It wasn’t my fault. Why should I be penalized for missing my flight?


It just wasn’t David Ababio’s day.

His back was injured and he couldn’t walk quickly. Then the airport bus wasn’t running. He arrived at the KLM counter ten minutes too late to check in for his flight. And then he learned that KLM considered him a “no-show” for his flight and canceled his itinerary.

Ababio wants a refund for his airfares. But neither KLM, its codeshare partner, Delta, nor his travel insurance company will reimburse him.

“This is an extreme injustice outside of our control,” he says. “I am a college student and can’t afford to throw away that amount of money.”

But we can’t help him either.

His situation is a sad combination of not arriving at the airport in time, the no-show “gotcha” that airlines invoke to avoid refunding airfares and a failure to obtain documentation of a promise by an airline employee in writing. Had Ababio obtained such documentation, we might have been able to assist. Without it, however, there’s nothing we can do for him.

Ababio’s story began with a request by his pastor to escort her to his home country of Ghana. They booked Delta code-shared air tickets on KLM for a trip from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Accra, Ghana, over Christmas, through International Travel Network (ITN), a San Francisco-based consolidator travel company. In addition, Ababio purchased travel insurance coverage under ITN’s Travel Protection Plan for the trip.

Then his troubles began. A month prior to departure, Ababio sustained an injury to a disc in his lower back, which required him to use a cane while walking. He called KLM to request assistance for his condition upon arrival at the airport.

On the day of the outbound flight, a few days before Christmas, Ababio and his pastor drove to O’Hare and parked in Parking Lot G, where they expected to catch a shuttle bus to O’Hare’s Airport Transit System (ATS). The bus was to take them to Terminal 5, from which their flight would depart. But no bus came to the bus stop where they waited.

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After seven minutes of waiting, Ababio used the red help button at the bus stop to request assistance. A woman answered and told him and the pastor to stay put and a bus would pick them up. But another six minutes passed with no bus arriving.

Then a pedestrian told Ababio that no bus would come to the stop. Because of a problem with the ATS, shuttle buses were not picking up passengers at the bus stops. They would have to walk to the nearby station to catch a bus to Terminal 5.

Ababio hobbled and the pastor walked as quickly as they could to the station, carrying their bags. They had to wait another 15 minutes for the next bus to Terminal 5. But it was too late. KLM had concluded check-in for their flight ten minutes before.

KLM’s agents told Ababio that there was nothing they could do for him and the pastor and gave Ababio a support telephone number to call. But when Ababio called the number, KLM’s representative told him, “I’m sorry, sir, but we are not responsible for your circumstances, and the airport needs to take care of you. Go try to talk to a manager or something they have there.” Ababio asked to speak to a KLM manager at the airport, who also told him that there was nothing she could do for Ababio and the pastor. She told him to call KLM again. But KLM’s agent again refused to help Ababio and told him to call ITN.


ITN didn’t have good news for Ababio either. Its agent told Ababio that because he and the pastor were “no-shows,” their tickets were no longer valid. They would have to purchase new tickets. Because of the proximity to the Christmas holidays, the new tickets would cost four times the price of the original ones. Ababio and the pastor would have to pay the price difference.

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The runaround continued until Ababio spoke to two Delta agents at O’Hare, who were sympathetic to his situation. According to Ababio, they documented a statement from Ababio about the ATS problems and his medical condition. They also tried to find a flight for which Ababio and the pastor could exchange their tickets. Because they were unable to find a new flight for Ababio and the pastor, they provided them with meal and transportation vouchers and hotel rooms for the night.

Then Ababio called ITN again. But its agents told him that it would need a waiver from Delta to refund his tickets and that it would take weeks for ITN to issue Ababio the refund. The following day, the Delta agents to whom Ababio had spoken the previous day called him to tell him that there were no available flights for which he could exchange his tickets within the window of time allowed.

At that point, Ababio and the pastor gave up on traveling to Ghana and returned home.

Ababio tried to follow up with Delta about providing ITN with a waiver for a refund of his airfares. But Delta’s representative told him that there was no documentation of his statement to its agents at O’Hare. Although Delta was willing to allow Ababio to exchange his ticket without a change penalty, it would not agree to a refund. But this resolution didn’t work for Ababio, who can’t travel within the next few years. He tried to file a claim on the ITN Travel Protection Plan policy, but ITN rejected his claim because he was a “no-show” for the flight.

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He might have appealed to higher-ranking executives of Delta or KLM using our contact information (as of this writing we do not have executive contact information for ITN), but he turned to our response team instead.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have good news for Ababio either. He claims that Delta’s agents at O’Hare told him that because his situation was not his fault, he could expect a refund. But he didn’t get this promise in writing. And without it, we have no leverage to challenge a “no-show” determination by the airlines or ITN.

All we can do in Ababio’s case is warn our readers of the need to get all promises of assistance by airline representatives in writing — and to get to the airport two to three hours early when traveling overseas. We recommend checking and following any guidelines issued by your airline regarding how much advance time you should allow yourself. And in situations like Ababio’s involving mobility issues, allow for even more advance time, especially during peak travel periods like Christmas. Otherwise, like Ababio, the only place you may be traveling to is back home.


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.

  • whatup12

    Sorry to say, but when injured or have babies, etc–show up EARLY. Painful lesson, but the person has a long life of flying left…so hopefully a lesson remembered.

  • finance_tony

    “I am a college student and can’t afford to throw away that amount of money.”

    So going on the trip would have made you richer?

  • Dutchess

    If 30min of waiting made you miss your flight then you arrived to the airport too late. Period.

  • FQTVLR

    This story is missing the most important fact: How long before their flight did they arrive at the airport? You give a great deal of information: a 7-minute wait, then a 6- minute wait, a walk and then another 15 minute wait for transportation to the terminal only to arrive 10 minutes late for check-in. Unless that walk to the station took an unusual amount of time It appears they did not arrive at the airport in a timely manner. I walk with a cane and it takes me a bit of time to move around and I sympathize with his situation. But based on a very specific timeline he gave it appears that they cut arrival time at the airport way too close. Unfortunately these passengers are partially responsible for the problem. The airline could have refunded the ticket when it could not find alternative flights–that would have been very good customer service. But it is a big stretch for the OP to say what happened was not his fault.

  • MarkKelling

    Most airlines suggest you arrive 3 hours before departure for international flights in case of any delays getting checked in and through security. You know you are not moving very fast because of your medical condition. This means you need additional time to get to where you need to be. With what is detailed as about a 30 minute delay getting to the check in counter leaving you 10 minutes past the check in cutoff you simply did not arrive early enough so it is your fault.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Bottom line, the passenger didn’t show up on time for the flight. Everything always happens for multiple reasons (in this case, a combo of the time he arrived at the parking lot, issues with the shuttle, and mobility issues), but none of those reasons are KLM’s fault.

  • Mel65

    I am so anal about arriving 2 hours early for domestic travel and 3 or more for international that just reading this gave me anxiety. That is an expensive lesson and it sucks but they know they left it too tight to make it. Sounds like Delta really tried for them though.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    He should have been there 3 hours before his flight at least. Pretty sad that they had to rely on a pedestrian to let them know about the bus problem, and that the person on the so-called helpline didn’t know.

  • LeeAnneClark

    This is a sad one for sure. But that doesn’t change the fact that they simply didn’t arrive at the airport on time. Especially when you have any kind of mobility issues. So many things can delay your arrival at the gate…and it looks like several of them happened to this guy. If he’d simply given himself one additional hour, everything would have been fine. But he cut it too close, and got burned.

    I’ve said this before, and will say again: I still firmly believe that it’s flat-out WRONG for airlines to keep your money when someone arrives late to the airport. Especially when it’s only ten minutes! I remember the days when missing your flight was a pain, but you wouldn’t lose all of your money – the airlines would just book you on the next flight that had available seats. In particular I believe it should not be legal for them to cancel your return flight just because you miss your outbound flight. You haven’t missed your SECOND flight! If you miss your first flight, you can still get to your destination some other way. That seems like pure theft to me. You paid for that ticket, you should be able to use it.

    But all that being said, this IS the way it is today, as unfair as that is. And it’s incumbent on us to get ourselves to the airport on time. Certainly it seems worthy to give up and hour or two of one’s time in order to ensure you don’t get burned!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Me too! I’m so anal about it, I now give myself 3 hours for domestic and 4 for international! Sometimes even more, especially during busy times like holidays. I refuse to miss a flight! I’d much rather spend some time relaxing at the airport then ever go through that experience again.

  • Alan Gore

    He missed his flight specifically because he checked with the airport and followed their instructions, which turned out to be wrong. Had they said on that first call that the buses were not running, he could have made it to the terminal on his own. But he trusted them, and waited.

    The airport should have been proactive in communicating its shuttle bus problem to the carriers, making them aware that this morning’s cohort of passengers would be arriving late, which should have accommodated by at least rebooking affected pax on their next available flight.

    But yeah, yeah, we know: this passenger deserved being screwed out of his entire ticket because he lacked the clairvoyance to know that airport services would not be operating. Each incident like this adds to the utter passionate hatred that the public has for your industry.

  • Alan Gore

    There are a lot of off-airport situations that can cause pax not to be able to make even a three-hour preflight window. Because my airport is 100 miles away, I always plan to be in the area the previous day.

  • BubbaJoe123

    He left himself extremely little margin for error. If there had been a traffic problem, he also wouldn’t have made the flight.

    The erroneous information he got cost him six minutes. If he had gotten the correct information, he still wouldn’t have made the flight on time. If he wants to claim that O’Hare Airport owes him a replacement ticket for not having the correct shuttle bus service, he’s welcome to claim that, but KLM certainly doesn’t, regardless of what irrational and absurd expectations you might place on them.

    Should the airport also inform carriers “we’re mopping the floors in concourse B, and passengers will have to detour 30 feet around the wet spot, so be aware, passengers will be several seconds late due to this delay, so you’ll need to hold the flight for them”?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I like to arrive early at the airport as well as.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Your experience is highly unusual. 90% of Americans live within 58 miles of an airport. Half live within 17 miles.

  • Dutchess

    Even if they got bad info, this was ONLY 11 minutes of wasted time.

    “After seven minutes of waiting, Ababio used the red help button at the bus stop to request assistance. A woman answered and told him and the pastor to stay put and a bus would pick them up. But another six minutes passed with no bus arriving.”

    They would have still needed to wait for the other shuttle bus even if they walked over immediately. OP doesn’t mention how early they got to the airport (probably for obvious reasons) but if waiting at a bus stop for 11 minutes made you miss your flight you arrived too late. TSA recommends 3 hours for international flights sometimes that early is a bit ridiculous but this is ORD and at Christmas time. Sounds like very bad planning on arrival time. I’m not saying they deserve to lose all their money but at the same time they need to take some responsibility.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    How about the OP calling the airline and/or travel agent when he was running late? If he called the airline and informed them of his situation, he won’t have been a ‘no-show’.

    When we are traveling in a peak period, I will do the following:

    1. Get to the airport early (a minimum of two hours if NOT three hours)
    2. When parking at the airport, I will check the status of available parking. It doesn’t make sense to go to a lot if it is full.
    3. I will check the current security check-point time.
    4. I will check the current construction projects at the airport to see if these projects will reduce parking; increase travel time; etc.

    Of course, not all airports will have this information available.

    I put the airline (800 and local), airport, hotel, rental car, etc. telephone numbers into my cell phone.

    Stuff does happen but if you plan properly, it will minimize the blow.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Most major airlines require that you check your luggage at least 30 minutes prior to a domestic departure (of course, there are exceptions). If you are traveling internationally, most airlines require you to check your luggage at least 60 minutes prior to departure (of course, there are exception).

    When the airline, airport, TSA, etc. recommend arriving three (3) hours at the airport before your flight…it means to arrive three (3) hours at the ticketing counter (if you need to check luggage and/or get your boarding passes) or security checkpoint. It doesn’t mean to arrive in the parking lot, parking garage, etc of the airport…it means to be in line at the ticketing counter three (3) hours before your flight.

    The OP did NOT arrive at the ticketing counter three (3) hours before his flight.

  • finance_tony

    “I am a college student and can’t afford to throw away that amount of money.”

    Would going on the trip have saved the money? I never understood this exact line of reasoning.

  • SierraRose 49

    I used to be one of those people who arrived at the airport 30-45 minutes before a flight. That was a long, long time ago. But thanks to this site and because of all the stories I have read, my hubby and I always get to the airport (TUS or PHX) at least 2-3 hours before a domestic flight and 3-4 hours before an international flight (even if the first leg or two is domestic). I felt sad that the OP lost all his funds. It is a very expensive lesson that no one wants to ever experience.

  • Alan Gore

    So if he had been informed on making the first call that there would be no bus, he could have made it on his own with one minute to spare. Really tight, I know, but rules are rules, aren’t they?

  • Alan Gore

    My town does have several competing shuttle van services that will pick you up at home on day of flight at a time that is precalculated to make either the domestic or international window. Even though that means being ready at 4 am in many cases, most people here use the shuttle because of the convenience.

    But I-17 is the only way to get through, and a truck rollover on it can tie up traffic for hours at a time. I always drive down at leisure the previous day so I can be ready at Hampton Inn a few blocks from the airport.

  • Bill___A

    After reading this article, although very unfortunate,and I do not necessarily agree with the airline poliicies, it actually was the OP’s fault, You cannot depend upon others and where the “fault” thing comes in is for not allowing sufficient time to fix problems. They didn’t arrive soon enough plain and simple.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Your math is off. He waited for six minutes. Then called. Then waited another seven minutes. Then found out there was no bus. The erroneous information cost him seven minutes. He was 10 minutes late. Wouldn’t have helped.

    Could the airline have been more helpful? Sure. You could also contact Elliott.org and offer to send the letter writer a check. In both cases, it would be nice, but there’s no reason to expect it.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Alternatively, you could fly out of Flagstaff, and save the drive. Your choice, though.

  • Michael__K

    He walked to the stop for the neighboring lot with his injury and his luggage in no time flat?

  • Michael__K

    The OP did NOT arrive at the ticketing counter three (3) hours before his flight.

    KLM recommends arriving at least 2 hours before departure. 3 hours before departure is when baggage drop and check-in desks are supposed to be open. Though it’s not at all unusual for them to open a little bit later than that.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Nope, but the incorrect information he got didn’t affect that trip. He would just have left seven minutes sooner.

  • LeeAnneClark

    ^^THIS! I recently related on another thread how I almost missed a flight just last month – the shuttle van showed up 45 minutes late, then there was an accident on the freeway which caused us to sit in unexpected traffic adding nearly an hour to the drive time. As soon as I realized I was in danger of being late, I called the airline and spoke to an agent. She told me she was putting notes on my ticket record that I’d called in well in advance to let them know of my circumstances, so that if I did miss the flight, they wouldn’t have marked me as a no-show. She assured me that I would just be re-routed on the next available flight, at no additional cost.

    Would that have happened? Hard to say – I’ve heard of people being told that, but then when presenting themselves at the airport, being told their ticket had been cancelled anyway. But I’ve heard more stories of travelers who were re-routed at no charge, as promised. So it’s certainly worth doing!

  • LeeAnneClark

    LOL! I thought the same thing! He chose to spend that money, so one must assume he could afford it. No he didn’t get what he paid for, but not getting to take that trip didn’t cost him any *additional* money. ;)

    I’m sure what he meant was that he’s not in the kind of financial circumstances that he can easily “waste” that kind of money without getting something for it. I do feel bad for him – that was a tough situation.

  • Michael__K

    Or he would have saved the 7 minutes AND most of the 15 minutes by catching the previous bus (which I thought were supposed to run every 5 to 7 minutes if it’s after 5am).

  • BubbaJoe123

    Can’t really know when the bus would have arrived. He might have caught an earlier bus, and he might not have.

  • Michael__K

    Well, if he would have caught the exact same bus then he would have saved 0 minutes ;)
    But then that would also imply that the wait was at least close to 30 minutes, if not longer.

  • Dutchess

    One minute to spare is too freaking late. Argue all you want, if you’re making it to the gate with only 1 minute to spare before they close out your flight, you arrived at the airport too late. One minute is a margin of error. OP has themselves to blame here.

  • Jeff W.

    If money was truly tight, then the passengers would have been better off taking a cab or use a ride-sharing service to get to O’Hare rather than park at an official O’Hare parking lot. Those lots are quite expensive. With those options, you would have been dropped off directly at the terminal, rather than parking the car (in winter, no less) so that you can take a shuttle bus that takes you to a train that takes you to the terminal.

    With limited mobility, that would have reduced some of the stress of traveling to the airport.

  • Tigger57

    The airport was wrong in communicating the shuttle bus problem – so how do you make the airport pay? One reason airlines request 3 hours prior to flight time on an international flight is to have plenty of time in case of problems. Plus what were they thinking – he was having trouble walking and should have allotted extra time.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Traveling internationally. Traveling from Chicago. Traveling to Ghana. There is not a single statement on any airline that would suggest anything other than 3 hour advance check-in. Period, It matters not that this rule is not always followed, but it is necessary. Question? Why did the pastor not just drop hi off at the check-in counters and save a ton of time instead of parking?

  • joycexyz

    Back injury? Probably not his fault. Bus problem? Not his fault. Cutting the time way too close (especially with a bad back)? Totally his fault! No sympathy here.

  • joycexyz

    Good question! That makes a great deal of sense, given the mobility problem. And, had the pastor been late because of the bus situation, the OP would have been able to inform the agent.

  • Lindabator

    and they really DID try to help them – but what can you expect during the holidays?

  • LeeAnneClark

    Airports are not fun places for infrequent travelers. I’m a frequent traveler and even I have trouble sometimes figuring out where to go and how to get there. So I can imagine how nightmarish it must be for the uninitiated! Especially during the busiest times like holidays.

    I recently flew Delta out of LAX, and they are in the midst of major renovations at the Delta terminal requiring that passengers must go to Terminal 2 to drop off their luggage, then take a bus behind the terminals to Terminal 3 to the boarding gate. It was EXTREMELY confusing, and there were people wandering around not sure what to do, where to go, how to catch the bus. Turns out you had to find a hidden gate way in a corner behind another gate, and from there you caught a bus to the other terminal, where you had to find your actual gate. Yeesh!

    But it is for this very reason that I give myself HOURS before any flight…you just never know what weird crap might trip you up at the airport.

  • pauletteb

    I arrive plenty early, grab a coffee, and read or people-watch. My boss and colleagues wait till the last minute and have missed more than one flight over the years. Fortunately they fly SWA, so as long as they call ahead of takeoff time, they get to reuse the monies with no penalty.

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