This volunteer vacation to New Orleans ended on a bad note

Erik Szabo is “livid.”

Last spring, he was schedule to fly from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. He’d booked a package tour, which included airline tickets, hotel and car rental, through Hotwire.

“When I showed up at the airport for my US Airways flight, I was told that my reservation was for a United Airlines flight,” he says.

Ah, another case of codeshare confusion? Yes, but that’s not all.

Szabo picks up the story,

I trekked all the way to the United terminal — which, by the way, is the longest possible distance from US Airways at LAX.

When I got to the United kiosk, I was informed that my reservation number was invalid, and they refused to help me.

Finally, I convinced one of United’s people to call Hotwire to clear up the confusion. She dialed and handed the phone to me.

Hotwire then put me on hold for a whole hour. When they finally returned, they gave me a proper reservation number, which United was able to verify. However, by that time my flight had already departed, thanks to the hour on the phone.

You can imagine what happened next.

Since it was Jazz Fest, there were no other flights to New Orleans, and he had to cancel his volunteer vacation, he says. Hotwire refunded his rental car, but wouldn’t reverse the hotel charge and deferred to US Airways for the ticket.

He adds,

I then tried to resolve the issue with US Airways for the airfare, but they would only repeat their policy that “tickets are non-refundable and may be used within one year of purchase with a $150 re-booking fee”.

Are you kidding me? They effectively canceled my reservation without cause or notice and now want to charge me an additional $150 per ticket? What kind of re-negotiation tactic is that?

I thought Szabo had a strong case for a full refund, so I contacted Hotwire on his behalf. Here’s its answer:

After looking into this further, it seems like this unfortunate conclusion was a result of code-share issues as well as a few additional considerations. Here’s more background on what we found through our research.

Mr. Szabo booked a code-share flight, meaning he booked through US Airways, but the flight was operated by United. Code-share bookings are relatively common in the airline industry, and state clearly that a flight is “operated by X airline” both before and after purchase, regardless of who the flight was booked through. However, it’s always very important to still review itineraries carefully.

In looking at the notes in the system, it appears that the reason Mr. Szabo was unable to initially check in with his United flight was due to a late arrival. Whether that was caused by the delay from going to the US Airways terminal first or just because of a late arrival in general isn’t clear, but the end result is unfortunately the same.

In terms of the confusion around reservation numbers, theoretically that should not have posed any issues for the United agents. As mentioned, code-shares are very common and whether they we presented with the USAirways number or the subsequent United number, it shouldn’t have made a difference, especially because reservation numbers aren’t generally required for check in. A kiosk or agent should only need the customer’s identification and destination in order to find his flights. It is possible that the United desk agent provided Mr. Szabo with incorrect or confusing information on why he wasn’t allowed to get a boarding pass initially, but unfortunately we can’t speak to that interaction.

After we were able to help establish that everyone had the correct information, United offered to re-book Mr. Szabo on the next available flight to New Orleans, which was the following day (the original trip was booked as a 6 day vacation). Mr. Szabo declined this option and decided instead to not take the trip. Despite the fact that this trip was a pre-paid package purchase and therefore non-refundable, we were able to help negotiate a refund of the car rental with Thrifty. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances that lead to Mr. Szabo’s cancellation, neither United nor the hotel were willing to offer a refund.

As a side-note, United did change the departure time for Mr. Szabo’s flight several months before his trip by moving it roughly 45 minutes earlier than originally booked. I’m not sure if he mentioned this part to you, but it was included in our case notes. An automated email notification was apparently not received by the customer, but we were able to deliver this information verbally when we spoke to Mr. Szabo on the phone for a related matter (he requested a separate change for his travel plans). This was in late March, and was over a month before his May departure.

OK, so according to Hotwire, Szabo knew of the flight change. Its records show he could have flown to New Orleans the next day, missing just one day of his vacation. And the tickets he had shouldn’t have caused an hour’s worth of confusion, either.

I’m reluctantly sliding this one into my “case dismissed” file. I’m not sure what to make of Hotwire’s explanation, but I do know that short of going to small claims court, he’s not going to get a full refund from Hotwire.

(Photo: Adam R eeder/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.

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  • Michael__K

    In looking at the notes in the system, it appears that the reason Mr. Szabo was unable to initially check in with his United flight was due to a late arrival.


    This is the crux of the issue.

    The qualifiers (“it appears”) tell me that Hotwire is less than 100% certain about this claim.  It certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for case notes to have misleading or even erroneous info.

    Do we have the OP’s version of the timeline (when did he arrive at the gate, when was the flight)?

    Does Hotwire not have a record of the call from the airport, including the exact time it was placed?  If the timeline is in dispute, I would think they should corroborate that and compare it to the flight departure time before they respond to Chris.  (And I would expect them to cite that information in the response.)

    Do we have United’s version of the timeline and what went wrong at the gate?

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hi Chris:
    If the OP left out incriminating information then he deserves what he got. Your services are valuable and if people don’t offer full disclosure, you should tell them to get lost. Could he really have flown out one day later but instead chose to forgo the whole trip? That’s quite a gamble, considering he had a 50-50 chance (or less) of getting a refund. Sounds like he got confused over the code-share, unwisely chose not to be re-booked, and now has regrets…

  • y_p_w

    I can think of a few things.

    In this day and age, there’s no excuse to not check before leaving for the airport.  It’s just too easy to check for flight delays or schedule changes, and I’ve seen quite a few when leaving or picking someone up from an airport.

    I don’t know why they couldn’t look up his name, but again I’ve usually used a combination of name and confirmation code.

    If they really offered to send him in a day late, I think he would have had a good case for a partial refund.  If he declined, then he took his chances that they were going to give a full refund if he complained hard enough.

  • LFH0

    It is likely that many of the problems could have been avoided had our aviation transportation system included–

    1. Supplying a ticket to the passenger valid for transportation and containing the necessary trip information, thereby avoiding a he said, she said exchange over what was, or was not, communicated and accepted by both sides. Relying on computer systems entirely within the control of one side will yield unsatisfactory results.

    2. A requirement that the operator of the aircraft be clearly identified on the ticket, preferably by name, or in the alternative, a non-ambiguous code. Once upon a time airlines had joint fares, Pan American World Airways interlined with all domestic carriers, and there was no need for “alliances” (which are, in fact, devices used to restrict, not expand, options for passengers).

    We once had a good passenger-oriented commercial aviation system, but it seems to have died in the early 1980s.

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

    I suspect that the OP arrived in time at US Airways in plenty of time had that been the correct terminal.  However, as the OP stated, he had to go to United.  LAX is an interesting airport.  For such a large airport, it doesn’t have any official airport transportation between the gates.  If the OP isn’t aware of the various LAX shortcourts and tricks, it could easily take 30-45 minutes to navigate from one terminal to another, particularly if the OP is laden with luggage.

    I’m inclined to believe Hotwire’s version of the story.  A bad reservation number shouldn’t pose any problems to even the most minimally skilled ticket agent.  As hotwire correctly stated, a name and destination is sufficient to obtain the ticket.  Therefore the OPs version of the interaction with United’s ticket agents lacks credibility.

    The OPs story further lacks credibility if he purposely left out that he could have taken a flight the next day, at no additional charged, thus preserving 5/6 of his vacation.

  • $16635417

    I’ve never seen an itinerary with a codeshare that wasn’t clearly marked with the operating carrier. I am curious if the OP provided his to Chris.

  • LostinTravel

    Why didn’t the passenger check in and print his boarding passes 24 hours before the flight?  He would have had more time then to fix any problems and would have known exactly where to go, and at what time, at the airport.  24 hours before a flight is a very busy time, but not as hectic as at the airport!

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “For such a large airport, it doesn’t have any official airport transportation between the gates.”

    ???? According to the website,, Frequent, free shuttle service is provided between terminals (approximately every 12 to 15 minutes, 24 hours a day), to assist travelers in getting from one terminal to another for airline connections; and to transport them to LAX Parking Lot C or to the Metro Rail Green Line Station. To use this service, travelers should board the LAX Shuttle under the LAX Shuttle & Airline Connections blue sign on the Lower/Arrivals Level islands in front of each terminal.

    It has been a few years that I have made a connection from US Airways to United or Delta (Iwe usually walk to Terminal 2 and the Tom Bradley Terminal from Terminal 1 – US Airways) but they had shuttle bus then.  As stated above on the LAX website, they have shuttle bus service between the terminals.

  • Chris_In_NC

    This is a case of he said/she said. Unfortunately for Szabo’s case, Hotwire has documentation, and it makes more sense than Szabo’s version of the story.

    There are probably additional facts in the case that have been left out, but to me it’s irrelevant at this point. If UA did offer a flight out the next day, that was a very generous offer, and by declining that flight, its hard for me to garner much sympathy.

    However, lets speculate. LAX is a terrible airport to arrive at the wrong terminal. Getting between terminals is a nightmare (on a separate issue, why MCTs from international to domestic are a joke), so Szabo could have lost up to 1 hour by going to US instead of UA. If Szabo wasn’t a seasoned traveler (likely because he is using Hotwire for flights), he certainly could have overlooked the fact that this was a codeshare flight. If Szabo then arrives for flight within the minimum recommended time (45 minutes), then he is hosed, regardless of whether there was any further delay in contacting Hotwire. So, while Szabo may not be 100% to blame, he bears some personal responsibility, and is not entitled to a full refund.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Passenger oriented commercial aviation system died when airlines stopped competing on service aka end of airline regulation. Now, its all about the dollar

  • emanon256

    The last time I flew a code share, my Itinerary confirmation e-mail clearly stated United XXXX Operated by US Airways for my second segment.  When I checked in with United for my first segment (on-line), and printed my boarding pass, a second page came with it showing a terminal map and how to get to US Airways, and instructing me to check in with US Airways, which I was able to do on-line.  I would imagine US Airways would do the same thing if Mr. Szabo had tried to check in on-line.
    Also, every code share flight I book, clearly states “Operated by Carrier XYZ.”  I can’t imagine Hot Wire would not print that on the itinerary.  It shows it right on their site when you book.  It’s far more apparent than thinks like additional fees.
    I don’t get why Mr. Szabo would have canceled the whole trip if they could have gotten him there the next day.  He really should have mitigated his damages by going anyway, and fighting for 1 nights hotel back and additional compensation for his missed day.  Throwing the whole trip out was a mistake.
    The most shocking this is the United agent let him use the agents phone, and stand there on hold for a whole hour.  I know there are some nice agents out there, but to let a customer use the agent’s kiosk for a whole hour while other customers are checking in?  LAX is a big hub for United, there are always flights and people in line. Also, I have not had to give an agent a ticket number since the whole eTicketing business started a long time ago, that also seems funny to me.  I would guess he cut his time too close, and went to the wrong terminal and that’s why he was late. I have trouble buying the whole waiting 1 hour on hold at the agent’s kiosk.

  • andrelot

    Exaclty! Many people seem to forget the other side of “regulated airlines”: extremely high prices compared to those most (not all) people get today.

    Fair enough, we see a bunch on “injustices” produced by the new realities here on Elliott, but we all quickly forget flying has never been more affordable to the masses.

  • Alan Gore

    I’m not sure whether this was Hotwire’s fault or the airlines’ fault, but it’s a classic case of finger-pointing among an online travel agency and two couldn’t-care-less airlines.

    Next time, search for your own best deal and book direct.

  • BillCCC

    Mr Szabo should have paid some attention to the details of his trip. I am afraid that with a little bit of effort on his part he would have had the vacation that he booked.

    Is anyone keeping track of the number of times that people have claimed that they did not receive emails from a travel provider?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Actually, I was on one of those combined itineraries right before the New Year.  One set of paperwork clearly spelled out the codeshare; the other did NOT.  Luckily I had printed out both sets of paper.  (One was the e-receipt and the other was the actual itinerary.  Can’t remember which had what info.)

    Glad I did so, since flight info from United wasn’t forthcoming when I was on USAirways legs, and vice versa.  Kept having to tell my husband looking up things with his phone to look for the “other” carrier with the “other” flight number.  (Lots of delays and gate changes going on during the trip – you know, the “fun” of flying?  Airport info via wifi generally was ahead of info posted at the gates.)

    Still think the OP could have flown out the next day and redeemed part of his working vacation, once the confusion was settled.  I think he’s just angry about the hour hold time.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    My guess – and it’s only a guess – is that Mr. Szabo is a student.  The excuses I get from my students about why they didn’t read/print materials for class get to be pretty wild.  They range from no Internet access in their apartment to they ran out of ink for their printer and cartridges cost $XX and they didn’t have $XX.  Those are the most believable.  Incredible what they do to avoid spending money they think is owed them – “I paid for the class and the lab fees – why do I have to print out materials?”  In this case, mayble “I paid for the ticket – why do I have to pay to print out the boarding pass?” 

    Like I said, all speculation, but it’s a logical explanation and fits the facts as presented.

  • TouchyFeely

    Hotwiiiiire dot com!

    Love that tag line.  Would never ever use them.

    Also he could have flown the following day?!?!?  Come on, shizz happens and you adjust.  That’s called life.

  • TouchyFeely

    On what planet is someone going to go through all that?  Not this one. 

  • Faboo Frank

    There is a moral to this story…

  • TonyA_says

    Have you tried online check in (OLCI) on a USAir codeshare? A complaint I always see from people who buy USAir codeshares of United (operated flights) is they cannot do Online Check In and get an assigned seat on USAir’s website.
    Another complaint is that USAir won’t give you the UA Record Locator (RLOC) so you cannot just go to UA’s website to check in there.

    I usually stay as far as possible from booking codeshare flights. I simply book the underlying (operating) carrier’s flights directly.

    The only valid reason to consider a codeshare is if it will result to a cheaper fare. This happens when the marketing partner has a lower fare structure or has a seat allocation (block) that is available when the operating airline’s is not.  Sometimes this also happens when the marketing carrier’s fare ROUTING rules forgets to include the operating carrier as an approved routing option.

  • TonyA_says

    The US DOT can mandate 2 simple solutions to the codeshare problem:

    (1) Mandate that the ticketed (bought) ITINERARY primarily display the OPERATING [carrier’s] FLIGHT. The marketing carrier’s flight number should only appear as a footnote.

    (2) Mandate that MARKETING carrier immediately disclose the OPERATING carrier’s RECORD LOCATOR (aka booking reference number) and label it correctly as soon as the e-ticket is issued; and mandate that the operating carrier provide the same (equal)  access to codeshared reservations to their online service systems via this record locator.

    This will still allow carriers to market codeshare “hocus-pocus” flights but they MUST belly up to the bar once a ticket has been purchased. If ACTUAL OPERATING carrier flight numbers appear as the DOMINANT flights in the itinerary, passengers can easily know where to check in. There will no longer be any confusion.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Erik, you really messed up on this one. I know of know airline in the country that uses a reservation number for check-in. Just show your ID show at the flight and go. The people to blame here is the travel agent that set up the trip….oh that was you! Use a real live agent at an ASTA agency that would have explained what you did not read….oops.

  • bc

    This smacks of customer fail all around not to mention leaving out pertinent (and incriminating) information from his request for assistance. Apparently they offered to put him on a flight the next day which he declined.

    Had he checked in online in advance he would see a UAL boarding pass and avoided all this. Had he checked his itinerary and seen “Operated by..” he could have avoided this. Did he even have a copy of his itinerary?? EVERY TIME I’ve gone to the airport, all I need to do is tell the agent which flight I’m on and they can find me in the passenger manifest. Most of the time they don’t even need my confirmation number. How could they not find him? 
    What is up with the stories lately of customers who bring these problems on themselves (through not doing their research like this case or dumb mistakes like packing your passport in your suitcase) and then expecting the carrier to pay the cost. 

  • Stephen0118

    I have to agree with ARW. I fly out of LAX a lot (that’s one of my home airports (besides BUR)). I use the long term parking lot C, so I have to go to the same spot to catch the bus. I see more airline connections buses than the parking lot buses.

  • bc

    Really, do you also think that Carnival should post signs that say “Do not pack your passport in your luggage?” I mean how much clearer do you need to be “Operated by UAL” means  THIS FLIGHT IS OPERATED BY UAL how could that be any clearer? Do we need to draw a diagram too? 

    I’ve never made a reservation on any opaque site, through a travel agency, or a carriers site that doesn’t give me a detailed itinerary of my trip. NEVER. To say that Erik wasn’t provided one is false. His confirmation e-mail as well as the confirmation screen from his booking would have had this information. 

    I don’t excuse all of the airlines behaviors in the last 10 years, some of it is despicable but I love how people heap blame on them for every little thing because they’re disliked for other actions. All of Erik’s troubles could have been avoided by clearly reviewing his itinerary. 

  • bodega3

    If you can’t checkin on line then a passenger should call and reconfirm.  We note all PNR numbers and provide the toll free number for each carrier on the invoice/itinerary that we give to a client.

  • bc

    Interesting, you point the finger at the airlines and hotwire, but you neglect the mention the OP. 

  • bodega3

    I’ll raise that to book through a professional with a GDS who wil provide you with the important details.  Booking with an airline does not guarantee all flight options or information.

  • $16635417

    I can understand an e-ticket receipt not having the operating flight number, I would imagine your itinerary was the one that was the more detailed document.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t know why they couldn’t look up his name…

    Exactly. Why he didn’t make it to the UAL flight’s Passenger Name List (PNL) befuddles me. Did USAir download their data to UA on time? Maybe that’s the reason they were looking for the Record Locators (RLOC) of UA.

    As to why he didn’t bother to go to NOLA the next day – maybe he is a musician who missed his (or friend’s) performance which was on the first day, and got so bummed out and decided to forget about it. Maybe Chris knows the answer.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    Jeanne – you hit the nail on the head…  I’ve raised four kids, all of them now adults with one teenager left who is leaving this summer for the Air Force.

    These kids have run the gauntlet of excuses, most of them invalid, as to why they didn’t do ________.  It’s so frustrating.

    Kids today aren’t taught how to be responsible (The OP – but it wasn’t MY fault I didn’t do something silly like make sure I knew what was going on) or do common things any longer (What? Make sure I’m with the right airline?  Have the reservation info right in front of me?  Check it all BEFORE I get to the airport?).  

    With all my kids, I spent time with them on how to make travel reservations, including check-in 24 hours before take off.  I also taught them to NEVER buy from the opaque sites, that this is a recipe for disaster.  When I took my youngest with me to the UK last year while on assignment, he sat next to me when I was choosing flights, he sat next to me when I was planning when to get to the airport, he packed his own bag with guidance from his father and I, he chose his seats on check-in, he was very involved in the whole passport process and he sat next to me checking in for his flights while I checked into mine.  

    This past summer, we were picking up a friend of his coming to visit us (he flew into Phoenix which isn’t our home airport, thus, unfamiliar to us).  The kid was lost in the airport with me driving around and around for over an hour.  My son, frustrated, finally convinced me to let him go in the airport to find his friend.  My concern over his also getting lost (as kids are wont to do in spite of our best intentions) were dashed when, five minutes later, here came my son and his friend.  It might sound silly but that was an extremely proud moment for me as both a mom and a travel writer – that my 17 year old son was able to navigate an unfamiliar airport and do it well.

    He now also knows about being brand loyal to get those free tickets since I took him to SFO for a weekend using some “free” miles tickets my husband and I earned that were on the verge of expiration.

    The OP learned a valuable lesson in this: Check your reservations the day or a couple of days before departure to make sure you know where you’re going and when.  All of this might have been avoided had he done that. (Especially with a big trip like this one, I’m guilty of checking and re-checking for several days before hand.  I’m a nervous flyer and hate being late to stuff like this.)  Particularly with a large airport like LAX, if something can go wrong, it will – get there earlier than you need to so things go more smoothly or at least less stressfully.

    Sorry for the long post – this is a hot button issue with me.  Parents need to make sure their kids are ready for the world in many ways.  You’re not always going to be able to be there to fix everything for them.

  • Chasmosaur

    Like many others, what bothers me here is the discrepancy between Hotwire and Mr. Szabo’s account, namely the offer to fly him down the next day.

    Not that the whole thing wasn’t botched, but if the airline did offer to send him down the next day and he refused, then that’s a really crucial detail he left out.  Missing out on one day can happen to anyone, even with non-code shares based on weather or equipment problems.

  • Chasmosaur

    To be fair, anti-virus/phish/spam programs at the ISP level are getting pretty aggressive.  

    Not that everyone who claimed they didn’t get an e-mail actually didn’t get an e-mail, but I’m an Internet professional, and I’ve had problems with that with some software my host uses to keep their servers protected from all the malicious stuff out there.  I upgraded to a service that pre-screens the mail and now I get notifications – if something looks legit I can “release and report” it.  About once a month, I have to release a mail from a trusted source.

  • TonyA_says

    Had he checked in online in advance he would see a UAL boarding pass and avoided all this.

    He was holding a USAir ticket with no UA Record Locator printed in his itinerary. How does he check in online with UA to print a boarding pass for the UA operated flight?

  • LFH0

    It is hard to say what the specific website said in this particular circumstance, whether that site was US Airways or a travel agency. However, look beyond that and focus on the underlying purpose of code shares. They were designed to mislead people into believing that the flight is operated as part of the codesharing airline’s service. Otherwise, the operating airline would have its code used. Here, the purpose of the codeshare was fulfilled, and the passenger believed that the flight was being operated as part of US Airway’s system. If, instead, the ticket stated that the flight was UA, rather than US, then there’s a good chance this incident would have never happened.

    The passenger may not have been well-informed, and may have ignored the fine print. How many people carefully read the entire contract of carriage before booking a ticket? The act of advertising a UA flight as a US flight was purposeful on the part of US to mislead people.

  • bodega3

    I find it interesting that he was traveling to New Orleans for volunteer work  Seems like he was using his ‘volunteerism’ to write off the trip and the jazz fest was really what he was going for.

  • LFH0

    I think it has been about the dollar all along, and prior to deregulation the carriers used regulation to protect their dollars. I think carriers are competing, although not as fully as they might be competing had DOJ not approved so many mergers that have left so few carriers today.

    But I don’t see this issue so much as competing on service as I do see it as doing business unfairly. The concept of actually delivering a valuable document upon payment, and of clearly identifying the parties to a contract, seem to be elements of fair dealings.

  • TonyA_says

    I know of know airline in the country that uses a reservation number for check-in. Just show your ID show at the flight and go. 

    It’s possible that Erik was a NOREC at the UA flight. The agent can always key him in (i.e. add him to the flight) but they still need an e-ticket number as proof of payment otherwise UA won’t be able to charge US (there would be nothing to prorate).

  • travelfly

    No idea why the us air ticket agent  would not have  called the united desk to let them know a passenger was on this way..They do this all the time, at LAX the fasted way between terminals is a taxi, they will say not way…just start counting out $$  they will take you..for girls tears help…(:)

  • TonyA_says

    They were designed to mislead people into believing that the flight is operated as part of the codesharing airline’s service.

    They serve no meaningful purpose for the general flying public. To “de-program” the public’s mind that the 2 letters before the flight number signifies the airline which flies the airplane is insane since people now have to read footnotes to find out what airline they are really flying.

  • Lindabator

    No, they were designed to offer point-to-point service from your original carrier, making thru tickets more affordable, rather than having to issue several tickets, point to point, at a much higher cost.

  • Lindabator

    You checkin ONLINE with the initial carrier (US) – the boarding pass for the UA operated flight prints out with the pertinent information.  Have done this many times.

  • TonyA_says

    My understanding is they were designed to enable carriers to expand their geographic footing from a marketing perspective without actually flying their own aircraft.

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

    It may be on the website, but it surely isn’t well advertised.  But I should have been clearer.  The OP is on the departures level, this shuttle runs on the arrivals level.  There is no particularly good reason for the OP to go the the lower level

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe your first segment is flown by USAir then the next segment is on UA. In that case it is simply IATCI.

    Most of the problems I hear is when the first segment is a UA operated flight sold by USAir as a codeshare. In which case the first check in must be performed using UA’s system.Can you confirm please.

  • TonyA_says

    Also Linda, airlines were simply interlining since ‘forever’. Why codeshare?

  • MikeInCtown

    The timeline means nothing as the gate agent wasn’t able to confirm his reservation. Someone at either Hotwire or the airline screwed up. Why else would ANYONE spend an hour on the phone trying to sort things out. At the point in which they screwed up, he should have been entitled to a refund of the flight.

  • Michael__K

    Based strictly on the OP’s account I would agree with you.  Hotwire’s explanation to Chris suggests that the flight was already closed before the OP reached the gate.

    I rather not speculate or assume anything: if the calls are logged with timestamps then the definitive answer can probably be found by looking there.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Finally got home to go look at what United says on their website vis a vis my past reservation.  Both the e-receipt and the itinerary only show one leg as UAL, when in fact 3 of the 6 were UAL.  The stuff I printed out when I bought the tickets clearly says UAL. But that information is never repeated anywhere after the point of sale. Hmmm. So, I’m to give Mr. Szabo the benefit of the doubt on that particular point.

  • Jeremy

    I’ve been to LAX 3 or 4 times over the years – not a frequent flyer by any means.  The last time I was there I distinctly remember taking one of the between terminal shuttles – from the lower level as you indicate.  It wasn’t that hard to find – there are plenty of signs telling you where to go, and the shuttles came frequently and only took a few minutes.  There were also plenty of information desks and staff offering to help (some were collecting for a charity, whcih is another discussion, but they were nice). 

    LAX isn’t really THAT big compared to some world airports – given that all its terminals face inward towards the same loop roadway.  Thus I find it very difficult to beleive it would take more than 30 minutes to get between any of them -15 minutes is more likely.

    As far as “there is no particularly good reason… to go to the lower level” – well clearly there is – to catch the shuttle!  Duh.

  • Jeremy

    LAX is not THAT big, if you think so you clearly haven’t been to places like London-Heathrow or even Atlanta.  All of the terminals are connected and face the same roadway, with frequent shuttle service.  I can’t see it taking more than 15 minutes to get between terminals, if you know where to go, or *maybe* 30 minutes if you’re a bit dim and can’t read signs/maps, and therefore need to spend lots of time asking for information.

  • TonyA_says

    I think there are 3 issues in Mr. Szabo’s case:

    (1) Did his itinerary-receipt provide clear information that he was flying on a UA airplane and to check in with UA at LAX?

    I agree with you about giving him the benefit of the doubt. Also, not everyone is an expert flyer who can decode flight numbers and even the DOT believes code shares are confusing. Maybe Hotwire could have done a better job telling him to check in directly with United.

    (2) Did UA have his reservation so he could check in?

    The answer is NO. UA had no record of his reservation in its departure control system. This is the reason why the UA agent grilled him for his “reservation number”. IMO this is USAir’s fault since they sold the flight.

    (3) Was is reasonable for Mr. Szabo to turn down the offer to have the rest of his vacation?
    Probably not.

  • flutiefan

    i worked at LAX for 6 years. there is the “A” bus that goes between every single terminal, approximately every 7 minutes. it’s labeled “Airport Connections”.

    for those who are unfamiliar, LAX is in a U-shape, or a horseshoe. USAir (Term 1) is at the bottom of one side of the horseshoe, while United (Term 6/7) is at the bottom of the other. you can either wait for the A bus that picks up directly outside of USAir’s baggage claim, and drive around the horseshoe to United, or you can cut straight across.  in neither of those cases would it take 45 minutes.

    furthermore, the simple asking of a USAir rep (or *any* airport person in Terminal 1) would tell you how to get to United in less than 15 minutes.

  • flutiefan

    as someone who works for an airline, there have certainly been times when i’ve needed more than just an ID. about 99% of those times, it’s because the person has spelled their name wrong (or used married/maiden name), or booked on the wrong date, or even from the wrong airport. when that happens, the record locator is invaluable.

  • flutiefan

    it sounds like it would be a pleasure for me to check in both you and your son! on behalf of ticket counter agents everywhere, i thank you!

  • Nancy Dickinson

    You’re a doll, flutiefan!  I don’t believe in starting out a trip behind the 8 ball.  We even make sure our carryon will fit and our suitcases meet weight requirements BEFORE getting to the ticket counter with the suitcases being weighed at home.

    If more parents spent time with their kids teaching them how to do things like this, Chris would nearly be out of a job.

    One last thing I did for my son, or had him do for me, was to navigate all our layovers to get from gate to gate and through customs. He’ll be doing it on his own soon enough. The trip to the UK was a training mission! LOL

    Oh, and flutiefan, when I get to the ticket counter, I already have my boarding pass and ID ready!

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

    You misunderstand my post.   If the OP is on the departures level and learns that he’s at the wrong terminal.  Unless he knows about the shuttles on the lower level, why would he go downstairs instead of out the door he came in?

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

    True, but it is most likely from the story that the OP walked the entire perimeter of the horse shoe, rather than cutting across the parking lot as any Angeleno would know about.  Laden with luggage that can easily take 30-45 minutes or more.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Probably was on hold for most of that time.  I had to call about a car rental on my last trip and was on hold 28 minutes waiting for a rep to pick up the phone.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Agree with your points.  I found (last trip) that United does not play nice with USAirways. 

    Re reservation number:  I had one for United and another for USAirways.  Same trip.  Maybe Mr. Szabo gave UA the *other* number. 

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’d like to see a “Trusted TA site” like the trusted car mechanic site run by Car Talk.  I found an excellent mechanic that way and would like to find an equally excellent TA.  How about it, @Christopher Elliott?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Wish I could “Like” your suggestion more than once.

  • TonyA_says

    Be glad you had both US’s and UA’s Reservation #s (aka Record Locators or RLOC).

    It is a known issue that USAir reservations of codeshared UA flights
    have problems making it to UA’s departure control. So when you try to
    check in with UA, they don’t have your reservation. Here’s one documented case

  • Texan78730


  • bodega3

    I have never had a client have a problem.  We are on Sabre and all
    confirmation numbers print out on the end of each flight segment.  I go over everything with the clients, provide toll free numbers to each carrier.  Maybe I should knock on wood, but maybe providing information and assisting our clients is the key.  You don’t get that online!!!!!! 

  • LFH0

    Much as several international airlines (I think Pan Am being the first) started assigning multiple flight numbers to a single transatlantic flight, each then corresponding to a domestic flight segment between the U.S. gateway and scores of small U.S. cities. Another trick by the airlines to purposefully deceive passengers into thinking there was a direct service between Podunk, U.S.A. and London England (with the disclaimer, if offered at all, that there would be a “change of gauge” at the gateway city, as if many people would understand that obscure expression).

    There is a shameful history of airlines trying to deceive potential customers, in each case creating the impression that more was available than was actually being offered.

    (Actually, the multiple flight number it is not limited to airlines. Railroads had done the same for many years when trains were combined. To this day, Susquehanna Trailways, Hampton Jitney, and others sometimes require an enroute transfer for “through” bus service.)

  • bc

    AMEN Nancy, my friends tease me about being over-prepared when I get to the airport but my research before hand has been the reason we made tight connections, resolved ticketing problems before we get to the airport and pretty much prevented many of the headaches I see presented here on a daily basis. That 15 extra minutes at home mean a ton less stress on travel day. 

  • Lindabator

    To ensure a certain number of seats for the other carrier — that is why sometimes the same flights are cheaper on one carrier than the other.  Itnterlining just assured you could check baggage and cargo thru.


    In these hard times companies are going to learn the hard way that for every story like the one above, are going to damage their business a hundred fold.  

  • Oussama

    I guess if he read the itinerary it would have said operated by UA and listed the terminal number. If the check in was already closed, why the phone call to Hotwire. Checking in does not require a reservation number, just the last name and the flight number besides I have never met a check in agent who is shy to advise you that the flight is closed.