I missed my flight because it left early — why wasn’t I informed?

Something about Nina Bucki’s story doesn’t quite add up. She’d planned a trip to Poland with her two daughters, but didn’t take it. She asked our help in getting a refund or credit for her unused airfares.

But when our advocates tried to assist her, we learned that she had told her travel agent a completely different story than the one she told us. And the travel agent’s version of events was backed by evidence that Bucki didn’t share with us.

Our advocates are willing to give disappointed consumers the benefit of a certain amount of doubt when they ask us for help. Sometimes, communications between businesses and their customers can be confusing, especially when there are multiple versions of events. Laws and corporate terms and conditions can be hard to decipher and ambiguous as to how they apply to specific cases.

But we expect honesty from consumers who ask us to advocate on their behalf. And when it turns out that their versions of events are inaccurate, such as Bucki’s, it’s impossible to assist them.

All parties in Bucki’s case agree that she purchased, through Chicago-based travel agency Cosmos Travel, three round-trip tickets on LOT Polish Airlines for herself and her two daughters to fly from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Kraków, Poland, via Warsaw. She received an email confirmation of her reservations.

At this point the stories diverge.

Bucki maintains that when she and her daughters arrived at O’Hare Airport on the scheduled departure day, they learned that their flight had just taken off. According to Bucki, she never received any notification from Cosmos Travel prior to that day that the flight schedule had been changed. She and her daughters were forced to cancel their trip and lost their prepaid airfares and other travel costs, incurring a great deal of emotional pain.

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Our advocates reached out to Cosmos Travel and learned the following:

Nina Bucki purchased three tickets for a LOT Polish Airlines flight for three people to travel to Kraków, Poland… The client was informed that the tickets were nonrefundable, as per the terms of the promotion through which they were bought.

In January, we received a notice about changes in flight times for a few of our other customers. We made a list of these customers’ names, and proceeded to contact them to let them know of the changes, like we always do in such a case. Nina Bucki’s flight was on this list and we informed her about her flight changes.

Sometime after that Mrs. Bucki contacted us asking for a refund on all three of her tickets due to her daughter’s pregnancy. She herself told us, and even wrote in a letter to LOT [Polish] Airlines, that they could not travel because of her daughter being pregnant with a due date of a day before the departure. Mrs. Bucki said that it would be unethical to leave her daughter alone under such conditions. In the attachment you will see the letter we wrote as a request to LOT Airlines to receive some sort of reimbursement for this unforeseen situation.

LOT Airlines informed us that they could do nothing, as the ticket was bought on a nonrefundable promotion. After informing Mrs. Bucki of this, we did not hear from her.

We were very surprised to receive a phone call from Mrs. Bucki. From the letters and conversations with Mrs. Bucki we were under the impression that she and her daughters would not be traveling to Poland at that time. Furthermore, Mrs. Bucki had not called us to verify whether the tickets had been canceled or not, nor what she intended to do. When Mrs. Bucki called us from the airport, she indicated multiple times that she was the only one attempting to travel to Poland, without either of her daughters (contrary to what she wrote in her claim to you).

Mrs. Bucki was fully aware of the tickets being nonrefundable, and even though we tried receiving some reimbursement for her, there is nothing more we can do because those were the terms of the tickets she bought.

After Mrs. Bucki wrote a letter in which she asked us to reimburse her for the costs she incurred by missing her flight, or as she said she would “be forced to file a small claim case” against the agency if we did not reimburse her, we contacted a representative from LOT Polish Airlines in our effort to try to receive at least some money or air credit for Mrs. Bucki.

As the LOT representative herself said: “It was only [Bucki] who showed up at the airport. … [Trying] to receive a refund and blame LOT Polish Airlines for the passengers not traveling is at the least unethical.”

The travel agent attached two documents to her response. One was an email she had received from Bucki, indicating that one of Bucki’s daughters could not travel to Poland because she was pregnant with a due date of the day before the outbound flight. In this email, Bucki requested that their reservations be canceled because it would be “unethical” for Bucki and her other daughter to not be with her during her delivery.

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The other was a letter she wrote to LOT Polish Airlines on Bucki’s behalf, asking for a refund of Bucki’s airfares or credit for future travel “on behalf of our long time, loyal clients.”

So Bucki not only purchased nonrefundable tickets but asked to cancel her reservations. Then she threatened her travel agency with legal action if it didn’t get her a refund or credit — and the agency tried to help anyway.

This is a completely different version of events from the one she told us – and there is documentation that supports it, whereas there is none for Bucki’s claim that both of her daughters were with her at the airport and that she had not received any notification of the flight schedule change. While Bucki might have benefited from travel insurance coverage, any travel insurer would also require truthfulness and documentation supporting her claim.

We don’t like it when consumers aren’t truthful with us — and neither do the businesses from which they want assistance. That’s unethical — as is demanding help to which you are not entitled, and threatening legal action if you do not receive it.

And that concludes our advocacy on behalf of Nina Bucki.

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. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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