Canceled flight illustrates why it’s better to book single airline connections

by Janice Hough on April 26, 2012


Some trips are just not meant to be easy. Some itineraries really don’t have a great solution. My client needed to fly from a small city in Poland to a small city in Spain.

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.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m not trying to be snide, but I am curious – with a flight this complicated, why wouldn’t they consider rail and driving?  Was there a time constraint?   Because the cost of passes seems comparable if I’m reading the Eurorail site correctly.

  • Anonymous

    I’m thinking because of the time factor.  Getting between Poland and Spain will probably take the better part of 2 days maybe even 3 depending on what cities he’s traveling between.

  • Graham

    Yoiu fail to undderstand the landscpe in Europe.   We have two types of airlines,,what I call the legacy carriers (like LOT and, for that matter British Airways).   These carriers usually have interline agreements and work under IATA rules to protect passengers in the event of disruption – the delivering carrier is supposed to find an alternative for the passenger.   Air Berlin is a low cost carrier and they (like Ryanair and easyJet take no prisoners.   If you fail to check in on time your ticket is forfeit.   That’s it.   No questions, no alternatives, you have to buy a new ticket.   Indeed, if you buy separate tickets on leagcy carriers, even if the connection is the same carrier, you will find they treat each ticket (and remember a reservation is not a ticket so a reservation can have more than one ticket) as a separate contract and if you miss the connection (even if it’s their fault) you have to buy a new ticket.

    The low cost carriers are generally point to point.   No connections, even on line.   Air Berlin is a bit of a hybrid in that they will sell a connection over their own services but only over their own services.

    BE WARNED.

  • http://profiles.google.com/saucywench S E Tammela

    Many people wouldn’t be interested in driving in a strange country where they don’t understand the road signs and are possibly driving on the wrong side of the road. Also, your own driver’s license is not acceptable in Poland anyway, you need to arrange a special international permit.

  • Graham

     I usually use the DB (German Railway) site for looking up train times in Europe.    We don’t know precisely which cities are involved in this saga so I picked the 2 capitals Warsaw to Madrid.   The best is probably 33hrs with 3 changes of train.   You’re not protected any better on the trains when it comes to missed connections.   As for driving on the wrong side all the countries you would pass through on such a journey drive on the right so if the passenger is from the US that won’t be an issue.   Much more of an issue would be the one way fee for the car hire; we still don’t do cross border one way car hire very well in Europe!

  • Anonymous

    How small are these cities in Poland and Spain? What airports?
    Or is the problem exacerbated by the lack of a (decent) one-way fare, which is common (likely) in Europe? Seeing AirBerlin was a dead giveaway of the latter problem.

  • C. November

    In Europe this will happen every time. Do not issue separate tickets in Europe. Not ever. You must remember that passenger rights in the EU are heavily regulated. Your ticket is from point to point, and any carrier involved is responsible to take you to your final destination. If your client’s ticket went as far as FRA (I’m guessing) LOT was responsible of taking your client to FRA. Once he’s there, their work is done.

    You could have probably issued the whole itinerary in a single ticket by carefully choosing the flights and adding a bogus return flight, or a bogus onward flight. Not knowing the point of origin or the destination it’s difficult for me to suggest an itinerary, but probably LOT+LH or KL+AF+UX would’ve done the trick.

  • Janice

     Poznan to Seville.   And yeah, most fares were 1400 or so – and he had time issues.  There was about usd 900 with lufthansa and tap, which in retrospect might have worked better.  But Lot usually doesn’t cancel flights. Sigh.

  • Anonymous

    Janice, this is the kind of itineraries that give me nightmares.
    Anyway I have figured out my own small strategy for dealing with these things.
    (1) Hope the problem will disappear :-)  Maybe customer will book with a Euro LCC online and not blame me.
    (2) Make me work harder. Ok I try to get the Alliance of the country’s (Poland) main carrier (LO) and haul the pax to the main hub (WAW). From there I get a same alliance carrier to take the pax to destination.

    Sample using this weird strategy.  Don’t worry it works.
    LOT (LO) is with Star Alliance.
    OK so usually the domestic fare is cheap inside a small country.  So POZ-WAW on LO is negligible and you can get legal one-way fare (without throw away ticket).

    So next, find a Star Alliance with WAW-SVQ with decent one way fare. TAP Portugal (TP) has them.

    Next combine all the flights and autoprice. I have a sample below:

     1*LO3958Y 11MAY FR POZWAW SS1   900A 1000A/O $ E
     2 TP 581V 11MAY FR WAWLIS SS1   255P  555P/O $ E
     3*TP1054V 11MAY FR LISSVQ SS1  1010P 1210A#1/X $ E

    PNR PRICED ON 26APR FOR TKTG ON 26APR
    * PENALTY APPLIES *
    * PRICING RULES VALIDATING CARRIER DEFAULT TP
    ** 11MAY DEPARTURE DATE/ 29APR IS LAST DATE TO TICKET
    ** TICKETING WITHIN 72 HRS AFTER SEGMENT SELL REQUIRED **
    * FARE MAY CHANGE UNLESS TICKETED *
    1PLN/0.3128128USD                                 
                                                               
    TICKET     BASE PLN       EV USD   TX/FEE USD       TKT TTL USD
     ADT01      1341.00       419.00       106.40            525.40
    *TTL        1341.00       419.00       106.40            525.40

    FBC ADT YDGOLD*VOWTPPL
    ADT POZ LO WAW153.17TP X/LIS TP SVQ274.75NUC427.92END ROE
        3.13367TP XT10.50YP64.00YQ
     TX 26.60XW 5.30PT 10.50YP 64.00YQ

    BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE
    ADT
     TP POZSVQ  1PC

    There you go, one ticket, one alliance. If LOT cancels, they all must reaccommodate as per EC261. Ticket validated by TP in this case.
    Cheers,

  • Anonymous

    The problem with INTRA Europe is even if you find a flight, it is sometimes very difficult to find a cheap ONE-WAY fare (or vice versa).
    So people gamble with separate tickets, throw away tickets, ultra low cost carriers. When one chain in the link fails, everything goes down like a ton of rocks. Then the travel agent gets blamed for everything.

    Also folks who D-I-Y their air travel sometimes forget how long it takes it to claim luggage and then check in with the next carrier. Sometimes they even need to transfer to different airports altogether. A real pain if you ask me.

  • Graham

     Rubbish, it will not happen every time.

    It is quite possible to issue through tickets in Europe as TonyA has shown.   The issue is separate ticketing.   It doesn’t matter if you issue separate tickets on the same airline or different airlines, inside an alliance or outside separate tickets = separate contracts = no assitance when things go wrong.

    If I issued a United ticket to connect to a Southwest ticket and the United ticket was delayed would either Southwest or United help me get on another Southwest flight?   That is what Janice did (effectively) and that’s where the problem arises.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great replies.  Like I said – not trying to be snarky.  I just don’t know enough about European travel logistics.

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