Sinorama booked us with invalid connections and we had to buy new tickets

Linda Gray and her partner booked a trip to China and Thailand with Sinorama, a Canada-based China tour operator, and had a lovely time — until they tried to return home.

Cathay Pacific refused to allow them to board their flight in Bangkok because they had an “illegal connection” in Hong Kong. Gray eventually booked new tickets at her own expense. She thinks Sinorama should reimburse them. But Sinorama seems to think any other company should pay.

When Gray tried to check in for her flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong, the Cathay Pacific representatives refused. A Cathay Pacific representative said that the minimum connection time allowed in Hong Kong was two hours, but her connection was less than that. The representatives also explained that it would not be possible to transfer her bags from the flight she was trying to board to her next flight in the time allowed, and her bags must be on the same flight with her.

The Sinorama guide who accompanied Gray to the airport told her that the offices of the agency that Sinorama used to book the flights were closed because it was a weekend. But the guide did eventually reach the manager of the Vancouver office, who, according to Gray, said that office was closed as well. Gray first tried to change her connecting flight on United Airlines to a later time, but United insisted Sinorama had to change the flight since it booked the tickets.

Gray argued with Sinorama, Cathay Pacific, and United Airlines for six hours before a representative from Sinorama told Gray to book her own flights home and the company would “figure it out” afterward. Trusting that the representative was correct, Gray purchased return tickets and paid $2,501.

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Back at home, Gray applied for a refund from Sinorama. In addition to the cost of her return tickets, she also wanted Sinorama to reimburse her $283 for the cost of lounge passes during their 12-hour wait for the next flight, $19 for lunch at the airport, and $50 for the extra day of pet sitting.

Sinorama refused her request — it claimed the required connection time in Hong Kong is one hour and 15 minutes, and that its booking system, Amadeus, would not have allowed the ticket to be booked if it had been an illegal connection. It further claimed that she didn’t follow the instructions she was given to allow the airlines to rebook her tickets:

Also, we told you to ask Cathay Pacific to issue an official letter which explains the situation why you are not able to get on the flight. Therefore, after arrived to Hong Kong, you could show this letter to United Airline [sic] and re-arrange the flight from Hong Kong to Dallas. However, you did not do so. Could you please specify why?

Gray also checked with her travel insurance provider and learned that it would not be able to reimburse her because her policy did not cover errors made by the operator.

Sinorama did say that it understood why she booked new tickets and that it would be her “best backup” for getting a refund from Amadeus:

If we give a second thought to that situation, as a passenger, under the pressure, we are surely worried about our flight back home. No one wants to be stuck in a foreign country. We could understand your choice of booking another flight at your own expense under that circumstance.

If I were a passenger receiving that message, I would have thought my refund was on its way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

After corresponding with Sinorama for four months, Gray posted her story to our forums and asked us for help.

We’ve written countless times about travelers who requested additional expenses from companies. While we wouldn’t advocate for Gray to recover the cost of lounge passes, pet sitting, and lunch, we did reach out to Sinorama to recover the cost of the return tickets she was forced to purchase.

Sinorama responded to us with a long list of reasons that this problem was not the fault of Sinorama: Amadeus had not updated its information, Cathay Pacific and United should have rebooked the flights at a lower cost, and Gray didn’t do what she was told.

Even after we obtained an official letter from Cathay Pacific confirming that the connection was illegal, Sinorama continued to deny that it was at fault and blamed Amadeus, Cathay Pacific, and Gray. It told us that it was working with the other companies on behalf of its passenger to resolve the problem.

More than six months after Gray’s trip to China, and after multiple attempts to persuade Sinorama to reimburse their client, we continue to hear that Sinorama is “still gathering information and cannot make a final decision at this time.”

It’s always disappointing when a company refuses to take responsibility for errors, but after so many months we’ll have to dismiss this case. Gray may have grounds for a civil case and should consult with an attorney who is qualified to advise her.

This case also serves as a warning to other travelers to double-check connection times before you travel — even if you booked your tickets through a tour operator or a travel agency.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

  • SirWired

    I can totally buy the idea that Amadeus had some bad information in it, but the time is for the agency to be taking action, not “still researching”.

    (That said, even if Amadeus did NOT have bad information, why would the agency book them on that connection; that’s tight! If they want stay in business, they are going to need to do more than what any schmuck with a web browser can accomplish on their own.)

  • finance_tony

    Doesn’t seem like the customer’s responsibility to jump through hoops when it was the agency’s doing to begin with – and the nerve of requesting detail down to “official letterhead.” Reminds me of “Bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West….”

  • Annie M

    I agree. The agency should have reimbursed her and regardless of what Amadeus gave them it’s the agencies responsibility to know that connection time is too short. We won’t book an international flight connection less than 3 hours.

  • Alan Gore

    This was clearly an agency error, whether or not it started with incorrect information in Amadeus, which most agents take as gospel.

    But why in hell wouldn’t insurance cover a situation like this? Would the insurance companies in yesterday’s list have covered agency error?

  • Dan

    This is a really interesting case for this board. If this were a case where the LW had used an OTA, everyone in these comments would be blaming the OTA and suggesting that the LW should have used a “real” travel agency. I looked through Sinorama’s website and to layman, they seem like a “real” travel agency with multiple locations in Canada and Europe and not guy sitting on his couch with a laptop. They claim to have served 35,000 pax on their China tours in 2016.

    A travel agent this large should’t drag out a $2,500 case for this long when they admit Amadeus was wrong. Since Amadeus is their subcontracted service and it was their choice to use it, they need to own the mistake.

  • SirWired

    A couple reasons:
    – I think that insurance assumes you’ll be able to recover payment for errors directly, and don’t require insurance to make you whole.
    – They also want to prevent a fraudulent agency from selling customers insurance, and then turn around and make a “mistake” that conveniently makes the customer whole while the agency pockets the money from the customer. It’s not something an agency could keep up for long until the gig was up, but I could totally see a desperate owner trying to keep their head above water for a little while this way.

  • cscasi

    Perhapps Sinorama should sue Amadeus for not providing current information. After all, what are they paying for? Then, it could refund the money to Gray (which I believe the agency should have done already instead of jerking her around. A good agency will take care of the customer).

  • BubbaJoe123

    I just checked the Cathay site, and their OWN WEBSITE is showing BKK-HKG-LAX with a 65 minute connection at HKG. This looks to be entirely Cathay’s fault. Either they’ve got a serious problem with their ticketing process, or their staff at Bangkok were lying.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Corrected, this was a CX-UA connection, so different deal.

  • BubbaJoe123


  • Lindabator

    Not when changing Airlines – Cathay and United in this case

  • Lindabator

    Cathay to Cathay — but this was to United – so no, thy require a longer connection

  • Lindabator

    It was the agency’s fault – and insurance does not cover what SHOULD be covered by the agency’s E&O

  • Lindabator

    An d this is why an agency carries E&O insurance for when THEY screw up

  • BubbaJoe123

    Which makes no sense, since the article mentions they were going to Dallas. Why would you fly BKK-HKG on CX (a oneworld carrier) and then change to United (a Star Alliance carrier), which doesn’t fly to Dallas from HKG unless you go via SFO/ORD/EWR? It’s a bizarre routing, no?

  • Michael__K

    This case also serves as a warning to other travelers to double-check connection times before you travel

    How would travelers do that? Where are minimum connection times published such that members of the general public have access to them?

  • Lindabator

    they had offered more flights at one time, and was perhaps less expensive as they were trying to build a market share – but yes, I prefer booking all one partnership throughout for simpler connections as well/

  • BubbaJoe123

    Expertflyer has them, but I agree with you, this shouldn’t be the traveler’s problem.

  • Michael__K

    Even they don’t offer the info for free, do they? If we allow for pay-wall products then we might as well advise travelers to buy their own GDS software (with starting prices not much costlier than an annual ProSubscription to ExpertFlyer) :)

  • Dan

    This website published by Cathay ( does not seem to show the 2 hour time claimed.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Wow, talk about passing the buck. You’re leaving out critical information here……who was she connecting to in Hong Kong ?..What airline was she ticketed on (CX, UA, who??) ….because if it was another Cathay flight then she would have certainly had enough time to connect. If not they could have done several things —

    1. Checked her in only to HKG, explained the minimum connecting time problem and referred her to the connecting carrier to rebook her for their next flight (even if she would be delayed one day/night in HKG). All of this can be easily explained as an option.

    2. Couldn’t CX just have rebooked them from the origin (BKK) for a change fee on the next available connection even with a different routing – very unlikely that would have cost anywhere near $2500.

    3. I’m sick of airline employees NOT WANTING TO OR (claiming) NOT BEING ABLE TO help passengers. What do they hire people for just to be button pushers with no ability to think out of the box when it comes to actual ticket problems ?? News flash Airlines — YOU SELL TICKETS – whether they were purchased through a broker or not, you should attempt to rebook (with applicable fees) for the transportation needed. They know fully well that travel agencies are usually closed on the other end of the earth’s time zone. Instead they just dump the problem on the unsuspecting passenger – What do you expect passengers to do, ask their travel agents what are all the nuances of everything that could go wrong? HELP PEOPLE !!!!!

  • BubbaJoe123

    Nope, not for free. As I said, there’s no reason for a passenger to need this information. It’s the job of the TA or airline not to sell tickets with illegal connections.

  • Lindabator

    they don’t list the times, the GDS system agents use does

  • Dan

    Link was broken for some reason. Here’s the text I was trying to link:

    Cathay Pacific specific minimum connecting times

    CX to/from MCT
    CX to LX 55 minutes
    CX / all PRC international carriers1 to/from PRC 90 minutes
    CX Taiwan to/from RPC except KA, CA, MU, CZ 120 minutes
    CX to/from HX, HU, 3U2 120 minutes
    CX to/from BR international to international 90 minutes
    CX to/from LY 100 minutes
    All to AI 90 minutes
    All to KE 90 minutes
    UA to/from UA 40 minutes
    UA to/from GA 45 minutes
    CI to/from CI 50 minutes
    CX/DL connects at LAX3 105 minutes
    MU arrangement MCT
    CX connects MU 60 minutes
    MU connects CX, all flights except SHA 90 minutes
    MU connects CX, SHA/HKG CX all flights 70 minutes
    CZ arrangement MCT
    CX connects CZ4 60 minutes
    CZ connects CX 90 minutes
    CA arrangement MCT
    CX / CA5 60 minutes
    CZ connects CX 90 minutes

  • BubbaJoe123

    “.who was she connecting to in Hong Kong ?”

    United. I missed it too when I read the story.

    “Gray first tried to change her connecting flight on United Airlines to a later time, but United insisted Sinorama had to change the flight since it booked the tickets.”

  • BubbaJoe123

    I’ve pasted the image below. That table is really unclear, since it could be read to say the MCT to/from UA is 40 minutes, or that UA-UA connections would be 40 minutes, but why would that be in a table on the CX website?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Really, I don’t know whether this is the fault of Cathay Pacific or Sinorama, but I do know whose fault it ISN’T: the passenger. Sinorama should reimburse her, and then, if Cathay is at fault (either because their employees in BKK screwed up or because they put inaccurate information into the GDS allowing for “illegal” tickets to be booked), get compensation from them.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I don’t know if it was the agency’s fault, but it certainly wasn’t the passenger’s fault. Sinorama should have reimbursed the pax, and then either filed an E&O claim or gotten reimbursed by CX.

  • Alan Gore

    Certainly the customer should first go to the agency first for compensation, but what if they refuse, point fingers at Amadeus or, as in a recent case, go broke?

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