Airberlin changed my flight and added a 19-hour layover

Stella Clark is traveling through Europe when she receives an alert of a schedule change to her upcoming Airberlin flight — one that turns a four-hour jaunt into a 29-hour overnight journey. Why won’t the airline allow her to cancel this unpleasant itinerary?

Question: Airberlin changed my flight to Olbia, Sardinia, and has me spending the night in Germany, and it also added an extra connection. I emailed Airberlin and asked for a refund or a change, and they said they couldn’t help because I used another website instead of Airberlin to book my flight. I used Priceline.

I have tried to reach Priceline using their chat feature. But before I could explain my situation I was disconnected. I am currently traveling in Europe and it is impossible to reach anyone who can help. We are getting closer to the date of this flight, and I don’t want to be marked as a no-show.

I have booked a new flight now, and I would love a refund for this unwanted flight. If that’s not possible I would like a credit toward another ticket. Can you help? — Stella Clark, Novato, Calif.

Answer: Yes, I can. When an airline changes your flight schedule so that it barely resembles the originally purchased ticket, you should be able to reject the change, cancel and receive a refund.

And your ticket was dramatically changed.

You had originally intended to leave Mallorca at 9 a.m., change planes in Munich and be on the beach in Sardinia in time for a late lunch.

Sounds like a wonderful plan.

But your updated ticket had an added stop in Berlin and an overnight, 19-hour layover in Munich, eventually arriving on the Italian island a full day later than planned.

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The distance between the two islands is approximately 350 miles. These new flights took you on an illogically circuitous route, one that you would never have designed for yourself.

So why were you having so much trouble getting your ticket refunded?

If you had booked your flights directly with Airberlin they could have been easily canceled and refunded because of this schedule change.

Most airlines, including Airberlin, will allow refunds even on nonrefundable tickets if a schedule change causes you to arrive more than 2 to 3 hours beyond your original arrival time.

But because you used Priceline to book your airfare, Airberlin did not have control over your ticket. So the representative you spoke to was unable to to help you. She referred you back to Priceline, which, she explained, could process the refund of your ticket.

Airberlin offers detailed refund and rebooking guidance to travel agents whose clients do not wish to accept airline-imposed schedule changes.

If you had used a traditional travel agency to book this flight, your problem could have been settled with a quick call to your agent, who could have booked your new flight, as well. Because you were traveling abroad this would have been quite convenient.

But you didn’t book directly with Airberlin or with a travel agent.

You chose Priceline, a third-party online booking agent, to purchase your ticket. This caused a complication to your problem that you found insurmountable.

You tried to reach someone at Priceline who could understand your dilemma and approve the cancellation and refund, but you were placed on a long hold. Then when you did reach someone via Priceline’s chat feature, you were disconnected because of your poor Wi-Fi service.

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That’s when you contacted us.

With only days left until the scheduled flight, you were concerned that you would be marked as a no-show if the problem wasn’t resolved beforehand. As one of our readers, you knew if that happened the value of the ticket would be lost and your road to a refund would be even more difficult.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf, explained the changes to your ticket and requested your refund. And, just like that, your problem was solved.

You are happy to report that you have received your refund and arrived in Sardinia on an alternative flight — one that did not first take you on a tour of Germany.

We receive complaints just like yours every week. These travelers have used an online travel agent (OTA) and discovered to their dismay that when problems arise the OTA does not provide the personalized assistance that a traditional travel agent can offer. Nor the immediate help that the airline can provide if you have booked directly.

When booking your own flights, you should know ahead of time how and if your chosen booking agent can handle problems that may occur with your ticket. Because, although we love to help, you shouldn’t be forced to contact a consumer advocate in order to have your issue resolved.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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