I missed one leg of my flight. Can the airline cancel the rest of my ticket?

flight, ticket, airline, travel, cancel, cancelled, boarding, pass, trip
By | February 28th, 2017

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.”

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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.

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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.

  • Alan Gore

    There should be a standard way of noting in a PNR that one leg of an itinerary was skipped for valid cause, and that the rest of the flight should be preserved.

  • Daddydo

    This time you can blame it “On the computer”! When the gate agent is closing out a boarded flight, they must notate who has not arrived for the flight. Then the computer assumes that you are a no-show. I have never had an airline not re-store the reservation when this happens. Your plane is circling JFK for 1 -2 hours, you are going to miss your 10 leg itinerary, and you have no phone. Thanks IBM. You will probably lose your seat assignments, upgrades, and perks, but again, most customer service agents should attempt to re-instate the rest of the reservation. On intensive itineraries, allow 3-4 hour layovers. That’s why books were invented.

  • cscasi

    This has happened to quite a few passengers over the past few years; apparently because they did not know that changing one leg of their journeys wold cause the rest of the legs of the journeys to be automatically cancelled. Passengers should contact their airline(s) and ask about canceling a leg that they want to change or cannot make and what the consequences would be and/or if the airline could help them get a new routing. The airline would comply if the passenger was willing to pay a change fee plus any additional fare increase; thereby costing the passenger more. However, it would save the passenger from losing most of the previously paid itinerary. Also,, if a passenger has booked through a travel agency and needs to make a change to the itinerary, the travel agency should be contacted and after explaining what changes need to be made, the first question to the travel agent should be, what will be the consequences of the change(s) I need to make. A good travel agent will explain all this to the customer, look at the requested change(s) the customer needs and inform him/her of the resulting cost as a part or the whole booked itinerary needs to be cancelled and a new one created.
    It definitely pays to be an informed consume.

  • MarkKelling

    Maybe I have been lucky, but the airlines I fly are good about rebooking me when I miss a segment and not losing my connections or cancelling the remainder of the itinerary (no matter who’s fault it is I missed). United had me rebooked and already checked in when one flight to Europe I was on was cancelled while I was still in the air on the way to EWR and all I was required to do was get a new boarding pass for the new flight. Southwest has also rebooked me on connections that I missed due to late planes (I do my best to never fly on Southwest when a connection is required (a whole ‘nother story) but sometimes it just isn’t possible).

    One of the keys is I let THEM do the work in rebooking, I don’t buy another flight on my own and then hope everything works out.

    The entire situation would not be an issue for anyone if a flight from A to B via C was not less expensive that the flight from A to C. I (vaguely) understand the reasoning for the pricing, but all it does is encourage people to do the throw away ticketing and then even if you are not doing that the airline thinks you are.

  • John McDonald

    yes but to save money is not a valid cause, but many would then come up with something else.

  • cate

    I’m having a senior moment! I remember reading why you will be penalized for skipping your last flight segment i.e., throwaway tickets, but can’t remember why. Will someone explain it to me again?

  • Alan Gore

    I’m talking about situations in which you discover at the gate that one leg is canceled, so you opt to drive a segment rather than wait three days.

  • PsyGuy

    ::soap box::

    What we really need is an international air transit treaty that allows member nation citizens to travel through whatever international terminal is needed to conduct end to end travel without the need for visas.

  • PsyGuy

    There is a standard way its called a memo in the PNR, but airlines like to cancel knowing you’re stuck and will pay to continue traveling.

  • PsyGuy

    Say you are flying from JFK to DFW (on American and DFW is a major hub), but there is a flight from JFK to LAX that has a connection in DFW that is cheaper than the JFK to DFW flight. So you book the JFK to LAX flight and in DFW just leave the airport.

  • AAGK

    I agree. Everyone discusses this as if the airline must overcome communication or technology barriers. It’s an operational feature of a ticket and one of airlines’ most predatory practices.

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