Traveler's Aide: Three airlines, two websites, one big headache

ByLinda Burbank, special for USA TODAY
November 23, 2011, 6:10 AM

— -- Question: I have been wrangling for months now over a refund for a massively mishandled flight. Last December 1, my daughter was supposed to fly with Austrian Airlines from Boston to Vienna via New York's John F. Kennedy airport. We booked the ticket on

Her flight out of Boston was on Delta, and it was delayed due to weather conditions. She was put on another Delta flight to La Guardia, but this flight was also canceled. She was then booked on another flight the following day and received a confirmation email from Austrian Airlines. This itinerary was Boston-Washington, D.C.-Vienna, with the first leg of the trip on United.

When she arrived at the Boston airport on December 2, the United agent informed her that her Delta reservation from the previous day had not been canceled (even though the flight itself was canceled) and therefore she could not board the flight to Washington. I called Austrian Airlines, which said that it would issue a new ticket immediately, but the United agent in Boston only repeated that her previous reservation was not officially canceled and that no new ticket could be issued. We argued for several hours and eventually the flight departed without my daughter.

My daughter canceled her trip since she would miss at least three days of her weeklong itinerary. She was told at the airport that she would receive a refund for the flight within eight weeks. After 10 weeks, I began to call Travelocity, which handles purchases, to see when I might expect the refund. I've since called many times and spent numerous hours on the phone. Every call resulted in a different answer about the reason for the refund delay, but each time I was told it would take six to eight weeks. It's been months now with no refund, can you help?

— Arlene Kies, Durham N.H.

Answer: One weather delay, two travel sites and three airlines added up to a canceled trip and months of hassle for Kies' family.

Kies booked her daughter's ticket on, which is an affiliate of the Travelocity network. That means Travelocity powers the site's bookings and also handles its customer service, including refund requests.

Kies' daughter's trip was first derailed by an intense storm, which canceled her original Delta flight and her same-day replacement Delta flight to a different New York-area airport. Once the second flight was canceled, Austrian Airlines rebooked Kies' daughter on an entirely new itinerary, this time using United for the domestic portion.

However, somewhere in all these maneuverings, someone failed to release Kies' canceled Delta ticket to United. She therefore didn't officially have a valid ticket, so she could not board the flight to Washington, and onwards to Vienna.

Whether this was a human error or a computer glitch -- on Delta's part, Austrian's, United's or Travelocity's -- remains a mystery. Delta could not find a record of Kies' reservation after the fact at all. United blamed the ticketing agency. Travelocity wasn't involved in that equation, other than issuing the ticket in the first place, since Kies didn't call the travel site's customer-service department once trouble cropped up at the Boston airport. And no one heard anything at all from Austrian, which issued the original ticket and changed the canceled flights—and should have refunded Kies once the trip was canceled.

While the United check-in agent was technically correct not to allow Kies to board without a valid ticket, it's unclear why no one at United, Austrian or Delta was willing or able to work out the snafu in time for Kies' daughter to fly. Kies' daughter pleaded her case at the United counter and her mother called Austrian, to no avail. The flight to Washington had seats available, but no one at the airlines stepped up to get her on board.

After Kies' daughter canceled the trip, she should have received a refund. But here too, the involvement of multiple airlines posed a stumbling block. Austrian couldn't refund the ticket until Delta released the printed status of the ticket, according to Travelocity representative Joel Frey. Delta submitted the refund notice to Austrian at the end of May 2011—almost six months after the failed trip. Travelocity contacted Austrian, in writing, six times, each time asking for Kies' refund. It never received a response.

After I sent Kies' complaint to the airlines and Travelocity, the online booking site refunded her $768 ticket, despite the radio silence from Austrian.

"This case also shows the value of having a trusted online site like Travelocity on your side to help guide you through all of the many steps of a complicated process like this one," says Frey.

How can you avoid trouble?

• When there's a problem, contact the agency that booked your ticket. Travelocity was the agency of record for Kies' ticket purchase and should have been involved in getting the airlines to work out their internal ticketing squabble—and getting Kies' daughter on that flight to Washington.

• Be persistent. Kies took the right steps in repeatedly asking Travelocity for a refund. The travel site ultimately did come through, despite a lack of response from the airline.

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