Stranded in Brussels with no way back to Chicago

By | October 8th, 2016

There’s a saying in journalism: If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.

In other words, believe no one.

I wish I could have offered that advice to Pravin Shah a little sooner. He’d booked his round-trip flights from Chicago to Berlin through ExploreTrip, an online travel agency, but something — he’s not exactly sure what — went wrong.

Although his online agent confirmed Shah’s flights all the way back through to Chicago, the United Airlines transatlantic leg on on his return flight had mysteriously vanished. That can happen with codeshare partners sometimes. (But let’s not go there today.)

And as I look at his case and the resolution I’m reminded that in this day and age of codesharing, interlining and ant-consumer antitrust exemptions, you can trust no one.

“I had called ExploreTrip before leaving and had been assured that everything was fine,” he says. “But when I consulted the Brussels Airlines website, there was no Brussels-to-Chicago flight.”

With only a few days before starting his return trip, Shah suspected he and his family would be stranded in Brussels unless he got help. And ExploreTrip continued to insist that all was well, even though it obviously wasn’t.


I’m not going to make you read until the end of this story to find out what happened. After our advocacy team got involved, his agency rebooked him on a return flight the next day. It’s still unclear how, exactly, the last leg was dropped. Chalk it up to a codesharing mystery. (I promised I won’t go there, and I won’t.)

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“But I am sure your help was crucial,” says Shah.

So why am I writing about Shah’s case? Is this really the first time a flight leg disappeared? Nope.

But there are a few lessons for the rest of us. When you fly, check with your travel agent but verify with your airline. If one disagrees with the other, your agent should fix it (after all, that’s what you pay an advisor for). If you can’t do that, you need to get the airline — or an advocate — involved.

Shah did the right thing by double-checking the flight on the airline site.

Truth is, you can’t believe anyone anymore. That’s why I started this story with one of my favorite journalistic proverbs. No one can be trusted.

Double- and triple-check everything, get it in writing, and make sure everyone agrees. Let your OCD flag fly! Otherwise, you could end up like Shah did, enjoying the waffles and cherry beer in Brussels on a 24-hour layover.

Actually, come to think of it, that’s not a bad place to be stuck.

Who is responsible for this screw-up?

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  • Jeff W.

    Based on the information, it is hard to assign the blame to an airline unless we know how the flight was actually booked. Was this booked as a Brussels airline flight with a portion being actually on a United plane, or was it the reverse, booked as United flight with a portion being on a Brussels plane?

    Or, which is also likely, did the OTA do something creative to squeeze some extra savings? Heck, maybe they booked them as a Lufthansa flights?

    This seems like a straight forward itinerary that would not have required any complications if booked directly with United or Brussels. Have to ask if the savings that may have been found was worth the headache and risk? Did the OTA reimburse him for the 24 hours in Brussels?

    But kudos to him for double and triple checking. His diligence made a bad situation much more tolerable.

  • This looks like a plain error by the online “agent. “

  • MF

    Perhaps we should say ‘online software’ & burger-flipper/ ‘agent’?

  • joycexyz

    What a sad state of affairs! We need to be double- and triple-checking everything. And don’t use an OTA!

  • jsn55

    Soooooooo true in travel! Verify everything often. Better to waste 10 minutes today than be stuck in Brussels with no way home. Nobody else cares more about your plans than you do … so check and double-check.

  • jsn55

    A complex itinerary? Use an experienced travel agent, not an OTA.

  • jsn55

    NEVER negate the affect of being polite, pleasant and relaxed! People who work for airlines like to help nice people. They do not like to help rude, obnoxious people, and they have tremendous power to fix or ruin your day. Itinerary screw-ups are fixable, if the agent wants to fix it. The traveller’s job is making sure the agent wants to fix it. Getting to the airport early has never harmed any traveller, ever.

  • Lindabator

    amen – as an agent, I actually STILL go online with both airlines to ensure they each have their own confirmation/etickets/seats – JUST to be sure. Unfortunately, OTAS just treat it like a fast food order, and could care less about servicing a client

  • Joe Reimers

    It was the corporate agency and I had some help from the Chief Travel Guru in setting it up. Sometimes you don’t get to choose your agent…

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