Linda Gray and her partner booked a trip to China and Thailand with Sinorama, a Canada-based China tour operator, and had a lovely time — until they tried to return home.
Cathay Pacific refused to allow them to board their flight in Bangkok because they had an “illegal connection” in Hong Kong. Gray eventually booked new tickets at her own expense. She thinks Sinorama should reimburse them. But Sinorama seems to think any other company should pay.
When Gray tried to check in for her flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong, the Cathay Pacific representatives refused. A Cathay Pacific representative said that the minimum connection time allowed in Hong Kong was two hours, but her connection was less than that. The representatives also explained that it would not be possible to transfer her bags from the flight she was trying to board to her next flight in the time allowed, and her bags must be on the same flight with her.
The Sinorama guide who accompanied Gray to the airport told her that the offices of the agency that Sinorama used to book the flights were closed because it was a weekend. But the guide did eventually reach the manager of the Vancouver office, who, according to Gray, said that office was closed as well. Gray first tried to change her connecting flight on United Airlines to a later time, but United insisted Sinorama had to change the flight since it booked the tickets.
Gray argued with Sinorama, Cathay Pacific, and United Airlines for six hours before a representative from Sinorama told Gray to book her own flights home and the company would “figure it out” afterward. Trusting that the representative was correct, Gray purchased return tickets and paid $2,501.
Back at home, Gray applied for a refund from Sinorama. In addition to the cost of her return tickets, she also wanted Sinorama to reimburse her $283 for the cost of lounge passes during their 12-hour wait for the next flight, $19 for lunch at the airport, and $50 for the extra day of pet sitting.
Sinorama refused her request — it claimed the required connection time in Hong Kong is one hour and 15 minutes, and that its booking system, Amadeus, would not have allowed the ticket to be booked if it had been an illegal connection. It further claimed that she didn’t follow the instructions she was given to allow the airlines to rebook her tickets:
Also, we told you to ask Cathay Pacific to issue an official letter which explains the situation why you are not able to get on the flight. Therefore, after arrived to Hong Kong, you could show this letter to United Airline [sic] and re-arrange the flight from Hong Kong to Dallas. However, you did not do so. Could you please specify why?
Gray also checked with her travel insurance provider and learned that it would not be able to reimburse her because her policy did not cover errors made by the operator.
Sinorama did say that it understood why she booked new tickets and that it would be her “best backup” for getting a refund from Amadeus:
If we give a second thought to that situation, as a passenger, under the pressure, we are surely worried about our flight back home. No one wants to be stuck in a foreign country. We could understand your choice of booking another flight at your own expense under that circumstance.
If I were a passenger receiving that message, I would have thought my refund was on its way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
After corresponding with Sinorama for four months, Gray posted her story to our forums and asked us for help.
We’ve written countless times about travelers who requested additional expenses from companies. While we wouldn’t advocate for Gray to recover the cost of lounge passes, pet sitting, and lunch, we did reach out to Sinorama to recover the cost of the return tickets she was forced to purchase.
Sinorama responded to us with a long list of reasons that this problem was not the fault of Sinorama: Amadeus had not updated its information, Cathay Pacific and United should have rebooked the flights at a lower cost, and Gray didn’t do what she was told.
Even after we obtained an official letter from Cathay Pacific confirming that the connection was illegal, Sinorama continued to deny that it was at fault and blamed Amadeus, Cathay Pacific, and Gray. It told us that it was working with the other companies on behalf of its passenger to resolve the problem.
More than six months after Gray’s trip to China, and after multiple attempts to persuade Sinorama to reimburse their client, we continue to hear that Sinorama is “still gathering information and cannot make a final decision at this time.”
It’s always disappointing when a company refuses to take responsibility for errors, but after so many months we’ll have to dismiss this case. Gray may have grounds for a civil case and should consult with an attorney who is qualified to advise her.
This case also serves as a warning to other travelers to double-check connection times before you travel — even if you booked your tickets through a tour operator or a travel agency.