Is this enough compensation? Wrong information leads to a missed flight

Christianna Kreiss thought she would be flying to India with her family a few weeks ago.

Instead, she spent hours in Pittsburgh trying to sort out a messy airline reservation that involved Air Canada, Lufthansa and Orbitz.

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Kreiss eventually made it to India, but lost two vacation days and had other out-of-pocket expenses. Is she owed anything?

In order to answer that question, let’s take a closer look at the Kreiss family’s itinerary. It started with an Air Canada flight from Pittsburgh to Toronto. Then they connected to a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. From there, they flew on to Hyderabad, India.

Orbitz listed their departure time in Pittsburgh as 3:30 p.m., and the family also received an email from the online travel agency on their departure day confirming the time.

But it wasn’t right. Turns out the outbound flight had been rescheduled to 2:55 p.m., so when they tried to check in at 2 p.m. — five minutes after the cut-off time — they were denied boarding.

When we then called Orbitz at 2:30 p.m., we were initially told that the Air Canada flight should still be leaving at 3:30 p.m., and the gate agents should just check us in.

After prolonged discussions and checking on their part, they did agree, that the flight was rescheduled to leave already at 2:55 p.m. In the interim, we received an e-mail from Air Canada at 2:26 p.m., that the flight we were supposed to be on was now supposed to leave at 2:55 p.m.

This information was of course useless, as their own policy posted at their check-in counter states that check-in is required at 60 minutes prior to departure.

Kreiss’ husband started working the phones, asking Orbitz to help get the family to India. Over the next four hours, he spoke with various agents and supervisors, without success. Finally, the family boarded a cab to go home.

Five minutes after we got in the cab, a supervisor from Orbitz called us and said that they might be able to get us on a flight through Washington D.C., leaving Pittsburgh at 7:15 p.m. It was at 6 p.m. We were asked to return to the airport and wait for his call.

He never called back.

My husband called again one hour later, talking now to a different supervisor. They were unable to rebook us and told us, that we might have to pay an additional $700 per person to rebook.

Kreiss eventually decided to bypass Orbitz and contact Lufthansa directly. She learned that Orbitz was notified in May about the schedule change for the Air Canada flight.

She contacted Orbitz again, and this time received even more bad news: A supervisor told her the online agency wouldn’t rebook her flight and that it owed her nothing.

We feel that this constitutes fraud as the whole situation arose based on a wrong departure time provided to us and confirmed on the day of departure by Orbitz.

Orbitz has taken our money but is refusing to provide the service, which it had promised in return. Also, Orbitz has lied to us repeatedly through various agents, who kept telling us that they will rebook us, we should just wait for a call back, which never came.

I think the Kreiss family might have avoided all this by calling Air Canada directly to confirm their flight times and by showing up for their international flight at least two hour early. I note that they were flying with three young children — all the more reason to give themselves a little extra time.

But still, Orbitz apparently supplied an inaccurate departure time and then confirmed it. Had it not done so, this would have been a non-issue.

Problem is, in order to fix this, Orbitz will have to buy the family a new ticket. Air Canada and Lufthansa have the family as a no-show in their system, which means the $5,521 they spent is lost.

I contacted Orbitz on their behalf. A few days later, I got an email from Kreiss in India.

Orbitz did offer us a round-trip flight from Washington, with one day later return than what we had initially planned. We had about half an hour to pack and leave, and had to make a four-hour drive to Washington, but everything worked out OK and we are here now. We don’t know what caused them to change their minds.

Nice of Orbitz to fix this. But is it enough?

We had two ruined days of hard-earned vacation. There’s also the emotional distress caused to our children and family members as well as us – all of this caused because of faulty communication of flight times provided to us by Orbitz and too late communication in flight time changes given to us by Air Canada. We will certainly travel overseas again, but will not again book with Orbitz.

She raises an interesting question. When something goes wrong — really wrong — is fixing the flight enough? Or should a travel agency also offer to cover cab fare, parking and other incidentals that were incurred by the client?

(Image of Pittsburgh airport by csee man/Flickr)