Stranded in Turkey and my travel agent couldn’t care less

By | December 17th, 2016

Chanquelle Mitchell-Harros is excited to find a low airfare for her trip to Turkey — until her flight home is canceled. The problem: her name.

Question: I would like help securing a refund of airline tickets. When I first purchased the ticket from International Travel Network (ITN), I was definitely happy that I didn’t have to pay as much money as I thought on my trip to Europe.

However, my happiness level plunged when one week before my flight out I received a “schedule change” email from ITN that said: “We have been notified by the airline about a change in your schedule. Please contact us at your earliest convenience for possible re-protection [sic] options.” Super general, right?

I called them immediately and was told by a customer service agent that they’d call back once they had a full understanding of what was going on. They discovered that my flight back to the States was not confirmed. I waited a day and nothing.

I called and pushed the urgency of sorting out this matter before I fly out. I had to fly back on Aug. 25 because my employer, the United States Air Force, needed me back before Saturday the 26th. The agent I spoke to had a three-way conversation with the airline and stated that my flight was confirmed and there was nothing further to be done on my part. I checked the e-ticket afterwards and it stated that I was “waitlisted,” but was confirmed for the flight.

Fast-forward to the day that I was flying to Turkey, and a customer service agent named Kaiser attempted to contact me about an urgent matter regarding my flight back. There was an issue with the length of my name and the character limit for the airline.

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When I was able to call him back during a stopover, he told me that I needed to go to the Air Canada desk in order to cancel my flight back, it could be rebooked. There was no way for me to do that as I was already at my gate and boarding was in five minutes.

An Air Canada agent advised me to wait until I landed in Istanbul, and then I would be able to sort out this issue. But there was no Air Canada desk in Istanbul. So I called Air Canada customer service. They stated that the simple fix would be for ITN to send over new booking information without my middle name and they’d reissue the ticket with the correction. I emailed Kaiser this. No response. I called and it went straight to voicemail.

I called the general customer service line and apparently they could not help me without Kaiser’s assistance. He never got back to me and it was extremely difficult to get in contact with him.

The day before I was supposed to fly out I got another schedule change email at 2 a.m. I called immediately and was told that my flight was in the process of being cancelled and a refund would be initiated. I was then told that if I was in a rush to fly out, I would need to buy a whole new ticket back.

I then called back ITN and was bounced between customer service and sales several times because no one knew what to do. I was assigned a new customer service agent, Newton, who proceeded to repeat the same thing, that a refund was being initiated and there was nothing further he could do. (He actually said, “I don’t know what else you want me to do.”) I was literally stranded in Turkey and he could care less. At least that was the tone that I was getting from him. He then forwarded me back to sales to buy a new ticket. An extra $1,000 for a one-way ticket back. — Chanquelle Mitchell-Harros, Vacaville, Calif.

Answer: Chanquelle Antoinette Mitchell-Harros. What a lovely name. And yes, a very long one. But we agree that your long name shouldn’t have cost you $1,000.

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Your paper trail reveals that while your travel agency booked your trip with Air Canada, one of the flights was operated by a codeshare partner, and that airline’s reservation system wasn’t designed to accommodate a name as long as yours. And oddly, that ultimately resulted in the reservation for your return trip being canceled. Which meant you were faced with reporting late back to your job with the Air Force if you didn’t purchase a new ticket for almost $1,000.

You carefully detailed how your travel agency seemed completely unable or unwilling to assist you. And that your multiple attempts to contact the agency to discuss a refund were met with the same runaround you received in the midst of your travel dilemma.

A bit of advice though. We noted that some of your correspondence with the travel agency and the airlines included language that bordered on belligerent, and that may have hindered your efforts to reach a resolution. Your frustration was more than justified, but you often get better results when you show that frustration in a more measured way in your communication.

We reached out to International Travel Network on your behalf, and are happy to report that they have agreed to refund the cost of the new ticket you were forced to buy.

  • deemery

    Just as a side note, if she’s active duty military, being late is actually subject to UCMJ (i.e. a violation of military law.) So the consequences of being delayed can be significant. That’s not to say she would have been Court-Martialed if she explained the circumstances. Still, the wise traveler under those circumstances would be best advised to allow a day of ‘slack time’ for international travel.

  • Rebecca

    I am very sympathetic here, because I have a very long name, albeit with a different special character, and it is astounding how much trouble this causes. It isn’t like a hyphen or an apostrophe is uncommon, and you would think someone would have figured it out. But they haven’t. I didn’t hyphenate my maiden name, because if I did my last name would literally be 25 characters long. Sometimes the 13 I have now don’t fit!

  • MF

    It’s amazing how a little sunshine can cause cockroaches to scurry for cover!

  • PsyGuy

    I have a special character in my name and as a result sometimes have up to three possible names.

  • PsyGuy

    Penny wise, pound foolish, if the LW had booked directly with an airline they would have gotten her home.

  • Annie M

    I can understand why she was belligerent if this is the type of service she received. People really need to check out these companies before they book.

  • PsyGuy

    The BBB is just a club. If you don’t join your complaints just get you low ratings, join the BBB and you get high ratings.

  • MarkKelling

    Actually, I don’t feel the travel agent could care less. By their actions, it is more that they couldn’t care less. :-) They have the money, you are stuck somewhere you don’t want to be and they don’t seem to care at all. Next sucker, er, customer, please!

    “I don’t know what else you want me to do.” How about get me a ticket on the next plane out? What else do you think I want you to do?

    I never heard of ITN, but now after hearing this I will make sure to remember to never use them.

  • Rebecca

    You’ve gotten on my soapbox!!!!!

  • C Schwartz

    They get an A+ rating and pay for the BBB accreditation, so like you I have zero faith in the BBB

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    This is the kind of problem that exists to solve. Absolutely disgraceful how this lady was treated.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    for sure, she would not have faced a firing squad, but it’s still bad news

  • Rebecca

    Someone must have agreed (I do also, fyi), because the headline changed. Good catch!

  • PsyGuy

    Well your soap smells really nice, much better than that “Dial” soapbox.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Travel agents! My mate can fog a mirror – can he be a travel agent ?!

  • Alan Gore

    There is totally no reason why special characters should be a problem in names. It has been explained by another IT person here that if names were simply plugged into SQL database access code, apostrophes could be seen as part of the command, rather than the data, and would cause a syntax error, and could even be used by the creative as a malware attack. That’s why every database input program out there includes a check to make special characters harmless in names. No business that is as data-sensitive as an airline should ever plug raw names into a database without doing this step. OP was probably hit with “truncation error”, which is not allowing enough space for a long name.

    And the apostrophe is just the most common special character. There is the dash and the Hawaiian ‘okina, which looks like an apostrophe but is a distinct character. Some Swedish names contain colons.

  • cscasi

    What you said is true. However, a simple phone call to the person who authorized your leave, explaining what has transpired is normally sufficient to prevent any issues with one being late in returning to duty. In my over 20 years of active duty, I have had that happen to me twice and there were no consequences.
    Having said that, if one is known to always be late in returning to duty, then that is another issue and consequences are definitely in order.

  • Doctor Now

    I had something like this happen to me as a young airman (many years ago). A delayed commercial flight resulted in me missing my military flight back to my base while on leave. I had to wait three days for the next flight with no funds. Between my supervisor and first sergeant, they were able to get me the funds (Air Force Aid Society loan) to wait it out. Like mine, this situation was beyond her control and the US military takes care of their own.

  • Bill___A

    My middle name doesn’t always completely fit either, they truncate it, doesn’t seem to be a problem. This is an issue that should have been handled without the involvement of the passenger.

  • joycexyz

    If her entire name is on her passport, how else could she book a ticket?

  • Lindabator

    THESE are not travel agents – I AM and my services are 24/7, and would NEVER have allowed this problem to persist — real agents are consumer advocates as well, and have your best needs/interests in our sights!

  • wilcoxon

    I’m in software and I’d be surprised if every travel system properly escapes characters. I regularly run into software everywhere that does not properly escape characters. The most “fun” I had was when a system had one entry form for creating the account and a completely different one for logging in – it was possible to create usernames or passwords that could not actually be used (due to improper escaping on the login).

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