Don’t Get Stuck Like This Passenger, Always Check Your Airline Agent’s Work

Last month I wrote about United rebooking a passenger for the wrong year. They landed in Frankfurt and were denied boarding for the flight they thought they were supposed to take, because United had put them on that same flight in June 2018 instead of July 2017.

In that case United’s computers were down. The agent hand wrote the changed itinerary, and didn’t note the new (wrong) month. And the passenger couldn’t bring it up with United’s app or website. They could have called, though hold times for a mere Silver were long. That’s a tough spot to be in, to check the agent’s work. You always need to check the agent’s work.

Reader Vlad just shared an award booking nightmare that left him stranded in Europe for a week. He says it’s because he failed to notice an agent’s mistake when he made a booking through Air France KLM by phone.

In April he booked travel from Rinas International Airport in Albania to Rome to Boston and on to Indianapolis, flying Alitalia and Delta.

  • Travel was for himself
  • The miles were in his own account. His account name was correct. The credit card was in his own name.
  • While the agent confirmed his name, the ticket was issued as LAST NAME LAST NAME rather than FIRST NAME LAST NAME
  • And so he was denied boarding when he arrived at the Alitalia ticket counter in Albania.

Alitalia said there was nothing they could do, it was Air France’s ticket. Air France doesn’t serve the airport. Their phone agents told him to talk to the US, since the ticket was issued in the US, but it was the middle of the night and their offices were closed.

Finally he got someone from Air France KLM Flying Blue to try to help him. They couldn’t change the name on the ticket for another airline, so they cancelled the ticket and redeposited the miles but seats for his trip didn’t go back into award inventory. The agent couldn’t get him a flight home.

He was stranded in Albania, and Flying Blue didn’t see any inventory out of the airport for 3 weeks. So he ultimately:

  • Booked himself an award with United miles flying on Austrian
  • But that award was out of Skopje
  • And didn’t depart for a week
  • He took a bus to get there

I feel terrible for what Vlad went through and wish he’d emailed me earlier about what happened, I’d have to loved to at least tried to help him get a better trip home. Now he’s just wondering about whether he might get some compensation from Flying Blue for the mistake.

He wanted to share his story as a cautionary tale for readers to check their tickets right away.

And even if the agent gets things right initially Schedule changes can screw up a reservation. Partner award tickets can go out of sync. Always remember to ‘garden’ your travel reservations. For instance aircraft swaps might cause you to downgrade cabins, or to lose seat assignments. Or schedule changes may require a ticket to be reissued.

When you do call to fix things,

  1. Never be snarky
  2. Never try to educate an agent
  3. Never tell the agent they’re unhelpful
  4. Never tell the agent you’re going to find someone else to do what they’re unwilling to do.

Don’t challenge their authority — because an agent can document your record.

Just politely hang up, call back. That’s the best piece of advice in travel. Even when you’re tempted not to hang up and call back, hang up call back anyway.

Ultimately I want to be in charge of my own destiny though. One of the things I love about miles is the option value of last seat availability awards. (Alitalia, an American Express transfer partner, doesn’t offer true last seat availability but they do have extra miles awards for greater availability.)

I don’t generally fly on them, and when I’ve booked them they’ve usually just been a backup that I wound up cancelling. But it’s great to have miles to be able to get on a flight most anywhere I go, to get out if necessary, to have a worst case scenario backup plan without being out of pocket thousands of dollars.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,
    Do you recommend concluding the call and then calling back or literally hanging up the phone mid-conversation and calling back? Didn’t know if one method likely keeps the agent from documenting the call in their system.

  2. It sounds like he was having a *decent* enough time in Albania for “different metro area a week later” to be a serviceable way home. He probably could have:

    flown a LCC to a regular hub, say, Barcelona.
    booked an award ticket from there.

  3. I understand that he was trying to use air miles but wouldn’t it have simpler to just take the train to Greece?

  4. Crying helps. I recently noticed that my husbands last name was one letter off an m instead on n in Hamen instead of Hanen. I called Virgin Atlantic and she said it was my responsibility to check the ticket and there was nothing she could do because the ticket was for their partner ANA and they couldn’t change someone else’s ticket unless someone from ANA called them giving them permission. So I called ANA and ANA said it was the responsibility of Virgin Atlantic to call them to straighten it out. So I called Virgin Atlantic and got the same unhelpful woman. I said a polite goodbye and hung up and called again. Luckily, another agent picked up I explained the situation and she called ANA and had my husbands name corrected. Yay, otherwise I would have had to cancel my flight and start over and there’s no way any reward tickets would have been available. We leave for Tokyo on ANA first class soon.

  5. @stvr: Can’t say anything about Albania (I only went there to take that flight, and once the flight has left, my priority was to get of TIA as soon as I could), but yes, I was able to find an inexpensive rental room with WiFi on the Macedonian side of the border, so at least I could catch up with work etc.

    While sitting in TIA, I indeed considered the options of cobbling together an itinerary with a LCC to a major hub + an award ticket from there. But LCC are not “low cost” at all if you’re booking on a short notice during the high season, and have luggage. The local clerks said the cheapest same- or next-day fare out of TIA to *anywhere* was around 300 Euro.

    @Rich: I wish Albania had rail connections to its neighbors… Albanian trains only run half the way to the border, but they do indeed have buses to Greece. Still, I think a bus ride from TIA to a major airport in Greece (or a ferry ride to Italy, for that matter) would have been even longer than one to SKP, and I don’t know if there would be availability for a comparable ticket from SKG or ATH to North America on a short notice.

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