Is this enough compensation? Sorry, your kids have the wrong ticket

Like any good father, LeRoy Villanueva tried to cover all of his bases when he put his two children on a plane from Paris to Los Angeles recently. Most important to him was buying the required unaccompanied minor service, which would allow his kids to fly without an adult.

“I asked British Airways if I could buy the tickets at a third-party travel agency and pay the airline separately for the unaccompanied minor service,” he says. “A phone agent told me that I would have to purchase two adult fares from the online travel agency and then afterwards — at least 48 hours before departure — pay British Airways’ unaccompanied minor Service fee.”

He verified the information by phoning the airline a second time; again, it offered the same choices.

But the airline left out an important detail.

Villanueva explains,

When I contacted British Airways before the flight, they told me that the fare that I got from the online travel agency was not valid because it was a bulk discount fare and needed to be a “published” fare in order to qualify for the unaccompanied minor service.

This was the first time any BA rep informed me of this rule. BA told me that the only way to pay for the unaccompanied minor fee was to have the travel agency issue me a new ticket with a published fare.

I contacted BA customer relations but they told me that there was nothing they could do. I wrote to them, letting them know that they misinformed me about the requirements for their unaccompanied minor service. I even suggested that they charge me the difference in price for a “published fare” but again, they wouldn’t budge.

By the way, British Airways’ traveling with kids page doesn’t mention any of these ticket restrictions, either.

Villanueva asked his travel agent about the ticket. His agent insisted the ticket was a “published” fare, and contacted the airline on his behalf. British Airways turned it down, too.

Requests to the Transportation Department have also gone unanswered.

Villanueva had to cancel his tickets and buy two new ones, incurring $400 in penalties.

I feel I am paying for BA’s mistakes. I think they should not charge me cancellation fees and if we were living in a perfect world, they would at least send me some travel coupons for my troubles. At this point, I’m only hoping to avoid cancellation fees. Any advice or help would be much appreciated.

I agree that British Airways should have informed him of the additional ticket requirements when he called the airline. It’s also unclear to me why the UM option wouldn’t be available on every ticket. To me, that sounds like another way of forcing concerned parents to buy a more expensive ticket.

I contacted the airline on his behalf. British Airways refunded $1,625 of the $2,037 he paid for his tickets through his travel agency. Neither of us are quite sure why the airline is pocketing $412, but something is better than nothing.

Is it enough? Or should British Airways have refunded the initial ticket purchase and credited him the fare difference, maybe even thrown in the UM service at no extra charge?

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.

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  • Madchickenlittle

    This is confusing.  I voted “no” because BA is all over the map on this.  Either the fare ISN’T valid for UM service, or it is.  This we’ll keep $412 for our troubles is odd and arbitrary.

    The fare rules for the original purchase would have to be examined, but it would be EXTREMELY odd for them to include not eligible for UM service. Isn’t that the point of the UM fee, to compensate the airline for the extra care?

    To those of you snarking about wanting the cheapest fare I say, what’s wrong with wanting the lowest possible fare?  It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money.

  • Joelw

    This is an incorrect definition of a bulk fare. They are not intended only for groups.

  • Guest

    if it was “never intended for a normal traveler to purchase it” then why is it available for purchase? 

  • Joelw

    Assuming he knew the difference, which most people outside of the travel industry do not, how was the OP supposed to know that he was buying an unpublished fare ticket? You seem very eager to shift the blame from BA to the OP. Why is that?

  • Joelw

    As a travel agent, I can tell you that you are completely wrong about the use of unpublished or bulk fares. Our company has had such fares with as number of carriers over the years and have regularly sold them to individuals. Yes, they carry more restrictions than published fares, which we have to explain, but they were not intended just for prizes, groups etc. as you state.

  • Aviva

    There’s no discount for buying a ticket for a kid. I don’t know why the airlines even care, and most of them don’t.

    They used to have child fares, but it’s been a long time. A few years back they even discontinued the discounted price for buying a seat for an infant under age 2 (which they offered as incentive to not having your child on your lap).

  • emanon256

    Your quote cuts out my entire point to make your fallacious argument sound more plausible.  BA and other airlines are offering these fares to consolidators and agencies who are aware of these rules and should be communicating with their customers.  The problem is these on-line sites like Expedia and Hotwire, etc. are selling these fares while hiding these restrictions in their fine print.  Why would the airline be responsible, when a opaque agent is burying this information when they make the sale?

  • emanon256

    Because opaque agencies like Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline make a lot more profit passing these fares off on customers, then selling the same fare’s that they can buy from the airline.

  • emanon256

    Nor did I say “Only for groups”  There are many valid purposes for them.

  • emanon256

    Those were examples of what the agency I work with uses them for, ad has told me they are primarily used for.  They also disclose all of the restrictions.  I never stated they are “ONLY” for those.

  • emanon256

    Because by clicking on terms and conditions, it is clear that the ticket cannot be used for an unaccompanied minor.  Why should the airline be responsible for someone’s failure to read?  When people don’t read, and then raise a fuss, and then go to an ombudsman to help them, they are wasting the airlines and Chris’s time from, which could be better spent on more serious issues.

  • Michael K

    The airline has the leverage to require proper disclosure or else withhold the fares.  That they fail to do so implies that they condone the practices you decry.

    What’s your solution?  That the customer is always responsible even when restrictions are not disclosed?

  • Michael K

    “the bulk discounted fare he got is a loss maker for the airline”

    No one (AFAIK) is forcing any airline to offer bulk discounted fares.  If an airline thinks it would be more profitable if it stopped offering bulk fares, then I bet it would stop offering bulk fares.

  • Mark K

    I walked to and from elementary school when I was 8 years old, but schools don’t allow children of that age to do that any more.  Things have changed.

    The fee is not for “hand-holding”  it is to allow the airline to have someone available to make sure your child actually gets on the correct plane (most of the time) and then is met by the expected person at the destination.  There is nothing else the child receives from this service.  A major airline is offering a similar service for adults now too where they meet you at the curb and speed you through security and into the club and finally onto the plane for a change that seems excessive for me (but then I don’t need that type of assistance [yet]).  I agree the fee is high and I think part of that is to discourage parents from sending their child UNAM, but with the way things go in the world today I doubt anyone would want to send their child without the little bit extra monitoring this fee gets you.

  • Mbods2002

    What a racket, wrong, wrong wrong and criminal, it’s a theft, seems to me.  Why in the world would anyone want to fly anymore???

  • emanon256

    Well, in a perfect world, I would put the responsibility on the agency for not properly informing the customer.  If I wrote the law, I would require the agency to notify the customer of restrictions like this is larger text that is easy to understand. 
     
    I was able to go through the booking process on Expedia and I did find this discloser buried in the fine print.  And based on the law, most judges or mediators would probably fault the customer for not reading the disclosure.
     
    I think it is unfortunate that this happened to Mr. Villanueva, but also I think had Mr. Villanueva read all of the terms this would not have happened.  I do read all of the terms, and that is how I avoid these problems.  I also can’t fault the airline, because they create these fares in good faith, for agents and wholesalers to use properly.  However I think these Opaque travel sites are allowing things like Mr. Villanueva situation to happen, and they are the problem.  However I don’t think it happens enough that an airline is going to stop allowing these Opaque companies to still selling them either.

  • Michael K

    If your comments are about Mr. Villanueva’s case specifically, his travel agent apparently didn’t believe there were any such restrictions in which case there is nothing to disclose.

    From Chris’ article–
    His [travel] agent insisted the ticket was a “published” fare, and contacted the airline on his behalf. British Airways turned it down, too.

  • Bob

    I’m sorry, but you lost me at “like any good father….”  
    A good father doesn’t put 2 minor children on a 10.5 hour trip across the country and then across the Atlantic.

  • http://twitter.com/comanchepilot Joe Farrell

    Hey – i just noticed – Paris to LAX on British Airways?  I wasn’t aware that they flew nonstop from Paris to LA – anyone who sends their kids internationally with a connection in a foreign country is nuts.  Did ya hear me? Nuts.  

  • bodega

    And if you scroll down and read my other post, you will see that BA doesn’t allow it via LHR or LGW and that is where BA connects as they don’t fly nonstop from FRA.

  • http://twitter.com/comanchepilot Joe Farrell

    bodega shows us the rules which tell us:

    the ticket and skysolo need to be bought together – meaning AT THE SAME TIME – if you don’t – then its cancellation fees and reissue charges.

    Age 5 is non-stop single flight only.  Age 6 and over is ok it appears.

    There is no ban on connections – merely a ban on a transfer BETWEEN LHR and LGW – if you connect it has to be at the same airport. 

    These rules were readily available on BA’s website before tickets are purchased –
    http://www.britishairways.com/travel/childinfo/public/en_gb

  • emanon256

    I still question whether or not he had a “real” agent.  The article also states: “they told me that the fare that I got from the online travel agency was not valid because it was a bulk discount fare” So was it a real agent, or was it a website?  Expedia is an on-line travel agent, and we know from many of Chris’s articles how much they like to pass the buck.  I asked what agency he used, but no one has answered.

  • http://badbadwebbis.wordpress.com/ badbadwebbis

    Actually, it is possible to get a flight that doesn’t require a transfer
    between Heathrow and Gatwick, which is what is not permitted– there is a flight from Paris into
    Heathrow that departs for LAX from Heathrow (not requiring a transfer
    from Heathrow to Gatwick or vice versa). This flight also does not have a
    6+ hour layover, or one that is a night-stop. So he can schedule a UM
    flight between Paris and LAX.

    What he could not do is fly them into Heathrow and then have them fly out of Gatwick, since that requires travel outside the airport.

  • Nancy M

    BA is notorious for unbending even when they cause a problem – I contacted Chris about an issue with BA in November 2010 where they were adamant about forcing me to forfeit a FIRST CLASS award ticket because of a problem with their website (I finally got to keep my ticket only by speaking with a supervisor in the US).  I kind of like British Airways anyway (especially their lounges at Heathrow), but am amazed that they have no compunction about ripping off their customers.  (I thought the Brits were supposed to have a sense of ‘honour’?)

  • Dave

    And how do you know that information was available on the site he used?  Just because you saw it on one site doesn’t mean it was available where he bought the ticket.