Help! AAA abandoned us at an airport in India

Since I’m usually the first person to recommend the services of a knowledgeable travel agent, I knew I had to take Kay Kindice’s case when it came in.

Kindice and her daughter traveled to India for a wedding last summer, and after a series of events, they found themselves abandoned in a foreign country. Their story and its sort-of resolution underscore the importance of finding an agent you trust, not just someone who will find you the cheapest ticket.

The Kindices had used a AAA-affiliated travel agency to book their tickets to Hyderabad to attend a wedding, followed by a tour of Delhi and a reception in Kashmir.

“While we were in Hyderabad we learned of civil unrest in Kashmir,” says Kindice. “Over 33 people were killed in riots.”

There were also travel advisories warning against travel to Kashmir. The reception was canceled, and Kindice tried to book her flight home.

AAA referred Kindice to her travel insurance company.

“I did so, and they informed me that the tickets would have to be changed with our original booking agent at AAA,” she says. “There was no emergency or after-hours phone number for AAA for international travel.”

The agent “did not have time to help us,” she says, so she referred them to another agent in a different AAA office.

May I interrupt this story, Kay? If you’re stuck in a war zone and your agent doesn’t have the time to help you, maybe you have the wrong agent.

The new agent changed their tickets, confirmed the change with an email stating that the change fees of approximately $350 would be charged at the airport, and asked them to “check with United for a waiver code to change from Air India to United without penalties per UA.” The agent also told them to directly cancel their Air India flights to Kashmir.

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And you can probably guess what happened next, right?

I’ll let Kindice talk:

We arrived three hours early at the airport to leave India to return home, and learned that while we had reservations on the United flight, the tickets were never issued.

United told us that AAA said they needed a waiver from Air India to issue the tickets. We contacted our agent, who stated that we needed to go to the Air India office at the airport and obtain the waiver or code.

We did so, while on the phone with AAA, but Air India seemed to not have a clue in this situation. We went back and forth between United and Air India with heavy luggage while on the phone with AAA, but none of the hands seemed to know what the other was doing.

We spent two hours accomplishing nothing, and finally went to the United desk to ask what we had to do to get on the flight.

Please remember — we had sent our driver away, checked out of our hotel, and were at the New Delhi airport at midnight.

The United staff was very helpful, and a representative finally suggested that we purchase our tickets and “deal with it on the other end.” We did so: $7,226 worth of return airfare.

Wow.

I can see how Kindice felt abandoned by her agent. Clearly, she should have ensured that the tickets were taken care of before her client showed up at the airport at midnight.

Efforts to file a travel insurance claim were unsuccessful and her agent couldn’t obtain a refund for her on the other end, either. (At the time of this writing, a partial refund has been promised, but not received.) United Airlines, which took her $7,266, has told her AAA agent that it’s “not their problem,” according to the agent. And around and around we go.

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“I’m not a travel agent, therefore I do not understand the jargon or process involved with a trip of this nature,” she added. “My daughter and I did everything exactly as we were instructed, and are sitting with a $7,226 bill on a credit card, and a very messy situation. Can you help us?”

Our advocacy team tried. Kindice even hired an attorney who contacted AAA on her behalf. After weeks of back-and-forth, AAA agreed to settle her claim for $4,516, which is $2,750 less than what she paid. Kindice isn’t happy with that settlement and wants to be fully compensated. Then again, something is better than nothing.

There’s only one way forward for her and her daughter: If they want all the money, they’ll have to go to court. They’ve already lawyered up, which means our advocacy team has to step aside.

Is $4,516 enough compensation for Kay Kindice's flight debacle?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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