) wouldn’t be sufficient.  I’m wondering if Mr. Laufer had the proper document on him; his nationality wasn’t mentioned and I won’t make any assumptions.  That itself might have made things more interesting if he hadn’t been aware that he would have to go through customs and didn’t have the right travel documents.

  • Christophe

    Chris, I hope you were joking when you said that you found no provision in their cc for illegal tickets. How many times did you read in those CC the following catchphrase “should we break the law, you are entitled to xxx !”

  • Tony A.

    Ok folks I will try to recreate the problem below:

    (1) He was (allegedly) sold a ticket by Continental, probably something like this:

    Planned Route:
    CO 246   YVRORD-1115A 514P  *0
    UA3531   ORDYHZ- 644P1146P  *0  8.31

    As ticketed by Continental:
    * NONREF/0VALUAFTDPT/CHGFEE                              
     ADT01       800.00       780.00       152.70            932.70
    *TTL          800.00       780.00       152.70            932.70

    ADT YVR CO CHI Q7.50 375.00UA YHZ Q7.50 410.00CAD800.00END CO
        ZPYVRORD XT7.40ZP5.00XA2.50AY11.80CA14.60SQ1.80RC39.60XG
        4.50XF ORD4.5

    So this answers the question whether Continental can sell such a ticket YVR-ORD-YHZ.
    Yes it can, but it MAY NOT because it may violate Canada’s “Cabotage” Law (Chapter 61 Canada Transportation Act).

    (2) So a diligent Continental/United agent realized the posible violation and denied him boarding on UA3531 ORD-YHZ.

    (3) Then they tried to reroute him from ORD-YHZ using a legal route. That means it has to be a Canadian Carrier that must take him back to Canada. So I guess these may be the new route.

    Earliest Legal Reroute:
    AC 512   ORDYYZ- 705P 933P   0
    AC 140   YYZ YHZ-1055P 151A#1 0  4.46

    (4) Since he arrived Chicago ORD about 5PM, then they could have put him on the above Air Canada flight 2 hours later. But he said he took 2 extra flights and had a 20 hour delay. So instead of the flight above, they probably re-routed him via EWR:

    If Same Day:
    AC4724   ORDEWR- 900P1208A   0
    AC 763    EWRYYZ- 625A 754A   0
    AC 606    YYZYHZ- 950A1246P#1 0 13.46

    If Next Day:
    AC5300  ORDEWR- 100P 415P   0
    AC 771   EWRYYZ- 645P 817P   0
    AC 626   YYZYHZ-1055P 151A#1 0 10.51

    (5) If Continental issued the ticket then they are obviously at fault in trying to sell him a faulty ticket. They tried to solve their possible cabotage violation but they did it in such a way that it caused too much aggravation. In my opinion, a free flight anywhere in the USA would have been a fair compensation.

    (6) To avoid future problems, Continental should remove routing of Canada to Canada Origin & Destinations from all GDS unless it is selling a purely Air Canada codeshare. Looks like they haven’t learned their lesson yet.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Nice bit of sleuthing!  Answers a lot of questions that previous posters have asked.

  • Becky

    It was Vancouver-Chicago-Halifax. So he was flying to Halifax from Vancouver, with a layover in Chicago.

  • MichelleLV

    I think because it isn’t in the coc he should be able to sue the crap out of them for selling him this ticket.   To me it is the airlines responsibility to makes sure they are following national and international law and NOT the responsibility of the passenger.    If this was me, I would be consulting a lawyer.    2 extra flights and 20 hrs should be well compensated in this instance especially if the airline is offering no more than a voucher.  I would take that as an insult and act accordingly.  

  • sffilk

    Continental broke the rules/law/whatever.  It’s Continental’s fault.  It shouldn’t just offer a voucher.  It should make good on its mistake.

  • Linda Bator

    He feels he was denied boarding, when in fact, if he tried to book this and the system worked correctly, he would have been denied from making this reservation in the first place.  So he STILL wou;dn’t have been able to return the same day, and would have been forced to overnight.  Which is what he ended up doing in this case!

  • Linda Bator

    not if booked as 2 one ways — it may not cross reference in the system the way it should — and I’m surprised the Canadian desk didn’t catch this to begin with, as they would have clearly seen this would be construed as a connecting flight and a violation of cabotage.  Unless he had 2 tickets, and checked in to each separately – which is why I think we really need to know more — although the system SHOULD have picked it up, a few may fall in between the cracks during transitions.

  • Linda Bator

    How this was actually ticketed – 1 ticket or 2?

  • Linda Bator

    And there in lies the problem.  We welcome all comers with open arms, but those other countries barely want to open up routes – not a fair trade.

  • Linda Bator

    CLUELESS!!!  It is the governments which block this, and the foreign ones at that.  Our unions have nothing to do with it.  BA wants to use AA’s routes and NOT have to share those – who does that benefit?  Not exactly a fair trade!

  • Linda Bator

    Actually – they would hold the Canadian citizen liable to the cabotage laws — which means they would uphold Continental’s decision NOT TO BREAK THE LAW and let him travel on the bogus ticket.  So that isn’t going to help him.

  • Linda Bator

    A product HIS country doesn’t allow, and he could not ticket THERE.  The airline could not violate the law, even if they ticketed in error.  Or both the airline AND the passenger would have been in violation — and he’d really have something to b$3%h about!

  • Linda Bator

    But if this is a connecting flight, it is considered as a one way YVR – YHZ (doesn’t matter HOW many connections – its the point of departure to the point of disembarkation which defines the ticket)

  • Linda Bator

    Assuming it WAS 1 ticket, and not 2 separate ones he failed to disclose as such

  • Linda Bator

    No they AREN’T – these are THEIR cabotage laws, not ours — you are NOT allowed to travel wholly within a Canadian routing on US metal — THAT’s why he was denied the 2nd flight!  It has nothing to do with the Jones Act (which applies to ships)

  • Linda Bator

    But the point here was it MUST be over 4 hours to be considered a stopover and not a connection, which may have been the problem.

  • Tony A.

    I am not certain how be booked the ticket. But, it seems he bought it directly from Continental. Nevertheless, we cannot expect the passenger to validate an itinerary for cabotage violations.

    Please note that both UA and CO sell YVR-USA-YHZ. To keep it kosher, they use Air Canada or Jazz to do either the YVR-USA or USA-YHZ segments. Everything else in between can be CO/UA operated flights.
    None of these options required overnight layovers.

    Finally, I don’t think he mentioned anything about a return flight. He was complaining that his flight from YVR to YHZ took more than 2 segments and 20 hours more than he originally thought it would.

    In my opinion, Continental made a mistake, not him.

  • Linda Bator

    They can’t as they are code-share partners with AC!  Which means the ticket may have originally been on AC metal and changed over later, or booked on 2 separate tickets, etc.  We really need more info on this one!

  • Linda Bator

    Both governments would say they DID follow the law when they re-routed him to avoid violating the Cabotage law – they would care less whether he was inconvenienced when he tried BREAKING that law in the first place!  (Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse in a court of law – so he’s out of luck ther!)

  • Linda Bator

    By NOT letting him board the 2nd flight, they avoiding violating the law, and were within their rights and resposibilites to do so.  The governments involved are only interested in the end result — which would be the same if correctly ticketed.

  • Tony A.

    In Canada maximum CA$25,000 for corporations.

    In the USA, 6 figures. Asiana was fined $750,000 of which $375,000 was withheld if Asiana behaved.


  • Tony A.

    “It is the governments which block this, and the foreign ones at that.”

    Actually, the USA is one of the most hawkish country when it comes to cabotage. That’s why we have the Jones Act. Remember we didn’t want that Asian oil skimmer to come in and help clean the gulf during the BP oil spill.

  • sirwired

    If CO/UA sold a ticket that couldn’t be legally used, why wouldn’t they be liable for damages?  If I run a store and hand you a counterfeit bill as change, you can’t legally spend the bill no matter whose fault it is, but you certainly can come after me for giving you a useless piece of currency.

    Certainly, if the pax had bought two separate tickets to override the reservations systems, you’d have a point.  But we have no indication that happened here.

  • Tony A.

    No, the passenger does not violate the cabotage law. It is the foreign carrier that does if it transports a passenger between places of the local country.

  • Tony A.

    Again the passenger does not violate the cabotage laws. It is the foreign carrier that does if it transports the passenger (regardless of citizenship) between places within the same local country.

  • Tony A.

    Read Again Linda. I was comparing how Canada and the USA enforced their cabotage laws. I never said his routing is affected by the Jones Act. Continental was carrying him between 2 places of CANADA. The USA cabotage laws have nothing to do with this routing.

  • Tony A.

    Linda, I just demonstrated how I can sell a CO validated ticket that *may* violate Canada’s Transportation Act. None of the segments are Air Canada or Jazz.

    If I actually did this, the passenger will get real mad at me since it is my job as a TA to validate what I sell. So, I won’t do it.

    To make it legit, simply change the YYZ-xxx or xxx-YHZ segment to AC or Jazz. Period.

  • Tony A.

    *** How Continental Could Have Done this Legally ***

    We all know that Air Canada is CO/UA’s Star Alliance partner. They are also together in a Transatlantic Joint Venture (being challenged in Canada).
    So it is entirely possible the CO/UA could codeshare Air Canada flights in and out of Canada. By simply adding a segment that is operated by Air Canada, Continental would have sold a “legal” journey.

    I provide an example which can be legally ticketed:

     1*CO8241L 01NOV TU YVRSEA  835A  925A
     2 UA 278V 01NOV TU SEAORD  1120A  511P
     3*UA3538V 01NOV TU ORDYHZ  644P  1146P

     ADT01       575.00       545.00       133.18            678.18

    ADT YVR CO SEA Q7.50 149.00UA X/CHI Q7.50UA YHZ 411.00CAD
        575.00END CO ZPYVRSEAORD XT11.10ZP5.00XA5.00AY11.50CA
        14.20SQ1.70RC27.80XG9.00XF SEA4.5ORD4.5
     TX 7.00XY 40.88US 11.10ZP 5.00XA 5.00AY 11.50CA 14.20SQ 1.70RC
        27.80XG 9.00XF


    So the journey can be done correctly on a Continental ticket.

  • Anna

    Where do you think the problem happened? And how? Separate tickets, faulty online booking system, an unaware CO/UA agent or something else entirely…?

  • Tony A.

    Good question, Anna.

    I’m gonna speculate here.
    I don’t think he bought it in Continental’s website. It probably would have not offered him these flight 2 flight combinations, YVR-ORD-YHZ.
    I did some research and 2 things stood out:
    (1) You need 3 segments, or 2 connections to make this route legal on CO/UA.
    (2) Neither CO nor UA have local fares for YVR-YHZ.

    So, I suspect that:
    (1) He really wanted to use CO but wanted a one-connection journey and someone made it happen for him. Remember even my GDS would put the illegal connection together so it’s easy to make this mistake.
    (2) He didn’t care to buy the cheaper Air Canada or Westjet fares. That’s strange since CO did not have fares for YVR-YHZ. Whoever, ticketed this had to combine 2 fares – YVR to ORD plus ORD to YHZ. That should have been a alarm to the agent (if there was one).

    Note, there is no indication that the segments were ticketed separately. That would give Continental an “excuse” that it did not know what was going on. Also, if these were 2 separate tickets then how would the agent in ORD know where he came from unless he asked to have his luggage checked through or he checked in for both flights from Canada? Incidentally, why didn’t the agent in Vancouver stop him if the agent saw the whole itinerary? Maybe Continental has a software that checks for potential cabotage violations during check in at ORD. Maybe he told the check in agent he came from Canada on an earlier flight.

    Frankly, I do not think Canada would have found out about the alleged violation. The YVR-ORD and ORD-YHZ were on 2 different flights. I doubt if Canada Customs or Border Agencies will match the manifest of 2 flights and check if there were common passengers. Note that the USA catches Canadian charters violating our cabotage rules by looking at the manifests of the SAME airplane. They make sure that passengers uplifted inside the USA exits the USA (on the same flight). If not, then they suspect a cabotage violation and will investigate. But it is very difficult to do that match across many different flight combinations.

    Other foreign airlines (like Asiana) got caught because they advertised the illegal routes between Guam to the mainland USA via Seoul. If Asiana did not advertise the routes, it would been very difficult for US Custom’s officers to figure out that someone boarded in Guam, went to Seoul and boarded again another flight in Seoul bound for Seattle or for other US cities Asiana flies to. The passenger could have broke his journey in Seoul making this trip “legal”.

  • Geoff

    I;d file against CO as it indeed broke the law. I am still looking to be the “rat fink” for the next Ralph Nader. Destroy all airlines by making all their employees watch each episode of PAn Am 3 times a day to learn the right way.

  • Karin

    He was going Vancouver – Chicago – Halifax

    Chicago is listed twice because that was his stop-over.

  • Brad Ackerman

    I care not one whit for airlines that can only stay in business because the government will send men with guns to shut down their competition. Delaying Virgin’s entry into the US domestic market by several years cost lots of jobs, and let’s not forget the jobs destroyed by reduced competition.

    You may only care about jobs if they’re paying union dues, but the rest of us couldn’t care less.