UnitedPlane
Frequent fliers and regular readers of Consumer Traveler are by now familiar with most of the things that can go wrong with joint tickets on airline partners. But, this recent Lufthansa/United debacle for one of my clients was a new one and resulted in his bag being checked onto a flight that didn’t exist, and hadn’t existed for months.

Here’s the background. Our agency booked a ticket back in July for travel from San Francisco to Poznan, Poland, on Lufthansa, with internal flights to Basel, Switzerland, and a return on United from Amsterdam to San Francisco. As complicated as this sounds, it all priced out easily. We issued a ticket and got seat assignments, including seats for the Lufthansa flights between Munich and Poland.

The client then wanted to upgrade using miles on the return, so we called United and put him on the waitlist. Again, it seemed simple enough.

However, when the traveler tried to check in for his outbound flight, Lufthansa would only allow him to check in as far as Munich. He asked me about it, and I could see that the electronic ticket was fine, so we figured it was just something to do with the fact that the connection was on a Lufthansa Cityline commuter plane.

Then, at the San Francisco airport, the Lufthansa agent still couldn’t get a boarding pass. He examined the itinerary that my client had just printed out earlier that day. The agent probably figured, okay, it’s a glitch, and he tagged the suitcase onto the flight for Poznan.

In Munich, however, when the connecting flight didn’t even appear on the departure board, there was no doubt — this was a problem. Eventually, the Lufthansa service agent at Munich Airport informed him the flight had been canceled about two months ago.

Fortunately, she was able to book him back through Copenhagen and onto Poznan. The agent also noticed that the following flight, from Poznan back to Munich, had also been canceled. So, she found an earlier alternative for that and rebooked him accordingly.

Checking the reservation again from our end, there was zero indication of a problem and the flights looked fine. Our helpful Lufthansa representative filed an immediate complaint and the story just got more bizarre. Apparently when we requested the upgrade, United Airlines somehow “took control” of the record, which translated to Lufthansa’s system only sending United Airlines, not our agency, the cancellation messages. And, United never passed the cancellation message through to our reservations system.

Curiously enough, while United theoretically had control of the record, the flight cancellations also didn’t appear on the United.com website. In fact, no one at Lufthansa or United seems to know where the messages went.

The investigation continues, and eventually we expect to hear some excuse involving computers But the short version and moral of the story is that when a ticket is issued involving multiple airlines, it’s not enough just to double check everything carefully when the reservation is first booked.

In general, it’s a good idea to double check a schedule before departure when any ticket is booked well in advance. But when multiple airlines are involved, even airline “partners,” that last-minute double-check now probably is a necessity. Otherwise you could end up with an unpleasant surprise at the airport, or even a bag ticketed on a flight that doesn’t exist.