Should I pay twice for my ticket?


Q: I am writing to you as a last resort. Last year our daughter Pamela flew to Atlanta from Ithaca, New York, where she is in school, to attend a family wedding.

Her round-trip ticket was purchased from Orbitz and involved travel on US Airways Express, AirTran, and Delta. On March 24, when she tried to check in at the Atlanta airport for her return to Ithaca, she was informed that the Delta ticket for the Atlanta-Boston segment of the trip was missing even though it showed on her itinerary from Orbitz and the passenger receipt.

No one at the Delta gate or counter was able or willing to suggest anything other than that she had to spend $693 to buy a one-way ticket to get back to Ithaca. The rude and totally unconcerned conduct by representatives of what we in Atlanta are encouraged to consider our “hometown airline” is extremely disappointing. This situation was made worse by the fact that Pamela was on crutches as a result of a major knee injury.

Since that time, we have had correspondence and telephone conversations with Orbitz and all three of the airlines involved. Each of them points its respective finger at someone else as the one responsible for making good on the added expenses incurred as a result of this lost ticket.

Whether the ticket was accidentally pulled by AirTran in Boston on her way down, omitted from the initial packet from Orbitz, or lost somewhere else, surely Delta can confirm that it was never used, and when that is done they should refund to her the $693 that she was forced to pay to get back to school. Can you help?

— Thomas Anderson

A: No one should have to pay for the same airline ticket twice. Regardless of whose fault the mix-up was, this should have been a relatively easy problem to solve. I can’t believe they kept your daughter in a holding pattern for nearly a year.

Here’s the part that I find most unbelievable. We have something called e-tickets nowadays – electronic tickets that are essentially kept in the airline’s reservation system instead of in paper form. On a domestic itinerary like the one Pamela was flying on, she was using an e-ticket.

So what happened to it? How could it just disappear from Delta’s reservations system?

Your daughter could have prevented this by doing two things. First, she should have double-checked her itinerary and tickets to make sure everything was where it should have been. I gather that the paperwork – at least as far as the itinerary goes – looked fine.

Second, she should have called each airline individually, not just her travel agent, to confirm the flights. That’s especially true when you’re using multiple carriers. Every time you switch airlines your odds of something going wrong effectively double.

Orbitz says Delta removed the flight coupon from your reservation in error, but that it won’t “give in” and own up to the mistake. Since no one would ‘fess up to losing your reservation, Orbitz eventually agreed to refund Pamela’s $693.

I think that’s the right thing for Orbitz to do. When you buy a ticket through a travel agent, you expect your itinerary to match your ticket. When it doesn’t, you anticipate it will set things straight. And that’s exactly what happened.

But you have to remember that Orbitz is no ordinary online travel agency. It is owned by five airlines, including Delta. So really, in a roundabout way, the carriers are taking some responsibility for losing your ticket.

Other agencies wouldn’t be as generous, and with good reason. Most travel retailers don’t get a commission from the sale of airline tickets, and, in fact, can’t stand the airlines.

Simply put, your daughter is lucky she bought her tickets through Orbitz.

I think whoever dropped the ball on Pamela’s tickets – and they know who they are – should take a hard look at its ticketing policies. Something’s wrong here, and if they don’t act soon to fix it, I’m sure yours won’t be the last letter I get complaining about a missing airline ticket.