An American Airlines agent switched my ticket to a different airport and forgot to tell me


When Kriengsak Athikomvittaya traveled from Japan to Bangkok, Thailand, he was not expecting his trip to cost an additional $280 for a cab ride between airports in Tokyo. The American Airlines agent who changed his ticket didn’t mention that his new flight was at a different airport than the one he’d originally booked.

Athikomvittaya’s story is a warning to air passengers to check their reservations multiple times before heading to the airport. Otherwise, they may find themselves paying more out-of-pocket than they expected – because they’re in the wrong places at the wrong times. And, like Athikomvittaya, they’ll have little, if any, recourse, should that happen.

Athikomvittaya had booked a ticket from Haneda Airport in Tokyo through American Airlines on its code-share partner Japan Airlines. He later determined that he needed to change his flight to one that departed a day earlier. He called American Airlines to rebook the flight. The agent to whom Athikomvittaya spoke rebooked him on a flight departing from Narita Airport, instead of Haneda Airport. But she didn’t tell him of the change. Athikomvittaya requested an email confirmation of his new booking but didn’t receive one.

When he arrived at Haneda Airport, he discovered that his new flight was scheduled to fly out of Narita Airport. Japan Airlines arranged transportation for Athikomvittaya to the bus terminal, where he learned that he did not have enough time to take a bus to Narita before his new flight was scheduled to take off. Japan Airlines then helped Athikomvittaya find a taxi to Narita, which cost him 29,810 yen ($280).

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“If the AA representative [had] told me about the airport change or sent me an email confirmation, I would not have had to go to Haneda and take the taxi from Haneda to Narita which cost me a lot of money and emotional stress,” says Athikomvittaya.

When Athikomvittaya arrived at Narita Airport, he called American Airlines to notify the airline of its agent’s error and to ask for compensation of his cab fare. He was asked to email American’s customer relations department, which he did.

But the customer relations department denied Athikomvittaya’s claim. The agent responding to Athikomvittaya misunderstood the nature of his request for compensation:

Thank you for contacting us. We are sorry there was a misunderstanding about the type of ticket you were holding and the associated fare rules when you spoke with our reservations personnel about changing your ticket.


Although our reservations specialists are directed to ask pertinent questions, when you have a paper ticket, it’s not always possible to determine if an additional fare collection will be necessary without looking at the actual ticket. Therefore, we depend on the expertise of our airport agents to make the final decision.

It doesn’t make it any less frustrating to endure added expenses, after making a change to your itinerary, only to find out that your new flight is departing from a different airport. Rest assured, the details you have provided will be instrumental in helping us improve our service. We use a sophisticated database that allows your specific comments to inform individual discussions with our people as well as identify overall areas that need more attention.

When your itinerary was changed, it no longer met the restrictions which were necessary for the original fare. On that basis, the additional fare collected was correct. I must respectfully deny your request for any type of compensation.

Athikomvittaya posted in our forum about his case. Our forum members advised Athikomvittaya to use our contact information for American Airlines to write concise, polite letters to higher-ranking executives of the airline about his case, starting with the lowest-ranking executive and allowing each a reasonable amount of time to respond before escalating his complaint to the next-higher-ranking executive on our list.

But when the only response his letters received from American Airlines was a letter that reiterated the airline’s denial of his claim, he turned to our advocates for help.

Although American Airlines’ International General Rules do not address situations like Athikomvittaya’s, where the airlines’ failure to communicate a change in the airport of departure for a voluntary change in flights results in a passenger’s incurring incidental expenses, our advocates reached out to American Airlines on Athikomvittaya’s behalf.

American’s executives did not respond to Athikomvittaya’s letters, so he filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The BBB responded that it could not help Athikomvittaya recover his cab fare.

Unfortunately, after Athikomvittaya complained to the DOT, our advocates were no longer able to assist him. We can only warn our readers to check their flight reservations closely and repeatedly before leaving for the right airport. Otherwise, their cases, like themselves, may not leave the ground.

Should airlines be legally responsible for passengers’ incidental expenses resulting from communication failures that are the airlines’ fault?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • Lindabator

    If he did not receive an emailed receipt – should have gone online, and would have clearly seen the reservation information, with the other airport

  • finance_tony

    I can’t imagine now viewing my flight information in writing SOMEwhere – if he REALLY didn’t get the email confirmation of the change (which I think is sent automatically), then it’s on the AA site. Surely you verify your flight details at least once before going to the airport? Use the free text alerts? Something?

    The article’s wording could imply that he requested a *specific* flight a day earlier, though that seems to not be the case:

    He later determined that he needed to change his flight to one that departed a day earlier.

    He left it up to the agent to get him home from Tokyo, and the agent did just that. Of course, if he was flying out of New York and was rescheduled from Philadelphia, that would be different. But leaving from one of two coterminal airports in Tokyo – not so much. I wonder if the conversation included a mention even in passing, even if it wasn’t “Now, you know you’re flying out of a DIFFERENT airport, right?”

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    When I have made changes to reservations, the agent always read the new itinerary such as “Leaving Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on XX/XX/XXXX on Flight XYZ at X:XX PM and arriving into Bob Hope Hollywood Burbank Airport at X:XX PM.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agreed…when I make a change to a flighthoteletc. reservation, an order, an appointment, etc, I always go online to check that the change that I requested is correct. The realities are 1) a lot of call centers are outsourced to countries where there are different standards, vernacular, etc…the CSR could misinterpret your request; 2) since call centers are outsourced to third-parties, the CSR could have told you one thing but the CSR is not allowed to make that change; 3) most call centers are understaffed in order to keep costs down; therefore, CSRs are under pressure to spend the least amount of time on the phone…CSR could forget to enter the change; 4) etc.

  • Alan Gore

    This pax was probably the victim of triple language confusion. A Thai passer traveling through Japan and then having to deal with a US service rep who conveniently ‘misunderstood’ his problem. Many of us have run into this problem when a problem arises overseas.

    And in the land of fast trains, is a cab really the only option between Narita and Haneda?

  • Annie M

    I still fault AA for this – he did not receive anything in writing, went to the airport assuming all was well and then found out this happened. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t think to go online to check my reservation – I would assume the res. agent would have told me this pertinent information. I also wouldn’t have thought to go online and check it.

    I’m sorry you didn’t try to help him – I probably would have been in the same situation if this happened to me. The agent made the mistake – AA should eat it.

    And again proof the BBB is a useless organization:
    The BBB responded that it could not help Athikomvittaya recover his cab fare.

  • Yes it is. I have traveled to/through NRT multiple times back in the 90s. It is a nightmare to get to from downtown Tokyo. I would always budget at least 2 hours to get from the ANA Hotel to NRT. It’s about 50-60 miles HND to NRT. Additionally, back in the 90s, they used to do a security check due to terrorist activity at NRT. That land, if memory serves, was subject to eminent domain action. The farmers’ land that was condemned (legal condemnation, not of the disrepair variety), resulted in many of them radicalizing and terrorizing/attacking the airport.

    Things may have changed, but I suspect if the active security is in place it might take the form of equally slow, but less conspicuous forms than the “show us your ID, individual guard checks” as one entered the airport zone.

  • FQTVLR

    Both parties are at fault here though AA bears more responsibility than the OP. AA should have made very clear the flight was from a different airport. BUT the OP also could and should have followed up when he did not receive an email confirming the change.

  • Lindabator

    and even if so, some do not listen

  • Lindabator

    we don’t know what he actually heard – if they said leaving from Tokyo Haneda, he may have paid no attention

  • Chris_In_NC

    Many airlines consider multiple airports in the same city as the “same.” For example JFK-LGA-EWR.

    While I think the AA agent should have done a better job of communication, the OP bears some responsibility by NOT VERIFYING the changes. No e-mail? Call back and insist that another e-mail be sent. Or go online and verify your itinerary. At least it wasn’t a situation where a passenger who was intending to fly to Portland (PDX) was accidentally booked to Portland (PWM)

  • SirWIred

    From the note AA sent, it appears there was also a dispute about the changeability of the ticket; I’m going to go out on a limb here and note that one (or both) parties got so wrapped up in a dispute over fare rules that either AA forgot to mention, or the OP didn’t notice, the airport change.

    I agree that if I didn’t receive the e-mail (e-mail gets lost all the time), I’d absolutely go online to verify things. In any case, I always verify that the flight’s on-time as soon as I get up that morning…

  • Noah Kimmel

    There is a train from Tokyo station, but it is also expensive, and we don’t know given the timing (since it is far) if he could have gotten from HND to city center to train to make that work. Much more challenging routing…

  • KanExplore

    There’s a direct bus that runs every 30 minutes between the two airports and takes about 80 minutes. It costs under $30. I did this in August. Of course, you have to get to the bus departure point, and maybe wait up to 30 minutes for the next departure, so the time could add up to around two hours. A cab can normally make the trip in under an hour, so it seems that the difference in times must have been critical in this case.

  • C Schwartz

    Yes the response from AA indicates that there was another issue — it sounds like there was a fare change and note that AA mentioned that the traveler had a paper ticket. So it sounds like a confusing situation.

  • C Schwartz

    The email response mentions a paper ticket. What makes an airline issue a paper ticket vs an e-ticket now days?

  • technomage1

    There is a bus service between the two airports. It runs about $30 and departs about every half hour or so. Too late for the consumer here but maybe this will help someone in the future

  • Attention All Passengers

    Good grief, I constantly check my reservations online up to and including the day of departure. No wonder people have such problems, they naively think everyone they talk to is capable of doing the job correctly and is telling them the truth. The agent he spoke to probably didn’t even know there were two airports for Tokyo. Go online, READ and PRINT everything – this is world we live in !!

  • Attention All Passengers

    ..and you actually think that “agents” in some third world country are going to do that ?

  • Todd Brown

    In my opinion, I find it hard to believe that the change in airports was not discussed. There are two JAL flights each from HND and NRT. I’d be willing to bet that ticket agents know this well and face this issue regularly. If a traveler is not familiar with Tokyo, I can easily see confusion. It’s not up to the the airline to mitigate every nuance of travel. The ticketing agent did his/her job. End of story.

  • Todd Brown

    It’s not a question of the agent’s ability (or lack thereof). Rather it’s a matter of responsibility and job description. Is the agent responsible for making sure the traveler understands from which airport he is departing? I’d be willing to bet that the traveller didn’t realize there were two airports in Tokyo. That is not the agent’s fault.

  • Attention All Passengers

    The “agent” certainly was at fault and should have more knowledge than an inexperienced traveler about same city airports or any airports that the airline THEY WORK FOR flies to. This is basic, fundamental stuff – in your words “responsibility and job description” of the agent (not the passenger) — that they must know about the airline that employs and pays them and be able to advise the passenger of. I’ve stood next to other airline employees who barely knew the basics even after 5-6 weeks of training and handed out the most outrageous, inept, wrong information without even trying to use common sense or tools to get it right.

  • Attention All Passengers

    “Nuance” of travel? I hardly think withholding specific information is just a “nuance”. Any agent worth their salt will say “Sir, please note that you are now flying out of a DIFFERENT airport in Tokyo. You are flying out of Narita, not Haneda….adding the pertinent flights, times, etc. Towards the end of that call I would reiterate yet again. THIS. is part of the job description and training of airline reservationists – to be accurate and recap more than once.

  • Todd Brown

    I respectfully disagree. Does the agent quiz the passenger on geography and public transport systems to properly assess what information needs to be provided to assure a pleasant journey? The job of the agent is to ticket the passenger according to his/her needs. The agent fulfilled that obligation. (1) We have no idea what the agent said to the passenger, (2) the airline agent is not a travel agent (3) when purchasing a ticket over the phone, (and I’ve flown over 3 million miles in my career), I have ALWAYS been told the airport from/to I’m flying. It simply defies logic that an agent does not inform a passenger of the airports involved in a flight.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Thank you, I accept your respectful disagreement. Having worked 12 of 35 years with — Airline as a reservationist, I can truthfully say I was extremely well trained (late 1970’s). To leave any passenger ‘in the dark’ was considered very poor customer service and grounds for discipline and re-training.
    Unlike today, we were not “simple” information givers but provided true customer service in every respect from advising many choices/ options/ prices/ routings etc. along with strict rules to recap every detail of the booking, making sure the recipient understood at the same time being conversational and well-spoken. Unfortunately, not the traits of many hired today (including third party vendors in overseas call centers). There is no thinking out of the box or putting themselves in the passenger’s shoes or going the extra mile, common sense included, whatever you want to call it – it simply does not exist.

  • Todd Brown

    I’m pretty sure things have changed since the 70s.

  • Todd Brown

    You act as if you were on the phone during this call. If you are convinced that the agent failed, OK. I’m not.

  • C Schwartz

    Unfortunately those days are long gone….. passengers used to get free checked bags, meals, free reserved seats, etc. Many passengers chose only by price — why else would Spirit and Allegiant exist?

  • C Schwartz

    There are so many ways that there could be a communication failure — sometime VOIP lines are not clear, cell phones and Skype can have connection problems.

    I cannot decide where the blame lies.

    I am perplexed that the passenger never checked the status of the flight.

    I have to say that when making a change or a reservation via telephone I have never had the agent not repeat the departure and arrival airports, especially with cities that have multiple airports — New York, Chicago, Milan, etc.

  • Attention All Passengers

    I agree entirely. Nevertheless, no fault of the passengers, the airlines have found a steady income by charging for all the things that I think should still be free and then dumbing it down (or blaming it on the passenger), if you will, by claiming this is what the customer “wants”, supposedly they “want” to pay for a seat assignment, they “want” to pay for a bag to be checked, they “want” to pay for early boarding, etc. As well, they make it sound like they are doing passengers a favor and making it easier (????) for them. Nobody polled me if I wanted these things – because I would have voted NO. Nothing to be done, people just accept it.
    Had they polled their own airline employees (such as myself), I would/could have easily assured the powers way above me that the passengers standing in front of me every day would not be saying “Yes”, we want to pay for all these “extras”……extras we received for free for decades.

  • The Original Joe S

    of course the op is at fault, right? as always……

  • C Schwartz

    I agree with you but I cannot ignore what happened to AA when they had the “more leg room in coach” in the early 2000s and that was stopped because people were not buying the seats — and it was discontinued as people would not pay for it. Nobody polled me either but I cannot ignore that people keep flying Spirit and those that charge even for a carry on. The airlines are in the race to the bottom and it is depressing.

  • The Original Joe S

    Hogwash.

  • jsn55

    I agree, and all of ‘us’ would have done that … but inexperienced flyers aren’t aware of how things are done these days. Essentially, an agent ‘will tell you anything to get you off the phone’ but how are travellers supposed to know this unless they fly often and/or read 6 travel blogs a day? American should pay his taxi fare, he’s lucky that he made the flight.

  • taxed2themax

    I don think it’s ever going to be a case of “… as always”

    But I do think Lindabator’s question/statement what was, or was not actually heard or said by either/both parties is unknown and a very valid point to ask for clarification… and that, to me, is a key part in knowing where I myself would place the “fault”….

    To the same degree, with email, I hold out the possibilities that: a) the airline never actually sent it… b) it was sent, but at some beyond the airlines IT systems control, the mail was rejected/undelivered or c) at some at or within the passengers email system the mail was rejected/undelivered.

    It may be the airline here is 100% in the wrong… that may be.. but I think absent more facts, one must fairly also hold out the possibility that the passengers action (or inaction) is/was either partially or wholly responsible.

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