Joshua Smith's fiancee spends an extra day in Athens after her airline forces her to recheck her luggage. Whose fault is this snafu? Her online agent's? The airline's? Or hers? And what, if anything, can be done about it?
Q: I am a Marine based in Nicosia, Cyprus. I have a situation, and I am looking for some guidance.
I recently bought tickets from Travelocity for my fiancee, Cara. Her return itinerary had her flying from Cyprus to Athens and then on to Munich on a Lufthansa flight operated by Aegean Airlines.
Her stopover in Athens was 50 minutes, which was not a problem. But when we checked in at Cyprus, she was only given a boarding pass to Athens and was told to pick up another boarding pass in Athens after retrieving her luggage. It didn't make sense.
To make a long story short, I contacted Travelocity but Cara missed her connection in Athens and had to pay $250 to change her flight, and had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next day, which also wasn't cheap.
I don't know if this is just a mix up and we just got the short end of the stick, or if there is something we can do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. -- Joshua Smith, Nicosia, Cyprus
A: Cara should have been able to check her baggage all the way through to Munich, no questions asked. When you phoned Travelocity, they should have given you a straight answer about why that wasn't possible and helped you and your fiancee figure out a solution.
Turns out Cara's ticket was issued by Lufthansa but operated by Aegean -- what's called a "code share" flight. Aegean didn't have a baggage agreement with Cara's next carrier, United Airlines. That meant she would have to re-check her bags, according to Travelocity.
That should have been explained to Cara at the time she booked her ticket, or at the very least when you phoned the online travel agency. The issue also should have raised a red flag with the customer service agent to whom you spoke, since a 50-minute connect time is hardly enough to collect your checked baggage and re-check it.
None of that happened.
Several questions come to mind. First, how can airlines sell a ticket on one of its own flights and then outsource it to another carrier? Isn't that like ordering a pizza but getting a plate of spaghetti?
Second, how can your online agency allow you to book a flight with less than an hour to connect and fail to tell you that you'll have to pick up your luggage? And finally, why didn't your agent do something when alerted to the close connection?
If this ever happens to you again, don't take an agent's answer as final. Appeal to a supervisor, either by phone or e-mail. Call the airline and find out if you have any options. Lufthansa or United could have helped Cara by rescheduling her flight or offering her a room for the night, in case she missed her connection.
You might have prevented this by booking your airfare through a conventional travel agency. A competent travel adviser would have seen the connection time, noticed the lack of baggage agreement, and found a better flight for Cara. When you're dealing with an automated system like an online travel agency, that's not always possible.
Travelocity did the right thing by rescheduling Cara on the next available flight. She shouldn't have been charged for the change, and it could have prevented her from wasting a day at the Athens airport by fixing this problem when you phoned the first time.
I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. It apologized for the difficulties and sent you a $250 certificate that can be used for a future trip.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.