I wasn’t “protected” on my flight to Tirana — should my travel agent pay?

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Jane Berryman was supposed to fly from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Tirana, Albania, via Rome. At least that’s what her itinerary said.

She did not.

Instead of making her connection to a second airline, she stood in a long line in Rome. She missed her flight and had to spend the night at the airport. She bought a new ticket to Albania the following day.

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“Who’s responsible here?” she wondered. “Me, Alitalia, or the travel agency?”

That’s a great, and unfortunately common, question in this age of codesharing confusion. Berryman is upset because no one will take responsibility for the delay. She has a right to feel that way.

At first, I assumed this was a little glitch. By all outward appearances, her itinerary was properly connected in her reservation.

A competent travel agent will connect your airline reservation on two carriers, or have them on the same ticket, which “protects” your itinerary and guarantees certain rights under EU 261, the European consumer protection law. If you don’t make the connection, the airline will put you on its next available flight at no extra charge.

But Alitalia says Berryman’s itinerary wasn’t connected. According to my contact at the airline:

[Ms. Berryman] was booked and ticketed on a separate carrier that arrived late. She had to pick up luggage and complete check-in procedures before flight closure.

Unfortunately, she was not in time and the Alitalia flight had to close or lose our slot with airport control, causing serious delays to other flights and inconvenience to other passengers.

I realize Ms. Berryman states she was on time, but she results as a no-show in the system. This can only happen if a passenger is late as we do not manually change the status to no-show.

Each ticket is a separate contract of carriage and each carrier is responsible only for the journey of their own ticket from origin to destination. Consequently we must respectfully deny compensation.

So, according to Alitalia, it didn’t know she was coming from Dubrovnik because her itinerary wasn’t on the same ticket and besides, she was late checking in.

Berryman remembers it differently. “By the time I reached the desk, I was told that the flight was oversold,” she says. “But they also informed me I’d checked in late and was responsible for buying a new ticket to Tirana.”

If her agent had bothered to book a ticket with a codeshare agreement, she adds, then none of this would have happened.

Actually, codesharing isn’t necessary. All she’d need is a simple “interlining” agreement to protect her. An interlining agreement between airlines handles passengers traveling on itineraries that need multiple airlines.

I suggested she circle back with her agency, AirTreks. Why did it book her on that itinerary, and why didn’t it apprise her of the risks?

Here’s the email Berryman received from a manager after several appeals to AirTreks:

I am so sorry to hear that Alitalia was not more helpful. In reviewing our emails with you about this matter, it seems like their inability to move you to the front of the line to check in certainly contributed to the fact that you missed your connection (on top of other factors, of course).

As a fellow traveler, I certainly sympathize with your situation. I have been in the same boat a few times on my personal travels, and I know there is simply nothing more frustrating than missing a flight due to circumstances outside of your control.

While it is completely true that you missed your connection due to no fault of your own, AirTreks is not responsible to reimburse you for expenses incurred as a result.

There is absolutely no way for AirTreks to be able to guarantee that flights will operate on time. Just as the delay was outside of your control, it was outside of ours as well.

The AirTreks supervisor points out that they offered several alternatives to the connection she ultimately chose. AirTreks also claimed that it advised Berryman of the risks.

It added,

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of great options to get from Croatia to Albania, and I understand that you had quite specific parameters about this particular leg of your trip.

It is our policy in such cases to present every possible option and allow the traveler to make the final decision. Ultimately, the decision to book this connection was your own.

All of that being said, I think every situation that crosses my desk presents an opportunity for AirTreks to improve. We are constantly striving to provide the highest possible level of service for our travelers.

Berryman doesn’t see it that way.

“I was set up for failure from the start because of how AirTreks structured my itinerary,” she says. “I feel strongly that AirTreks should step up and do the right thing for its customer.”

By “right thing” she means reimbursing her for the 303 euro ticket she had to buy in Rome. “I will eat the extra hotel bill,” she says.

Who’s responsible? Well, Alitalia had no way of knowing that Berryman was on that Vueling flight, so I’m letting it off the hook. The real question is: Did AirTreks warn her of the risks of missing her flight to Tirana, with such a tight connection? As one of our eagle-eyed editors noted when investigating this itinerary, the inbound flight has a dismal on-time rating. Or did it just say cautioned her, after the fact?

And how can I help? I mean, if I push AirTreks to pay for the new flight to Albania, even though it disclosed all the risks, then how is that fair to the company? But if it never really told her that she wouldn’t be protected on the itinerary, then how is this scenario fair to Berryman?

What would you do?

Should I mediate Jane Berryman's case with AirTreks?

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