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Recently I learned the hard way that Not flying the first leg of the journey – Company cancels the second-leg ticket, since companies do not allow to fly only the second flight. This is also something IATA explains in Coupon sequence and use.

I was flying from a city in Spain to a city in Portugal with TAP Air Portugal on a return ticket.

When about to take the first leg of the ticket we were several people, including my wife, our little baby and me. We did the check-in online, with my baby attached to my place (she is few months old, so she does not have a seat on her own).
When in the airport we went to the baggage drop area and were asked for the passports; we showed the 'libro de familia' (family book) that works to fly in a domestic flight in Spain, but they told us that is not enough to fly within the European Union. Since the baby did not have a passport, she could not fly.
After some discussion, my wife opted to stay with the baby (she needs breastfeeding, something I cannot give :P) and solve the issue, while I took the flight (to minimize the loss of money). Also, I had to redo the checking, since the baby was not flying with me anymore and I was given a ticket on my own.

So the schema is: leg 1, me flying, while my wife and baby staying.

Next day, my wife solved the problem and her and the baby flied to the city in Portugal with the same company.

Some days later we went to the airport in Portugal to take the second leg of the return ticket. To our surprise, my wife's ticket had been cancelled because 'she had not taken the first leg of the flight'. We had to buy another ticket for her and finally made it home.

I was quite curious about my baby not having to pay again for the ticket, since she already missed the first leg of the journey. However, my main question is: what can I do in the future to preserve the second-leg ticket if I notice that I am not going to be able to fly the first leg?

I assume this can be easily (and costly) solved with days in advance by changing your ticket. However, my question is about this happening while you are already in the airport and the flight is about to leave, without you in it.

  • 2
    "The company did not warn us" Yes, they did, in the conditions of carriage to which you agreed before booking. – fkraiem May 2 '18 at 14:47
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    @fkraiem you are right. Believe me it is quite hard to discover that condition when in the airport. Anyway, I deleted that part because it was a shout of disgust. – fedorqui May 2 '18 at 14:52
  • In most cases you can book this as two separate bookings, one outbound, one inbound, without paying extra. (It depends on the country and the route, but is common on domestic flights.) The risk there is that if your outbound flight gets cancelled or rescheduled and makes the entire trip pointless, you might not be able to cancel the return flight penalty-free since it's a separate booking. – Jim MacKenzie May 2 '18 at 15:03
  • Did your wife travel to Portugal on a newly purchased ticket, or did the airline rebook her on a new flight applying the original fare, or did she fly standby? In the latter two cases, I have always been able to preserve subsequent segments, although several times the agents have not noticed that the later flights were canceled, requiring some time in line to have them restored. – choster May 2 '18 at 15:30
  • @choster it was a newly purchased ticket, the company did not show any understanding nor offered any possibility. Note ours was a basic ticket, without any kind of cancellation option. – fedorqui May 2 '18 at 16:02
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If you will not be able to fly a particular segment but wish to continue the journey beyond, you can still change your ticket by contacting the airline prior to departure; done far enough in advance, this can often be done online or through the mobile app. If you have already checked in, an agent will need to remove the check-in for the affected passengers first to allow changes, and if the ticket is under airport control an agent at the airport will need to make the changes as well.

The gate agent should have been able to do this for you, but the hour or so before the flight is when they are busiest and will be the least accommodating, particularly if you do not have elite status in the frequent flyer program or are on an reward or basic economy ticket.

Even then, this likely to be unsatisfying, because it wouldn't be unusual for changing an existing ticket to cost as much or more than just buying a new one.

Airline ticket pricing is tightly bound to particular flights and routings on particular days. If you remove a flight, the fares for the whole trip will be recalculated; any discount fares available at the original booking 1) may not be allowed on the new trip (because of advance purchase requirements for example), 2) may be sold out at the time of change, and 3) will likely be rendered moot because of penalties/change fees that can run into the hundreds of dollars.

It's theoretically possible that some kind of travel insurance would have covered this scenario, but the onus is always on the passenger to carry appropriate documents and to have secured any legal requirements.

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It's easy enough: if you can't take the first leg (or any leg but the last), you need to contact airline and ask them change the reservation. They will charge you for it, and you may find that it's cheaper to just let the ticket lapse and buy a new ticket. It's hard to tell upfront, so you need to call and ask.

So yes: the airlines wants you to pay extra to NOT take a flight that you have already paid for in full. They do this, simply because they can. They call this "revenue optimization" although it often feels more like "extortion".

It doesn't really apply to the last leg of a flight, because there is nothing they can threaten you with other than revoking of status and frequent flier benefits (which they do occasionally)

It's a bit surprising that this works for the airlines: if they would encourage passengers that can't fly to cancel (for free or a very small fee), they would have the chance to sell the seat again and it would greatly reduce the number of "no shows" which would help avoid over-bookings. But apparently they make more money on the change fees, so this must be substantial stream of revenue.

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