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I made a flight booking from LHR to FCO to AUH to ICN several months ago. This ended up being changed to LHR-AUH-ICN. Between the time I booked my flight and the day of travel, I was sent several emails from the agent saying the airline had changed the times and dates of the flight.

About a week before departure I called the agent to see how to check in and they said to do it online up to 30 hours before. When they tried to verbally confirm my flights, they got it wrong but when I corrected them saying the flights had changed they looked deeper into the booking, and discovered that I was correct.

Fast-forward to the day of departure when I got to the airport. Although the check-in desk could see that I had a mostly valid booking, they couldn't see the check-in details for the first leg of the ticket. I assume that this means that they couldn't see my name on the passenger manifest for the first leg of the outward flight from LHR to AUH and they said I needed to contact the agent to sort this out.

Shocked, I tried to call the agent but I was put in a queue of indeterminate length and on their website it said that the phone lines were open from 8 am, which would have been too late to check in.

I was forced into a decision of either paying a change fee and an administrative fee totalling £492.21 or not fly. I was assured by the airline check-in desk that this was the agent's fault.

I asked them to put this in an email as evidence that I could use to claim a refund but they refused, although they did send me receipts for the various flight changes that had been made, which culminated in a change of the outward date from 26 to 27th March, and an interim stop in FCO, followed by a 15-hour layover in Abu Dhabi, changed into a later flight from LHR straight to Abu Dhabi the day after with no stop in Rome.

In all these changes, the initial part of my flight booking was lost in the system and they couldn't see my first flight from Heathrow.

A few days later after getting nowhere with 2 emails that produced identical stock replies saying the airline had taken over my booking and that they no longer had the data, I finally got to speak to someone on the phone. The agent said that each time the flight was changed it was my responsibility to update my e-ticket.

Even though the changes came from the agent's email address I was told that these were airline changes not agent changes and that they were being passed on through their email system, I still needed to advise the agent about the changes therefore updating my e-ticket.

It then became farcical when the agent who I told that I had spoken to both the agent and the airline before the flight but this error hadn't been picked up (and obviously I wouldn't know what their systems showed or didn't show). When I insisted that had spoken to the agent he said that unless I had an audio recording rather than just a phone record with number dialled, date and time and duration of phone calls then there was no way I could prove that I had confirmed the flight changed with the agent!

The agent then said that although he could send me an application form to apply for a refund as I hadn't complied with the terms and conditions by updating my e-ticket, he couldn't say whether I would be refunded £5 or anything up to the full amount. At this point, feeling so indignant, I perhaps said the wrong thing and said we will start with that and if there is a shortfall I will try travel insurance to reclaim any remainder. This seemed to dissuade him, and he said try insurance first then come back to us once you have exhausted all other opportunities of getting refunded. I don't think he ever sent the refund application form.

What is my next move? Who is to blame and who should I seek a refund from airline/agent or insurance? I know I have insurance but I don't know if it covers this precise eventuality.

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2 Answers 2

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Unfortunately this is a textbook example of why you should book always directly with the airline and not with a 3rd party agent. The agent's terms and conditions (T&C) will often put all responsibility on the airline and the airline's terms and conditions put it back on the booking agents. You agree to both T&C when you are booking and that's why you often get stuck in customer service limbo.

The agent said that each time the flight changed it was my responsibility to update my e-ticket.

That would be unusual.

It's always a good idea to check the flight on the airlines website after any change. Changes often wipe out seat reservations etc. and you want to make sure it's still there and in working order. But reissuing a ticket can only be done by the airline and typically requires a phone call and a fairly capable agent.

I hadn't complied with the terms and conditions by updating my e-ticket,

They are either lying or they have very aggressive terms and conditions.

What is my next move?

Read their terms and conditions (T&C). What does it actually say? Does it really say its your responsibility to reissue tickets? What happens in case of a flight change?

Who is to blame and who should I seek a refund from airline/agent

Again that depends on the actual T&C of the agent. While T&C of airlines are reasonably consistent, T&C of agents vary all over the place from somewhat reasonable to outright exploitative. Unfortunately you agreed to these T&C when you booked.

So read the rules and figure out what should have happened per the rules and compare it to what actually happened. If the agent did NOT do/say what they should have you have a much stronger case on the phone. Agents are much more cooperative if you quote sections from their own terms back to them.

or insurance?

Again, that depends on the details of your insurance and what the specific policy says. Unfortunately insurances make a lot of money by not paying claims and chances are they will claim that this is "someone's fault" and as long as someone else can be held responsible, they won't pay. But you need to read the policy in detail to find out.

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    I think "not with a 3rd party agent" should be "not with an Internet-based 3rd party agent". Physical, actual travel agents (or company travel agents) are usually fine - they have something to lose (i.e., their reputation). If things go wrong, they are often more easy to work with than the airlines directly. It's semi-crummy Internet services that are problematic, they know that people pick them because of, and only because of, the price, so they adapt their service quality accordingly.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 2 at 13:22
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I'm not sure how you had to pay a change fee when they couldn't find your booking in the first place. That seems odd.

Complain to your credit card about the booking error and that you were forced into buying another ticket and paying change fees. Do this before it's too late (usually 30 days). Write out all of the details and gather all of your supporting documents, you will need this for an upload to your credit card. Your credit card may have some sort of trip insurance which might cover something somehow, but really it's a lack of service on the part of the agency.

And you will need all of this information to write a politely phrased letter to the agency who booked your ticket asking also for a refund and notifying them that you have complained to your credit card. No one really wants to take anyone to a small claims court hearing or make a consumer affairs complaint, but it can be a way of making people take notice. I'm sure they have similar consumer affairs complaint processes in the UK as they do in the USA, perhaps some sort of Better Business Bureau organization or the equivalent to the Department of Transportation. Best of luck.

Others have wisely stated to book airline direct in the future some have great credit cards and international agreements which make flying easier.

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