In a world of airline code-sharing and outsourced call centers, who takes ultimate responsibility when something goes wrong with your flight?
For Robert and Roberta Blazek, that’s no academic question. And it has taken more than a year to find the answer. The Blazeks, from Viera, Fla., were visiting Poland in August 2011 when an electronic error voided their airline reservations, forcing them to spend $5,873 for a new pair of tickets to fly home.
Their repeated attempts to secure a refund from Travelocity, Lufthansa and United Airlines lift a veil on the often confusing agreements found in modern-day air travel and on the often strained relationship between online agencies and air carriers.
They also show how customers can be left with nowhere to turn when they run into trouble while they travel.
In July 2011, Robert Blazek, a retired engineer, paid $2,984 for two round-trip tickets on Continental Airlines from Orlando to Krakow, Poland, through Travelocity.com. Although the tickets were purchased from Continental, the flights were operated by Lufthansa, a practice referred to as code-sharing.
“The first leg of the journey went as planned,” he says. “But when we checked in for our flight at Lufthansa in Krakow, we were told we did not have valid tickets. The supervisor told us we needed to call and resolve the matter and would not allow us to board the plane.”
Blazek tried to phone Travelocity but says he had trouble making an overseas call from his cellphone. “Since we did not want to remain in Krakow and the plane would be leaving shortly, we did the only thing that was left in order to return to the United States and not remain in Krakow overnight,” he recalls. “We purchased new tickets.”
You’d think a quick call to Travelocity would yield a speedy refund. But that didn’t happen.
No one knows exactly what became of Blazek’s money, but nine months later when he contacted me for help, he had gotten absolutely nowhere. Maybe the glitch happened on Continental’s side. At the time, the airline was in the throes of a messy merger with United Airlines. Lufthansa and Travelocity may have also been to blame for the crossed wires.
One thing was clear: No one would own up to the problem and refund Blazek’s $5,873.
Even as recently as last week, the companies were blaming each other. A Lufthansa representative said the couple didn’t have a valid return ticket and pointed out that the actual ticket belonged to Continental, not Lufthansa, and that it was sold through Travelocity. “Please understand,” she added, “our passengers are of the utmost priority to Lufthansa, and we always
try to make matters right.”
To that end, she said, Lufthansa had apologized and credited the Blazeks with 4,000 frequent-flier miles.
Travelocity said it contacted Continental and then United but had no luck securing a refund. “The airline advised us that Lufthansa canceled the return flights on January 29, 2011,” a Travelocity representative said in an e-mail to Blazek. “Continental Airlines will not provide additional compensation. We understand that this is a very frustrating matter and we have done all we can to try and get the carriers to offer you some kind of reimbursement.”