A missed connection to Hawaii

Question: I’m trying to get reimbursed for an extra night at a hotel caused by an airline schedule change, but my travel agency and airline have been giving me the cold shoulder. Here’s what happened to us: My husband and I recently booked a trip from Dallas to Kauai via Phoenix on US Airways. When we arrived in Phoenix, we learned that our scheduled flight had departed for Kauai two hours earlier. Neither the airline nor our travel agent, Cheaptickets.com, had notified us of any flight changes.

The next flight to the islands was three days later. US Airways sent us to Los Angeles that afternoon where we had to get a hotel room until the next flight to Honolulu the following morning. From there, we were on our own. Fortunately, we were able to catch a standby flight to Kauai, and were reunited with our luggage later that night.

We’re trying to get our money back for the night of lodging at the hotel we weren’t able to use, the hotel at Los Angeles International Airport that we had to stay in, plus the toiletries we needed to buy when we were separated from our luggage. I called US Airways, and they blew me off, suggesting that I had gotten what I deserved because I booked my flight through Cheaptickets.com. Can you help us?

— Marlene Kelley, Lake Kiowa, Texas

Answer: Both your online travel agent and your airline should have notified you of the schedule change and offered to rebook your flight. When they failed to do that, they should have covered your expenses — the extra night at the hotel at LAX, the missed night in Hawaii and your incidentals.

But you could have easily prevented this from happening by phoning your airline and agency to confirm your flight. Flight schedules can change, and the systems used to notify passengers are unreliable. In your particular case, you were dealing with an airline that had just completed a merger with America West and was going through an ordeal in trying to merge its computer reservations systems. The news reports should have prompted you to make a precautionary call just to be sure your flight was still running on schedule.

It is highly unusual for an airline to reschedule your flights without trying to rebook a missing connection, and at the very least informing your travel agent about the change. Something obviously went terribly wrong.

When you found out about the flight schedule change in Phoenix, you should have spoken with a supervisor, who could have authorized a hotel voucher and given you permission to buy incidentals, such as toothpaste and shampoo, at US Airways’ expense. Although a connection problem such as this one isn’t specifically addressed in the airline’s contract of carriage — the legal agreement between you and the airline — it’s clear that the airline was responsible for creating this situation, and should have covered your costs.

You shouldn’t have paid for a hotel and assumed that either US Airways or Cheaptickets.com would pay for it. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Travel companies go to considerable lengths to make sure that requests like yours are met with a polite but firm “no” — no matter how legitimate. (Although I think US Airways’ answer that you “got what you deserved” might need some work.)

I contacted both your agency and airline on your behalf. After months of stonewalling you, US Airways agreed to send you $500 worth of flight coupons and Cheaptickets.com issued two $200 vouchers, which more than covers your expenses.

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