Help! My connection time was too short and I wasn’t allowed to fly!

When Kenneth Black’s flight on China Southern Airlines, booked through Travelocity, has a too-short connection time, he finds himself unable to travel. Yet neither the airline nor Travelocity is willing to help him get his money back. Can our advocates straighten out this fiasco?

Question: I am on active duty in the U.S. Army, currently stationed in South Korea. Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Incheon, South Korea, to Bangkok via Zhengzhou, China, on China Southern Airlines for the beginning of a military leave. I booked the trip a month ago through Travelocity and received a confirmation of my itinerary telling me “everything was good to go.”

But when I arrived at the airport, I found out that this wasn’t so.

As I was getting ready to check in, I was told to step off to the side to speak to the manager on duty, who informed me that my connection time (70 minutes) was too short, and she would not check me in due to airline policy. I asked her what I needed to do, but she responded with a blank look and a “you figure it out” attitude. I was told to call Travelocity and work it out with them.

I called Travelocity three separate times over the course of two hours, and one of their agents called the airline each time. The only option I was given was to book a later flight, but I was told that I would then be charged an additional $550 to $600 for an issue I had not created.

Initially I agreed to buy a new ticket, but that brought even more problems, so I finally canceled my whole trip at the last minute.

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I’m not sure who to point to the finger at. I believe the airline shouldn’t have issued the ticket, and Travelocity shouldn’t have let me book it. I’ve issued a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Attorney General of Texas.

I’m now screwed out of leave for a trip I didn’t take, not to mention that I’m stuck here for the holidays. Can you help me get a full refund for my ticket from Travelocity or China Southern Airlines? — Kenneth Black, Incheon, South Korea

Answer: Ouch! How annoying that after serving your country overseas (for which all of us thank you), you didn’t get to take your scheduled leave because of bad customer service.

Unfortunately, you’re correct that the airline shouldn’t have issued the ticket, and Travelocity shouldn’t have let you book it. Each airport has its own rules about minimum connection times (MCTs in air travel parlance), and the Zhengzhou has a longer MCT requirement than other airports. It requires an MCT of 120 minutes, and your connection time was 70 minutes.

But neither the airline nor Travelocity handled your situation correctly. No one should rise to the rank of airline manager without understanding that giving passengers blank looks and “you figure it out” attitudes at check-in is not an appropriate way to resolve customer service problems. And Travelocity first should have booked you a ticket with the correct MCT, and when it didn’t, its agents should have helped you get a new ticket at Travelocity’s expense rather than telling you that it would charge you for the cost of resolving its own booking error.

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When both the airline and Travelocity refused to help you, you first posted in our forum, where our forum advocates suggested that you write polite letters to executives of China Southern Airlines and Travelocity explaining your situation. (Executive contacts for Travelocity (owned by Expedia) are available on our website; contact information for China Southern Airlines is pending as of this writing.)

When this course of action did not result in any responses from either company, our advocates reached out to both the airline and Travelocity.

China Southern Airlines never responded to our contacts either, but Travelocity issued you a full refund, including $25 that was originally withheld from the refund as a “flight change fee,” as well as a $100 single-use coupon for a future hotel booking through Travelocity as a one-time courtesy “in recognition of your service to our country.”

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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