Here’s what happens when you use a consolidator and then miss your flight

Joe Barrett booked tickets through ExploreTrip for a flight to Italy. Unfortunately, on the day of his departure, he arrived at the airport too late for check-in and missed his flight. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he quickly finds out that neither the airline or ExploreTrip will help him rebook.

What’s going on here?

Barrett’s story is yet another reminder of the dangers of buying tickets from consolidators. It also highlights the value of getting to the airport on time.

“I arrived at O’Hare Airport in Chicago for a flight to Italy, 55 minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart.” Barrett explains. “When I went to the gate to check in, there were no gate agents to be found.”

I’m sure there weren’t, as you had missed your check-in time. That isn’t necessarily a surprise; as our own Christopher Elliott explained in an article, check-in times vary, depending upon your departure and arrival airports. For Barrett’s flight, the minimum check-in time was 60 minutes. Therefore, arriving at the airport 55 minutes before departure meant he was too late to check in.

Having failed to arrive on time, Barrett explained what he did next:

I called the airline, Iberia, and the agent on the telephone said the check-in agents must be at the plane to help with the boarding. He then said he would see what he could do about booking me on another flight. After placing me on hold for a few moments, the Iberia agent returned and said that, since I purchased my ticket online through ExploreTrip, I needed to contact that travel agency to have my ticket rebooked.

Now here is where Barrett’s story gets complicated. He originally tried to book with SkyScanner but was directed to book with ExploreTrip instead This is also where he deviated from our advice to not book with a ticket consolidator.

Yes, you can save money, but when things go wrong it’s so much harder to resolve the matter. It means you are not dealing with one company, the airline, but two — or in this case three.

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Having been told by Iberia to contact ExploreTrip, he did just that and tried to call it to get his ticket rebooked:

After waiting on hold for about 20 minutes, a recording came on saying that the travel agents were busy but to leave a message and someone would return my call. Suffice it to say, I received a return telephone call from ExploreTrip after the flight had departed.

Frankly, I’m not sure it would have made any difference if Barrett had received a return from ExploreTrip before the flight departed. The fact is he was too late to check-in.

“They explained that, since I did not check in for my flight, I was listed as a “no-show” and I forfeited the value of my ticket. I know I was cutting it close when I arrived at the airport; but, had there been an agent at the gate when I went to check in, I would have easily made the flight,” Barrett states.

“It seems to me that I should have been allowed to take a later flight, or even one on the next day.”

Now, on this site we aim to help you, the consumer — we’re not here to criticize consumers, or be apologists for companies. But, equally, we do everyone a disservice if we avoid telling the hard truth.

The fact is that arriving 55 minutes before departure time for an international flight is simply not a good idea — it means you are too late to check in.

Furthermore, if you do attempt to check in late, the airline doesn’t have to give you anything — not an alternative flight or a refund.

That didn’t stop Barrett from emailing SkyScanner when he returned home. He wrote to them, stating:“I need to reschedule my flight. I left voice messages and also emailed ExploreTrip: but, nobody is calling me back. I’m debating whether to dispute the charge on my credit card.”

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Of course Barrett could dispute the charge with his credit card company, but in this instance I am not sure that is appropriate.

Skyscanner did respond to him. In fact, I have to give the company credit, as it responded to each and every one of Barrett’s nine emails. I won’t take you through each piece of correspondence, but here’s a summary of what happened.

Skyscanner tried to help Barrett — it really did. It also wasn’t perturbed when he gave the company a new reason as to why he should be able to change his flight.

“I did finally hear from ExploreTrip, their representative was responding to the email I sent, and he informed me that, since I was a ‘no-show’ for the flight I forfeited my entire fare,” Barrett told Skyscanner.

“I explained to him that I tried calling ExploreTrip before the flight left, to tell them I had the flu and wanted to reschedule. (If I boarded that flight, there would have been a lot of unhappy passengers worrying I would pass along my flu to them.)”

Unfortunately, having the flu still does not address the fact that Barrett was late for check-in. Nevertheless, he wrote back again to Skyscanner, which in turn wrote to ExploreTrip.

I also have to be fair to ExploreTrip. It tried escalating the case to Iberia, but the airline rejected the request for a refund or alternative flight on the grounds that Barrett was a no-show at the airport.

This response did not discourage Barrett, and he wrote back to the agent at Skyscanner:

I am a very seasoned traveler, and I suspect you are as well. We both know that airlines make every attempt possible to get their customers on another flight, if they miss their original flight. Had ExploreTrip returned my telephone call, I could have rescheduled my flight, possibly (though, doubtful) at the expense of a change fee.

When Barrett first called ExploreTrip from the airport, it’s possible that the company could have rescheduled his flight, but it wasn’t ExploreTrip’s responsibility to return Barrett’s call before he left the airport.

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Having failed to persuade ExploreTrip, Skyscanner or Iberia to give him a refund or an alternative flight, Barrett contacted us to see if our advocates could help. One of our advocates wrote to Iberia and received the following response:

To change a flight before departure, customers need to contact the travel agency or travel portal where the flight ticket was bought. The fare booked by Mr. Barrett is a special fare and, in this case, Iberia doesn’t have access to the conditions and terms of use of that fare. Only the travel portal can tell if the fare allows changes and refunds and can manage them on behalf of the customer.

And that explains the danger of using a ticket consolidator.

Barrett had purchased a contracted fare ticket, which is normally one of the most restrictive tickets. These are sold to travel resellers at a discount, with the restriction that they are basically “use it or lose it” tickets. Any refund or reissue, therefore, is at cost of the reseller (the ticket consolidator, which in this case was ExploreTrip), which is why consolidators don’t like giving refunds.

Our advocate didn’t give up and contacted ExploreTrip to ask them for a refund but, sadly, didn’t get a response.

Because ExploreTrip won’t respond to our inquiry and Barrett arrived too late for check-in, we have to file this under Case Dismissed.

But before we leave this case, I want to remind you to ensure you know the check-in times for your chosen airline. And I will leave you with Christopher’s wise words, that I would urge you all to remember:

“If you miss your flight, you have a whole new set of problems. You don’t want to go there.”

John Galbraith

John is a UK based lawyer and writer. He loves to travel and can be frequently found in remote locations in a suit and cravat. Read more of John's articles here.

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