Code-sharing confusion grounds my vacation
Jay Middour's flight to the Bahamas never happens because of a code-sharing disaster. His vacation is ruined and the airline still has his money. Can this trip be saved?
Q: We booked a ticket from Washington to the Bahamas recently through Expedia. It was a code-share flight Bahamasair (www.bahamasair.com) operated by US Airways.
At the US Airways check-in counter we, and about 50 other travelers, were told by US Airways ticket agents that Bahamasair had not transferred the ticket information to the US Airways system and so none of us could board.
After four hours of pleading, arguing and begging with US Airways and Expedia, we gave up and went home. By that time we couldn't book any reasonably priced flights to our destination in the Bahamas.
At a minimum we will lose the rental fee for the place in the Bahamas and we're worried that we'll also lose the $1,400 we paid Bahamasair. Multiple phone calls to Bahamasair have been unsatisfactory.
This was a genuine travel nightmare. Can you help us? -- Jay Middour, Alexandria, Va.
A: You're right -- that's some travel nightmare! Bahamasair should have gotten your tickets right with US Airways and when it couldn't, either the airline or your travel agent should have fixed it for you.
Codesharing, which is an airline industry term for lying, allows an airline to sell seats on another airline's flights while at the same time claiming it's the airline's own flight. In your case, you purchased tickets through Bahamasair, but the flight was actually on US Airways. When something went wrong, it seems no one took responsibility for the problem.
I'm a little surprised that Expedia couldn't come up with a better solution than to cancel your flight. The online travel agency's well-promoted "Expedia Promise" guarantees that the trip you booked "will meet the descriptions on its site and in your itinerary." If a mistake is made, it says, "We'll take responsibility -- at no additional cost to you."
The way I see it, Expedia should have either imposed on Bahamasair or US Airways to fix their little code-sharing glitch or bought a new flight to the Bahamas the same day. You certainly shouldn't have had to spend hours pleading with anyone.
How could you have avoided this? I would tell you to avoid code-sharing flights, but in this day and age of airline partnerships and alliances, it's practically impossible to do that. But the code-sharing arrangement should raise a red flag. (When you're booking one, it will say, "Operated by US Airways," for example.)
When you're on a code-sharing flight, it means you need to be extra careful. Don't just call your airline to confirm the flight -- call the airline operating the flight. A system error like this, while rare, might be caught with a simple call.
If you're stuck in a situation like this again, politely ask the Expedia representative to escalate the call. You can do that by calmly asking to speak with that person's direct supervisor -- not "a supervisor" or "someone in charge" since that can be interpreted in many ways and could land you with an agent's colleague who will proceed to tell you it can't be done.
Also, it helps to be aware of the "Expedia Promise," which is the online agency's guarantee that it will take care of you.
I contacted Expedia on your behalf. A representative apologized for not being able to assist you on the day you traveled and helped you secure a refund from Bahamasair. Expedia also sent you a $200 check and a $200 credit to make up for the trouble.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.