Donald Zupan and his wife were returning from their European vacation when their Lufthansa flight between Barcelona and Frankfurt was canceled. The airline rebooked them on an Air Canada flight to Toronto, but when they tried to board their connecting flight on United to Jacksonville, Fla., they were denied boarding.
What happened next is a tale of two airlines bouncing the Zupans back and forth as if they were playing in a grand slam.
Will Zupan need our help to resolve this problem with the airlines or will he be another successful self-advocate? Or worse, is Zupan still stuck in Toronto as I write this?
The Zupans planned a European vacation just before Thanksgiving, and scheduled their return flights so they would be home in time to spend Thanksgiving with their children and grandchildren. But the day before their journey home was to begin, they were notified that Lufthansa had canceled the flight they booked from Barcelona to Frankfurt.
Early the next morning Zupan was notified that he and his wife had been rebooked on an Air Canada flight from Barcelona to Toronto, arriving earlier than their original Lufthansa flight. After a four-hour stopover they tried to board their United Airlines flight to Jacksonville, Fla.
Even though the Zupans were holding boarding passes with seat assignments for the United flight, the gate agents wouldn’t allow them to board. One of the agents informed the Zupans that they were not booked on the flight, in spite of the boarding passes they had in hand. According to Zupan, the agent indicated that the ticket was missing on the boarding passes and directed them back to the Air Canada office to have the tickets corrected.
But Air Canada didn’t issue the boarding passes — Lufthansa did.
Zupan and his wife are senior citizens, and running back and forth in an airport is not easy for them, but they did make it back to Air Canada. I’ll let Zupan tell us what happened next:
When we arrived at the Air Canada office they indicated we had ticket numbers, wrote them down and sent us back to the United Gate F68 to board the plane. We rushed back to the gate and the United supervisor told us the plane had departed.
They said it was not their problem, since Air Canada had brought us to Toronto, it was their problem. The United supervisor said he was sorry that he could not do anything for us and that this experience was going to get “UGLY” so be prepared.
Not understanding how “ugly” their time at the Toronto airport was going to be, Zupan asked about their luggage and was told the three bags had been removed from the plane and could be claimed in the baggage area.
They returned to the Air Canada office and were told that the boarding denial needed to be addressed by Lufthansa since it booked the tickets. Airline personnel took them through some locked doors to baggage claim, which of course was on the other side of customs and immigration.
After waiting an hour for their bags, Zupan and his wife headed to the Lufthansa office, where they found a long line of travelers waiting to speak with an agent. When it was finally their turn to talk to someone the supervisor told them it was 9:15 pm and the office was going to close so the agents could go home. Zupan responded that they were stranded in Toronto and needed help. Apparently unsympathetic, the supervisor gave them a business card, told them to call those numbers, and then directed them back to the Air Canada office because Lufthansa could do nothing for them.
Taking their three large bags plus their carry-on bags back to the Air Canada office, they waited another 45 minutes to listen to the supervisor tell them again that it was not Air Canada’s problem and that the couple would need to contact Lufthansa.
With no cell phone service in Canada, no Canadian money, and an expectation that they would be able to reach someone at Lufthansa, they spent the night in the airport, repeatedly using the courtesy phone in the airport to attempt to reach someone at one of the numbers listed on the card the Lufthansa supervisor gave them. No one ever answered any of the numbers.
At 9:15 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, the couple went back to the Lufthansa office at the airport but no one was there. The Zupans finally decided to book their own flight home, but there was no flight available until the following day. They booked it, left the airport, finally got some rest at a local hotel and flew home the day after Thanksgiving.
When they returned home, Zupan contacted Lufthansa, asking for a refund of the $815 he spent for their hotel and returned flight, plus a refund of their unused tickets. He estimated the total cost of the reimbursement should be $1,500.
In Lufthansa’s Terms and Conditions it promises that it will provide current information on cancellations and delays “in a timely manner,” which it did.
In the section on involuntary refunds, Lufthansa promises that if it cancels a flight or causes a passenger to miss a connecting flight the amount of the refund — in the case of partially used tickets — “will be not less than the difference between the fare paid and the applicable fare for travel between the points for which the Ticket has been used.”
So Lufthansa’s own terms seem to support Zupan’s claim that they owe him a refund on the unused portion of their ticket, at least for the flight cancellation. But Lufthansa’s rebooking also caused the Zupans to miss their connecting flight.
In Lufthansa’s Passenger Rights page, it also outlines a traveler’s rights under EU 261.
According to these rights, when Zupan’s original flight was canceled he was entitled to “re-routing, care, refund, and compensation,” unless the cancellation is because of “extraordinary circumstances” or cancellation occurs at least 14 days prior or if the alternate flight reaches the final destination less than four hours after the original flight schedule would have arrived.
Lufthansa did book the Zupans on other flights, but its mistake in rebooking didn’t even allow them to arrive on the same day as their originally planned flights, much less within four hours. While this specific situation isn’t covered by EU 261, Lufthansa taking full responsibility for the error is the right thing to do.
When Zupan didn’t immediately hear back from Lufthansa, he could have used our customer service contacts for Lufthansa. He contacted us instead, and we sent him to our forums. Our forum advocates had some questions about his original post, but Zupan never returned to the forum to respond.
In the end Zupan effectively self-advocated this case, and we did not need to get involved. Lufthansa eventually responded to him, and after some negotiation the Zupans agreed to a settlement, with the airline refunding the costs they incurred during their two unplanned nights in Toronto and for their flights home to Jacksonville. Lufthansa also reimbursed the Zupans an additional $200.