Catherine Schevon buys a ticket to Europe that involves multiple airlines and a code-share. But when her return to the U.S. is tripped up by a system glitch, she gets “we’ll fix it” promises that prove hollow. Can our advocates cut through the fog of finger-pointing?
Question: I bought a multicity international ticket from Expedia (New York City to London on Virgin Atlantic, and then Paris to New York City on Delta/Air France). The outbound leg was fine, but a day in advance of the return flight I learned that the return ticket was invalid for two reasons: 1) it carried multiple airline codes, and 2) Air France hadn’t been paid for the flight.
I believe Air France did try, but we ended up running out of time. I finally bought a one-way ticket at the airport with less than three minutes to go until check-in closed, and paid 2,524 euros [about $2,970].
I have filed phone and email complaints with both Air France and Expedia. On the phone, Expedia told me I “no-showed” for my return ticket, despite the fact that this was only because I was not permitted to check in. Air France stated they were never obligated to honor the ticket or to resolve the issue.
I think fault mainly lies with Expedia, although Air France could have handled this better. How can I get reimbursed for the cost of purchasing the second airline ticket? — Catherine Schevon, New York
Answer: I’m sorry your return home wasn’t as smooth as your trip to Europe. Unfortunately, the world of code-shares and online travel agencies (OTAs) can be problematic, and the problems they cause can be difficult to resolve. So it’s not a great surprise that this ticketing issue involving multiple airlines and an OTA was both confusing and complicated.
You purchased your original ticket through Expedia, with the outbound flight on Virgin Atlantic and your return flight on a Delta/Air France code-share flight, operated by Air France. You upgraded your outgoing flight on Virgin Atlantic to a premium economy seat, and flew to London with no trouble. You finished your trip in Paris and tried to check in for your code-share flight 24 hours before departure on both the Delta Air Lines and the Air France websites, but your check-in request was denied.
You then spoke with Air France by phone:
I called Air France and was told that they had my reservation, but there were incompatible ticket numbers and I would need to wait until the next day and check in at the airport. I arrived four hours in advance of the flight in order to allow time to resolve the problem. I spoke to multiple Air France agents including supervisors who kept reassuring me it would be resolved.
You learned from the Air France agents at the airport that the airline had not been paid for the return ticket, but the agents and their supervisor told you they simply had to contact Virgin Atlantic to resolve the issue. They continued for the next several hours to tell you that it could be resolved, and at five minutes prior to the close of check-in, they finally admitted the issue was not likely to be resolved, and you purchased a new ticket back to New York.
Once you arrived home, you filed a complaint with Expedia, requesting a refund for the ticket you had to purchase. Expedia claimed that it had transferred control of the ticket to the airlines, and it would not refund the money. It directed you to the airlines for the refund.
You requested a refund from Air France, but since it didn’t receive payment or control your ticket, it also declined to issue a refund and blamed Expedia. Thus, you were caught in yet another case of “passing the buck.”
When reviewing your credit card statement, you learned that Expedia had charged you a $7 booking fee, and Virgin Atlantic charged you for the balance of the cost of your tickets. So it seemed reasonable to you that Expedia would refuse to refund the money, but I think it should have been more proactive and willing to help you mediate the problem with the airlines. After all, this is why you use a travel agent, isn’t it?
Virgin Atlantic also initially refused to refund your money because you were labeled a “no-show” on the original Air France flight. You even contacted Delta Air Lines since your flight number on that codeshare flight was a Delta flight number. Delta blamed Virgin Atlantic.
You described your predicament to us perfectly:
Because there are multiple airlines involved (Virgin Atlantic for the outbound flight, Delta as partner airline for the return flight), the blame game is a bit complex. So far as I can gather, Air France says it’s Expedia’s problem, Virgin Atlantic says it’s Expedia’s problem, but Air France shouldn’t have denied me boarding, Delta says it’s Virgin Atlantic’s fault, and Expedia says the ticket is “out of their control.”
We reached out to our contacts at Expedia and learned that Virgin Atlantic was the company responsible for the error. When you upgraded your seat on your outgoing Virgin Atlantic flight to premium economy, a “system glitch” caused the return flight to be canceled. Why this wasn’t evident to the Air France staff and fixable while you were at the airport remains a mystery. But Virgin Atlantic claims it has researched and fixed the problem so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
The airline promised to refund the money you paid for the last-minute ticket the airlines forced you to purchase. I’m glad we could help.