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.

  • Mark

    As to why this might have happened:

    BA and AA have different rules on checked luggage size. BA are generally stricter

    BA’s max size is 90x75x43 cm; free weight limit in economy is 23kg, maximum you can buy is 32kg.

    AA’s rules aren’t as obvious, and has a length + width + height rule, where the total of all three has to be less than 158cm, with a weight of 23kg. AA will, however, allow you to pay for bags that have a total of up to 320 cm, and up to a weight of 45kg.

    Very unfortunate that this happened to Cruz – I guess this reinforces the need to make sure if you are bringing bigger luggage that you check the rules for each operating carrier on your trip before you leave home.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “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.”

    Are we talking about his carry-on luggage or his checked luggage? Or his ‘checked’ luggage that he was trying to bring on as a carry-on luggage if he missed the cut-off for checked luggage? Or was he late checking in?

    If it was his carry-on luggage…maybe it wasn’t caught on the outbound flight.

    From the AA website: The maximum number of linear inches on a checked bag for most airlines is 62 inches. This means that when you add up the length, width and height of the luggage you intend to check, it should not be more than 62 inches.

    There is a $ 150 fee if the luggage is more than 62 inches and/or over 50 lbs (70 lbs – First Class).

    If it was me, I will ask the agent for the specific reason, policy, etc. why my luggage was too large.

    I don’t think that we got the whole story from the OP.

    OP should be glad that he got the refund for his original unused return flight.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The key when you travel internationally especially flying on international metal and/or a mixture of international and US metal is know their luggage rules BEFORE you travel. I will print out the rulespolicies and carry them with me.

    I have taken several international flights which included a domestic segment from PHX to LAX, SFO, etc. 50% of these domestic segments were separate reservations (i.e. PHX to LAX then LAX to LHR) from the international reservations. The weight limit is 50 lbs for domestic and 70 lbs (First Class or Business Class) for international. An America WestUS AirwaysAA agent in PHX will tell us that our luggage is overweight then I show our international reservation and it is not a problem (I usually give them our international reservation upfront so that they don’t say anything about the weight).

    Qantas has a smaller carry-on size than the US carriers.

  • gpx21dlr

    I dislike these difficult happenings. Why can’t the airlines & travel co. do the refund w/o you(Elliott&Co.) getting involved? Just do the right thing. Did you say PLEASE and Cruz didn’t?

  • y_p_w

    Of course it’s pretty common that they eyeball carry-on and ignore that it’s over the published dimensions. That works up to the point where the passenger runs into a stickler for the rules. That sounds like the most reasonable possibility. If he had to check it in (he was sent back so that sounds like what happened) then I don’t see why it couldn’t be gate checked even with different pricing with the code share. They could have made it easy with a complimentary gate check, which I’ve gotten many times.

  • greg watson

    I congratulate any airline that enforces the size rules for carry on luggage………………too often, some carry on & backpacks are larger than my checked luggage. Saying that, couldn’t he have paid extra to check that bag……………..also, don’t most airlines have extra fees for oversized luggage ? Some thing is missing in this story, for him to be denied boarding !

  • Attention All Passengers

    Bag too large ?………Maybe so but doesn’t anyone have enough sense to suggest he try to buy two bags and check in excess weight/stuff that way ? ….and why wasn’t a date change fee offered – it would have been a heck of a lot lower than a new one-way walkup fare. Another reason to get to the airport VERY EARLY under all circumstances. Geez, I do this even when I have nothing but a small carryon. Most airports sell luggage somewhere in the terminal. Better that he run around, buy two bags to repack and then pay a date change fee if he runs out of time than get stuck with a new one-way ticket home. Stupid agents are like robots – they absolutely can’t think out of the box. Well those days are gone since agents with decades of experience (like me) have now retired.

  • Alan Gore

    Whatever happened to the standard that rules for a codeshare flight are those of the originating carrier? Does every carrier now get to cherry-pick the most restrictive limit in the chain in achieving the coveted goal of leaving a pax stranded at the gate?

  • Mel65

    What a mess! I’m really glad he got his refund; however, I suspect this could have probably been avoided. If while waiting in line at customer service for 30 minutes or so, he missed his flight, that tells me that for an international flight he was not there nearly early enough. Had he been there earlier he would have had time to talk to them and get it straightened out and if necessary buy another bag or whatever.

  • Annie M

    “I could not board the plane because my luggage was too large” – was this carry on and not checked luggage? That is the only thing that would make sense on why he couldn’t board. Otherwise, if it was checked luggage wouldn’t it be checked all the way through to Chicago and no one would see it?

    If that’s what happened -Then why is is the airlines fault if his carry on didn’t fit into the sizer?

    BA’s carry on rules:

    1 handbag/laptop bag (max. 23kg / 51lb and up to 40 x 30 x 15cm / 16 x 12 x 6in)


    1 additional cabin bag (max. 23kg / 51lb and up to 56 x 45 x 25cm / 22 x 18 x 10in)

    AA’s carry on rules

    Shouldn’t exceed 22 x 14 x 9 inches / 56 x 36 x 23 centimeters (including handles and wheels)

    Must fit in the sizer at the airport

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