Are Airlines and Travel Agencies Screwing Customers Who Trust Them Too Much?

schedule change

ALERT! ALERT! SCHEDULE CHANGE! (oh, you didn’t see? your bad, your loss)

i have an obsession, like i think many frequent travelers do, with constantly checking and double-checking my plans to ensure everything is perfect. i can’t tell you how often i pull up and click into every single one of my itineraries, how i research transit, SIM cards, visa requirements, etc. (well, i could, but you’d probably think i’m crazy.)

and i’ll tell you why i do it. yeah, there’s probably a bit of endorphin release that goes on just thinking about upcoming trips, but mostly it’s because i’ve been burned before and have learned to prepare and arm myself.

but what of the infrequent traveler? the one who thinks a Contract of Carriage only applied back when things were horse-drawn? the one who thinks 261/2004 is a European phone number? the one who doesn’t read FlyerTalk or MilePoint or follow The Blogs? the one who doesn’t know a travel waiver is in effect for their connecting city and gets stuck at a snowed-in airport? the one who doesn’t track inbound flights to make sure their outbound isn’t delayed? the one who, like those old countertop rotisserie infomercials of yore, would rather just…

case 1: but i wasn’t told!

a series of events left two twitter friends stranded at Seattle airport last night. granted, i only know one side of the story, but one thing is for sure: schedule change notifications did not work as expected. from what i understand, there was a change on a connection and their ticket was never updated, causing them to not be able to check in for their flight and thus misconnect. they called their (large) (online) travel agency who was unable to offer any help. luckily an employee at the airline that brought them to Seattle was able to help them with their connection (on a different carrier) and they finally made it home.

i have learned from experience that i never get schedule change notifications from United, the airline i fly most — which is why i am obsessive-compulsive about checking my itineraries. just this morning, i discovered a change, in fact. i must say, though, i have gotten change notifications from the agency my friends had trouble with:


my hunch is that there was a failure in communication between one of the airlines involved and the agency, since they were unable to help — i’m guessing they didn’t show any change at all in their system. should it have been on my friends to check their flight itineraries with the operating carrier(s?), bypassing the middleman who is supposed to take care of everything? i say no. but it looks like people might just have to.

case 2: but they should have known!

i was flipping through the FlyerTalk United AIrlines forum and came across this post by a frustrated passenger who was incorrectly denied boarding (and, long story short, missed out on a big trip to the Philippines) because the employee at the airport incorrectly believed they needed a transit visa for China.

the first two responses to the original post caught me by surprise, and were what prompted me to write this post in the first place:

schedule change 2

WHAT?! no. No. NO. NO! NO! while i can see the value of having a printout of the relevant Timatic sections, how many people do you think would know that a) it exists, b) how to access it and then c) that they should bother to print it out, especially after being correctly told by your travel agent you wouldn’t need a visa? this person was as prepared as they should have been and did nothing wrong. x10000000 sorry to these two posters, NO.

isn’t it telling, though, that people believe it’s come to this? that we don’t just have to prepare for a trip on our end, packing, planning itineraries, etc., but also then know rules and regulations and be on our toes to catch employee mistakes on top of it all?

case 3: caught in the middle

another obsession, one that i think we all can value, is finding the best deal for something. well, i booked my hotel for my last trip (to Easter Island) via a company that takes a 15% deposit, leaving 85% to be paid onsite — this was the lowest price and i’ve used this company without any hitches in the past:

schedule change 3

well, guess what i was charged when i got to the hotel?

yep. the full amount.

unfortunately, the lady who checked me in did not speak English, so i couldn’t argue my case. i know it’s “only” $32, but i emailed the agency to see if they could help me out, since i clearly shouldn’t have to pay 115%. sure, there were probably steps i could have taken at the hotel to stand up for myself, but trying to access the internet was an exercise in futility and i sure as heck didn’t want to pay to call the web-based agency.

so what can we do?

of course there is something to be said about being an informed and empowered consumer, but, especially in cases like the first two, that would require going above and beyond what i think is reasonable. and of course i know the vast majority of people travel without incident, but problems like these are certainly not rare. is what people are suggesting the best solution? be armed for every single contingency? as much as i want to no no no this course of action and i don’t want to believe that’s what the travel consumers of today need to resort to, it just might be. mistakes happen all the time; should we expect John and Jane Q. Public to start fending for themselves? who’s going to teach them all this?

Is winter coming? Do we as consumers need to get ready?

ideas? comments?

Be the first to comment on "Are Airlines and Travel Agencies Screwing Customers Who Trust Them Too Much?"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.