There was no single airline that did the route, even with connections. Plus, most of the options either had forced overnights or cost more than US$1,000. The final itinerary ended up with a LOT Polish Airlines flight connecting to two Air Berlin flights for under $400. With three hours in Munich. Which seemed about as safe as possible.
Unfortunately, the booking was two different fares that needed to be issued on two different tickets. Again, with the long layover in Munich and lack of alternatives, this seemed like the best option, with a lot of margin for error.
Not, as it turned out, enough margin.
LOT canceled their flight on a Saturday and while they rebooked him for the morning, they wouldn’t help with the Air Berlin flight. Air Berlin wouldn’t help by phone either, explaining the tickets had to be changed at the airport or a travel agent would have to reissue the ticket.
The new fare had a penalty and was higher. Which as an agent I couldn’t waive, though I could change the reservation. The traveler brought proof of the cancellation to Air Berlin when he connected the next day in Munich and they had space for him.
But instead of just allowing him to board, or even using the old ticket less a penalty, the Air Berlin agent had him buy a whole new ticket at a last-minute fare.
Now, our agency is working with both airlines in hopes of getting something back, but it certainly would have been easier if he had been booked on one airline or, at least, one ticket.
If a ticket is booked on one airline, that airline is supposed to get the passenger on the next available flight and, technically, if flights are on one ticket, the first airline is supposed to fix any problems they cause.
However, when two different airlines and two different tickets are used, a traveler is at the mercy of the carriers involved if there’s a problem.
If an itinerary involves a very discounted fare or one of the internet-only discount airlines, the problem will probably be exacerbated. (In fact, with many of these fares and carriers, even a slightly delayed flight and missed connection can render the rest of the ticket valueless.)
Does this mean travelers should never book such a multi-ticket itinerary? No, but it does mean to exercise caution. If fares are similar, the single airline is the best option in terms of protections from cancellations or schedule changes.
In addition, travelers should also consider factors such as checking luggage and issues like critical time constraints.
In this case, the traveler lost a day of vacation after a business trip, but he didn’t miss a wedding or other event, and at least he didn’t have luggage issues, since the LOT flight was canceled before he checked a bag.
In addition, the new ticket total, even before working with customer service departments, ended up being no more than a ticket on the more straightforward alternatives.
As frustrating as domestic travel can be, with the consolidation of many legacy carriers, U.S. travelers have gotten used to, in most cases, some reciprocal flexibility when a flight is canceled. (But don’t expect the same from the super-low-cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant — they play in a one-airline playing field with no reciprocal deals, just like most of the LCCs in Europe.)
This episode does, however, illustrate an increasing fact about travel in Europe. More carriers do mean more choices. But in addition, more chances for things to go wrong.