It wasn’t my fault. Why should I be penalized for missing my flight?

It just wasn’t David Ababio’s day.

His back was injured and he couldn’t walk quickly. Then the airport bus wasn’t running. He arrived at the KLM counter ten minutes too late to check in for his flight. And then he learned that KLM considered him a “no-show” for his flight and canceled his itinerary.

Ababio wants a refund for his airfares. But neither KLM, its codeshare partner, Delta, nor his travel insurance company will reimburse him.

“This is an extreme injustice outside of our control,” he says. “I am a college student and can’t afford to throw away that amount of money.”

But we can’t help him either.

His situation is a sad combination of not arriving at the airport in time, the no-show “gotcha” that airlines invoke to avoid refunding airfares and a failure to obtain documentation of a promise by an airline employee in writing. Had Ababio obtained such documentation, we might have been able to assist. Without it, however, there’s nothing we can do for him.

Ababio’s story began with a request by his pastor to escort her to his home country of Ghana. They booked Delta code-shared air tickets on KLM for a trip from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Accra, Ghana, over Christmas, through International Travel Network (ITN), a San Francisco-based consolidator travel company. In addition, Ababio purchased travel insurance coverage under ITN’s Travel Protection Plan for the trip.

Then his troubles began. A month prior to departure, Ababio sustained an injury to a disc in his lower back, which required him to use a cane while walking. He called KLM to request assistance for his condition upon arrival at the airport.

On the day of the outbound flight, a few days before Christmas, Ababio and his pastor drove to O’Hare and parked in Parking Lot G, where they expected to catch a shuttle bus to O’Hare’s Airport Transit System (ATS). The bus was to take them to Terminal 5, from which their flight would depart. But no bus came to the bus stop where they waited.

After seven minutes of waiting, Ababio used the red help button at the bus stop to request assistance. A woman answered and told him and the pastor to stay put and a bus would pick them up. But another six minutes passed with no bus arriving.

Then a pedestrian told Ababio that no bus would come to the stop. Because of a problem with the ATS, shuttle buses were not picking up passengers at the bus stops. They would have to walk to the nearby station to catch a bus to Terminal 5.

Ababio hobbled and the pastor walked as quickly as they could to the station, carrying their bags. They had to wait another 15 minutes for the next bus to Terminal 5. But it was too late. KLM had concluded check-in for their flight ten minutes before.

KLM’s agents told Ababio that there was nothing they could do for him and the pastor and gave Ababio a support telephone number to call. But when Ababio called the number, KLM’s representative told him, “I’m sorry, sir, but we are not responsible for your circumstances, and the airport needs to take care of you. Go try to talk to a manager or something they have there.” Ababio asked to speak to a KLM manager at the airport, who also told him that there was nothing she could do for Ababio and the pastor. She told him to call KLM again. But KLM’s agent again refused to help Ababio and told him to call ITN.

ITN didn’t have good news for Ababio either. Its agent told Ababio that because he and the pastor were “no-shows,” their tickets were no longer valid. They would have to purchase new tickets. Because of the proximity to the Christmas holidays, the new tickets would cost four times the price of the original ones. Ababio and the pastor would have to pay the price difference.

The runaround continued until Ababio spoke to two Delta agents at O’Hare, who were sympathetic to his situation. According to Ababio, they documented a statement from Ababio about the ATS problems and his medical condition. They also tried to find a flight for which Ababio and the pastor could exchange their tickets. Because they were unable to find a new flight for Ababio and the pastor, they provided them with meal and transportation vouchers and hotel rooms for the night.

Then Ababio called ITN again. But its agents told him that it would need a waiver from Delta to refund his tickets and that it would take weeks for ITN to issue Ababio the refund. The following day, the Delta agents to whom Ababio had spoken the previous day called him to tell him that there were no available flights for which he could exchange his tickets within the window of time allowed.

At that point, Ababio and the pastor gave up on traveling to Ghana and returned home.

Ababio tried to follow up with Delta about providing ITN with a waiver for a refund of his airfares. But Delta’s representative told him that there was no documentation of his statement to its agents at O’Hare. Although Delta was willing to allow Ababio to exchange his ticket without a change penalty, it would not agree to a refund. But this resolution didn’t work for Ababio, who can’t travel within the next few years. He tried to file a claim on the ITN Travel Protection Plan policy, but ITN rejected his claim because he was a “no-show” for the flight.

He might have appealed to higher-ranking executives of Delta or KLM using our contact information (as of this writing we do not have executive contact information for ITN), but he turned to our response team instead.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have good news for Ababio either. He claims that Delta’s agents at O’Hare told him that because his situation was not his fault, he could expect a refund. But he didn’t get this promise in writing. And without it, we have no leverage to challenge a “no-show” determination by the airlines or ITN.

All we can do in Ababio’s case is warn our readers of the need to get all promises of assistance by airline representatives in writing — and to get to the airport two to three hours early when traveling overseas. We recommend checking and following any guidelines issued by your airline regarding how much advance time you should allow yourself. And in situations like Ababio’s involving mobility issues, allow for even more advance time, especially during peak travel periods like Christmas. Otherwise, like Ababio, the only place you may be traveling to is back home.

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