Booking a flight online may be convenient, but it’s far from problem-free. Just ask Charles Bornheim, whose son is holding an extra airline ticket he booked through Orbitz.
Bornheim is trying to get a refund, but is having no luck. Airlines can be pretty unforgiving with their refund policies, and at some point when you’re booking online, you have to take responsibility for your own actions.
But is this a case where no one is really to blame — and should I try to help him secure a refund?
Here’s what happened to Bornheim:
My 17-year-old son went to Orbiz to book his very first flight to occur over Thanksgiving. He got confused by the site and its procedures and double booked without realizing it.
He booked the original Delta flight on October 4. The site said he would receive confirmation by email within 24 hours. He either did not receive or failed to see it the confirmation the next day (I could not find it in any of his mailboxes: inbox or trash folder, so I believe him when he says he didn’t get it).
A couple of days later, believing he had made an error in trying to book the first flight, he went back to Orbitz and booked a second flight for the same cities and dates, this time on American. (The preferred Delta itinerary was no longer available at the low fare he had originally booked).
OK, let me stop here for a second. You had me at “17-year-old books a Thanksgiving flight.”
I’m sure there are 17-year-olds who are responsible, capable users. But shouldn’t junior have asked his parents for help before he booked the second ticket?
Anyway, on with the story.
It wasn’t until a few days later, when his bank notified him that his account was empty and he owed penalties on top of the shortage that he realized he had booked twice.
We immediately called Orbitz asking them to cancel the second (American) reservation and refund his money. They refused. We called back during the day to talk to a regular supervisor, and that person also refused. They said our only recourse was to explain the situation to American Airlines customer relations.
So I had my son email American customer relations explaining the situation. They obviously did not read his letter carefully because a CSR named Lisa Fields wrote back asking him for the record locator of the original American flight (the original flight was on Delta, NOT American,
which his letter clearly stated).
I helped my son send an email response to Ms. Fields immediately explaining that the original reservation was on Delta, not American. They did not acknowledge the second email, and we have heard nothing from them for over a week. I don’t even know if they got or read the letter.
There is still time for American to cancel the reservation and resell the ticket for a much better price than they got from my son. But I don’t know how to contact them or let them know about the problem and get it resolved before Thanksgiving.
What could have been done to prevent this? A lot.
When the confirmation email didn’t arrive, Bornheim’s son should have called Orbitz to verify the itinerary. A confirmation could have been sent to him again. He could have also phoned Delta if for some reason he couldn’t get through to Orbitz.
Once the second ticket was booked, he should have informed his parents of the rebooking immediately instead of waiting for bad news from his bank. But those of us reading this, who have made reservations online before, we know all of this. The point is, this is a 17-year-old boy making his very first reservation online. He couldn’t have known.
So what now? I’ve given Bornheim some contacts at Orbitz and have suggested that he follow up with them. At worst, his son can cancel one of the flights and get credit for it.
But should I mediate this case?
Update (7:30 a.m.): Less than an hour after I posted this, Delta Air Lines contacted me and offered to refund Bornheim’s ticket. “Good lesson learned here,” a representative told me. I’ll say! Thanks, Delta.
I’ve closed the poll. It was a close vote.
(Photo: loo see nds/Flickr Creative Commons)