Travel Troubleshooter

Travel Troubleshooter: Caught between two airlines

Q: I recently booked a round-trip airline ticket from Columbus, Ohio, to Lima, Peru, on Avianca Airlines, a United Airlines partner. The first leg was a codeshare flight with United from Columbus to Washington. This flight was scheduled to depart at 6 a.m. When I arrived at the airport, before 5 a.m., I attempted to check in with a United ticket agent. After a delay of more than 45 minutes, he told me that he was unable to check me in. The stated reason was that the ticket number given to United by Avianca was “invalid.”

After 30 more minutes of delay, I was told that United would not assist in rebooking for a flight within the next 24 hours. I called United customer service and was told to take up the issue with Avianca. I contacted Avianca and was told that its ticket was indeed valid, and that it was United’s mistake in denying me boarding. I was also told that the airline’s records showed my itinerary was canceled due to “no show.” I have a signed statement by the United ticket agent attesting that I was present at the ticket desk an hour before the scheduled departure time. I had to travel to Lima for an urgent matter, so I booked a new ticket with a different carrier and hoped to clarify the issue later.

Later, I contacted United and received a letter in which the airline reiterated that Avianca was at fault. I corresponded back and forth with an Avianca representative who, after reviewing the letter sent by United, offered to honor the unused ticket for a date in the future.

I’d like to be reimbursed for the money I spent on the ticket I had to book at the last minute or, if that’s not possible, another round-trip ticket from Columbus to Lima to be used at a later time.

Liz Vivas, Columbus, Ohio

A: Based on your account, it seems as if something was indeed wrong with your ticket. If you tried to check in with more than an hour before your flight, you should have been fine.

Good thing you had a signed statement saying you were on time, and a promise to waive your change fee. So it looks as if United or Avianca was willing to accept some of the blame for this delay. When a company makes a promise it won’t keep, it’s time to call someone higher up. Here are the executive contacts at United Airlines: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/united-airlines/ and here are the managers at Avianca: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/avianca-airlines/. Personally, I find a case like this to be endlessly frustrating. None of the airlines seemed interested in owning this problem and offering a quick resolution. I contacted United on your behalf, which in turn contacted Avianca. (See what I mean?) Avianca agreed to send you half of your ticket value as a voucher. United Airlines sent you a voucher for $200. That’s not exactly the resolution you were hoping for, and I’m sorry we couldn’t do better.

Email Christopher Elliott at chris@elliott.org.

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