I just wanted to fly home from Paris. Why was my ticket invalid?

When Ramiro Cruz is prevented from boarding his flight home from Paris, he asks our response team to help him recover the cost of his new air ticket. Can our advocates cut through a fog of code-sharing and contracted fares to get Cruz his airfare back?

Question: I purchased a round-trip ticket on British Airways, code-shared on American Airlines, from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Paris through STA Travel. But when I tried to check in for the return trip to Chicago, an American Airlines agent told me that I could not board the plane because my luggage was too large. I don’t understand why it was too large on the return leg of the flight when it wasn’t on the outbound leg.

The agent told me to go to a British Airways customer service desk, where I had to wait in line for more than 30 minutes.

At the desk, British Airways’ agent told me that I missed my flight, and that I would have to buy a new ticket. I had to spend more than 24 hours trying to get a flight home.

I issued a refund request to both American Airlines and British Airways, both of which referred me back to STA Travel. An American Airlines agent told me that there was a duplicate ticket number in its system.

Nobody at British Airways, American Airlines or STA Travel would explain to me why I could not board my original flight home or why I had to go to the customer service desk. Each company is refusing to take responsibility for the mistake, whatever it was, that prevented me from boarding my original flight. STA Travel says it needs a waiver from British Airways to issue me a refund for my original ticket, and both British Airways and American Airlines are pointing their fingers at STA Travel.

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Can you help me get someone at one of these companies to take responsibility for their error and refund me the cost of my original flight home? — Ramiro Cruz, Hanover Park, Ill.

Answer: What a mess! You certainly experienced multiple failures of customer service. Someone absolutely should have told you what was going on and not kept you waiting in line so long that you missed your flight. And when that happened, you should not have been forced to buy a new ticket home — and not been given a runaround.

The communications problems that you had may stem in part from your flight’s being code-shared (purchased on one airline and operated by another), a practice that causes confusion for all parties because of differing rules and business practices.

For example, the airlines have different baggage size requirements. But for code-shared flights, they need to clearly communicate them to their passengers and enforce them consistently. If a piece of luggage is of an acceptable size on one leg of a flight, its owner should not be caught by surprise on another leg — even if the other leg is on another airline. It would be fair to charge the owner an oversized luggage fee — but forcing you off the flight altogether? It doesn’t make sense to us either.

But both airlines were correct to refer you back to STA Travel for the refund. That’s because STA Travel is a consolidator, or bulk marketer of restricted airline tickets at discounted, or “contracted” fares. One of the restrictions applicable to the tickets it sells is that they are not refundable directly by the airlines.

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STA’s user agreement provides that “Refunds will only be paid to you once we have received the funds back from the Supplier(s). Generally flight tickets cannot be refunded if they are partially used. We are not responsible for a Supplier’s failure to pay a refund.”

In order for you to receive a refund for your unused ticket, you needed to make a request through STA, which in turn needed a waiver from British Airways to issue you the refund. It seems like a runaround, but that’s standard procedure when you need a refund for an air ticket purchased through a consolidator.

When you didn’t receive satisfactory answers or a refund from the airlines or STA Travel, you turned to our response team for help. (Executive contact information for American Airlines and British Airways is available on our website.)

We reached out to our contacts at American Airlines, who forwarded our request for help to British Airways, as well as to STA Travel. You have since notified us that you have received your refund.

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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