I paid an extra $8,250 to fly home — can you help me get a refund?

jalAnyone who needs a case study about the perils of airline codesharing should look no further than Kun-Yang Lee’s story.

He was flying from Geneva to Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, last month. The ticket, booked through Expedia, was issued through Japan Airlines, had Japan Airlines flight numbers, but one leg of the flight — from Geneva to London — was on codeshare partner British Airways.

But that’s not the problem. At least not entirely.

Lee arrived at the airport before the cut-off time for checking in, but it was close. He’d run into a little traffic on the way to the airport. When he tried to check in, a British Airways representative, working for a subcontractor called Dnata, told him he couldn’t find his reservation.

He explains what happened next:

I offered to provide him with my ticket number and reservation number but he declined. I called the JAL reservation centre in London immediately but I was reassured by the phone agent that I had a valid ticket for travel.

The Dnata agent then told me he thinks he found my reservation and that I no longer needed the JAL agent on the phone, but after I hung up the phone the agent told me that my ticket was not paid and therefore not valid for travel.

He called over a colleague/supervisor to help him on the computers and after some more digging his colleague/supervisor found my valid reservation for him.

By now it had already been more than 10 minutes since I first approached the check-in desk. This second agent proceeded to point on the computer screen and told me that “Sir, you’re already too late for this flight and it’s now closed.”

I argued that it was not my fault since I was still in the process of being checked-in when the flight closed, and that had the agent found my reservation earlier, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Lee asked if they could check him in, anyway. He had a ticket in his hands 40 minutes prior to departure. But they said “no.”

“They were dismissive in their manner and told me to speak to the BA ticketing desk to see what my options were,” he remembers.

Calls to Expedia and BA were unsuccessful. Expedia said his ticket was under “airport control” and could not reroute him. British Airways told him he’d lost the value of his ticket because he missed his flight, and that he could ask Expedia for a refund of his taxes.

“In order to travel as planned, I ended up having to pay for a walk-up full-fare business class ticket on Air France,” he says. “Yes, full-fare and in business, because all other flights/seats/airlines at the airport were full due to the holiday season, even for a few days after. I paid $8,250 [for the ticket].

Appeals to Japan Airlines were only partially successful. In an email, the airline said “as a special consideration” Japan Airlines would refund his cancellation penalty of about $200. He still has a ticket credit, which he can use for a future flight. But it can’t help him recover the $8,250.

Lee wants a refund, but the question is, who should pay it? Air France? No, it sold him a ticket and fulfilled its agreement with him. British Airways? Its subcontractor? Expedia? Japan Airlines?

There are so many players here, and everyone has some reason to blame the other for what happened. It’s one reason why I have a problem with codesharing; often, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere and the passenger ends up holding the bag. (Sorry for mixing my metaphors.)

I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do to help. How would you handle this one?

Should I mediate Kun-Yang Lee's case?

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