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.

  • KanExplore

    Instructive article. It’s odd to me that he says he’s a seasoned flyer, but shows up 55 minutes before boarding time for an international flight. The fact he changes his story later on to say he had the flu isn’t particularly convincing. I don’t think the message from this story is necessarily to never use a consolidator. It is that if you do, you should be certain to do everything right yourself to minimize the likelihood things will go wrong, because if things do go wrong, it may be more complicated to fix them. Skyscanner frequently links you to consolidators that may have a wide range of reputations and, yes, may offer lower prices. It’s a risk vs. reward tradeoff. I bought a ticket from ExploreTrip myself via Skyscanner for later this year. I plan to be at the airport long before boarding time.

  • Travelnut

    One thing I didn’t understand at first was that if your first leg is domestic and connecting to your international flight, you still have to arrive earlier than if your entire flight is domestic. Once I was not as early as usual but I thought I had arrived with time to spare. Nope! Luckily, they got me on a later flight to DFW and I didn’t miss my original flight to London. Lesson learned.

  • Noah Kimmel

    One other piece of advice – always try to check in online or via an app (even if you have to check bags). If it is successful you can at least get a boarding pass to go through security and try to find someone to help you. Alternatively, if there are any issues, then you know to leave yourself extra time to get to the airport. I know it is a pain to download an app for one flight, but it can make a big difference!

  • CC Gorman

    This guy tried tried to get on the flight.
    Next, he tells the company he had the flu and didn’t want to get on the flight for fear of exposing other passengers to his illness.
    I have 2 questions:
    -why would you waste your time advocating for a liar?
    -why would he be willing to expose his lie by having his case published on this site?

  • Bill___A

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Bill___A

    Well, he’s a “really seasoned” flyer now, because he has learned what happens when you show up late, buy your ticket from a consolidator, and decide you have the flu.

  • finance_tony

    Agreed. Very disappointed that the advocates wasted the time of at least two companies trying to cover for his lies.

  • PsyGuy

    The real issue is that the LW cut the arrival way to close, and was as a result late or if that was what they had to do, should have checked in online.

  • Annie M

    Recommended arrival times for an international flight is 3 hours before your flight leaves. Apparently he must not be as seasoned as he thinks if he doesn’t abide by those recommendations.

    And where did the flu suddenly come into play?

  • jsn55

    His seats flew empty. There’s no valid business reason for the airline to reaccommodate him. A business exists to generate revenue, why should they give up future revenue by putting the passenger on another flight?

  • C Schwartz

    There is a new strain of flu — a traveler realizes they had it retroactively when their demands are going nowhere.

    What the seasoned traveler did not realize is that the computers time out and do not allow anyone to check in late or override the system. There was no way he was getting on that flight.

  • michael anthony

    A seasoned traveler leaving out of ORD always knows to plan extra time, alot of it. 80% of the time, you arrive a wee bit early. No big deal. But you plan for the 20%. Several times a week there are accidents in the expressways that go to the airport. Your travel time can easily double. It’s far better to spend some extra time reading a book, or doing some work, the missing a flight, especially international.

  • jmiller45

    55 minutes to arrive for an international flight at any airport is unreasonable. I live 25minutes from Newark Liberty International Airport & I always arrive at the airport 3 hours for both domestic & international flights.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Liar, he no more had the “flu” than everyone else on that airplane. 55 minutes ?, ridiculous. Then he starts with what the airline and travel company “should” have, “could” have done – based on HIS definition. ExploreTrip, Skyscanner, Iberia – how many doors are you going to chase your tail through to get what YOU WANT ? Gotta love it when people know nothing about inside operations but they’re talking like they do.

  • cscasi

    Wonder if he had good trip insurance; either purchased or with his credit card; would that have helped? Wonder what the claims representatives for them would have said had he filed a claim and it was noted he showed up at the counter only 55 minutes before an international flight. I am not certain any of those would have helped him.

  • cscasi

    What was/were the issue(s) that kept you from getting onto your originating flight that took you longer to get through?

  • Carol Molloy

    ORD is my airport. Not only do you need to arrive early due to the airport’s size, the traffic on all the arteries leading to O’Hare is also a huge factor. No one likes cooling their heels for a couple hours in an airport, but it sure beats missing a flight. Bring a book ….:)

  • ChelseaGirl

    He’s a “seasoned” traveler but shows up less than an hour before the flight? Intl flights start boarding at least 30-40 minutes before takeoff. His story doesn’t make sense.

  • Lee

    I’m perplexed why this was taken on as a case. In any case, the bank/credit card company will make mincemeat (as it should) of this “case” IF he does try for a charge-back. It is not owed him. Seasoned travelers don’t arrive so late for any flight, let alone an international flight nor do they (usually) buy from third party OTA/consolidators, knowing the difficulties if there is a problem.

    Travel insurance very likely would not cover this loss because they really don’t cover such things as “bad planning” – Cancel for any reason usually needs to be done 48 hours pre-trip start so there’s no way to do that at the last minute.

    He’s out of luck and I’m kind of astonished he even got as many responses as he did given how clear cut this whole mess was.

  • joycexyz

    Agreed. Wouldn’t a “seasoned traveler” know that he should be at the airport at least 2 hours before an international departure? And what’s with this flu business? Kinda came out of left field.

  • joycexyz

    I believe it had to do with buying through a ticket consolidator.

  • Blamona

    The nerve of iniciating a chargeback..

  • Lindabator

    I agree – the situation would have been the same with a standard ticket. You do not checkin on time, you are a no show when they leave the desk, and you lose the value of your ticket.

  • Lindabator

    actually – NO. personal responsibility to arrive on time with all required documents needed is STILL up to you

  • Lindabator


  • Lindabator

    will not help on international tickets, as you still must show your ID to the agents – you know, the ones that left ’cause he was LATE

  • Lindabator

    um – no – had to do with him not being there in time to checkin

  • PsyGuy

    I’ve had digital boarding passes that didn’t require me to show my passport until I arrived at the gate.

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