Pranjul Vir contacted our advocates about a common air travel problem: He and his wife were flying on an Air Canada ticket with stops in multiple cities. But when they couldn’t make one connection, the entire itinerary was canceled.
The problem is not unique to Air Canada passengers. Travelers on other airlines have also discovered that their entire bookings were canceled by the airlines when they did not fly one leg of the journey. Unfortunately for Vir and other travelers who find themselves in this situation, this is a standard procedure for many airlines.
In their contracts of carriage, airlines specifically absolve themselves of liability for these itinerary cancellations, as well as any obligation on their parts to compensate passengers who lose their bookings. And there’s nothing we can do to help.
Vir and his wife were flying from Atlanta to London and Cairo via Toronto, and he was not able to obtain a transit visa to pass through Canada in time for the flight. He contacted Air Canada’s customer service and let its agents know that he needed to change his reservation so that he would not be flying via Toronto. Vir then booked an alternate flight to London. But when he tried to check in for the remainder of his flight, he found that Air Canada had canceled the entire booking.
Says Vir in his complaint to our advocates: “I did not receive any notification prior and only figured out [that the flights were canceled] once I reached the airport for my second leg. This was a stressful situation as I was stranded in a foreign country with no options. I had to look for new tickets while sitting at the airport and ended up spending a lot of money.”
Vir’s not the only one. Marva Long and five fellow tourists discovered that their itineraries on South African Airways from Cape Town, South Africa, to Washington, D.C., were canceled after their travel agent tried to cancel a portion of their flights. Both our forum members and advocacy team informed Long that air passengers must fly as ticketed or forfeit the cost of their tickets.
“I have been traveling for many years and did not know if you canceled a portion of your trip the entire trip would be canceled,” Long says. “If the agent had informed me when I spoke to her then, it would have been a better outcome.”
Our forum also received an inquiry from a poster known as Yu-ji, who arrived at the Air Canada counter at John Glenn Columbus International Airport too late to board his flight to Tokyo via Toronto. Yu-ji purchased another ticket on United to reach Toronto, only to find that his return flight from Tokyo to Columbus via Toronto had been canceled. He was forced to pay for a new seat on the same flight.
On the surface, this practice appears to be a customer service travesty. Why do airlines treat passengers, even frequent fliers and supposedly valuable customers, like this?
In prior years, airline passengers used booking ploys such as “hidden city/point beyond” ticketing (purchasing a ticket for travel between two cities but beginning or ending the trip at another city), “throwaway” ticketing (purchasing a ticket with the intent of using only a portion of it) and “back-to-back” or “nested” ticketing (purchasing two tickets with interlocking itineraries to bypass minimum stay requirements for special fares). Airlines responded to these tactics by confiscating tickets, dropping premium status and loyalty program memberships, and ultimately canceling itineraries for “no-show” passengers.
For example, the contracts of carriage of American Airlines, Air Canada and United Airlines all indicate that the airlines will respectively cancel itineraries for passengers who do not use seats for which they hold ticketed reservations.
Curiously, all three passengers noted that they didn’t receive any notice from their respective airlines before their bookings were canceled. Apparently they hadn’t read their respective airlines’ contracts of carriage — none of which require an airline to notify a passenger that it is canceling an itinerary following an attempt by that passenger to cancel an individual portion of it. They also don’t require the airlines to compensate or otherwise assist passengers with canceled itineraries.
All we can do is warn airline passengers that if you purchase a ticket and don’t show up for your flight, you may lose your entire itinerary. And we can’t help you if that happens.