Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Missed connections

A comment on one of my earlier posts on airline codesharing warrants it's own response. Kevin asked:

My understanding is that if you book on codeshared flights A and B and if flight A is delayed or canceled so that you miss flight B, you will not be penalized for missing flight B. On the other hand, if you book on competing airlines for A and B, the airline for flight B will charge you a rebooking fee if you miss that flight. To me, this is the big advantage of codesharing arrangements -- more itineraries are available without risking a financial penalty for missed connections.

I'm curious -- have you known an airline selling an interline ticket to not charge a rebooking fee if you miss a connection?

Unfortunately, while Kevin's misconception is common (and at times encouraged by airlines), the fine print in airlines' conditions of carriage invariably specifies that airlines never guarantee connections regardless of whether the flights are operated by, or labeled with a codeshare flight number of, the same or different airlines.

If you miss a connection for any reason, the airline is legally entitled to charge you any penalty or fee applicable under its tariff for changing to a different onward flight.

That said, it's equally true that airlines often waive these change fees or penalties, also regardless of whether the onward flight is operated by, or or labeled with a codeshare flight number of, the same or a different airline.

To answer Kevin's specific questions: Airlines sometimes charge rebooking fees for missed online connections, and routinely rebook missed interline connections (and, in many cases, endorse tickets to other airlines if that's necessary) without charge.

The decisive factors in whether the airlines will charge you for rebooking your onward flight(s) if you miss a connection are much less likely to be whether you were booked on flights labeled with the same airline's flight numbers than any of the following:

  • Do you have a paper ticket or an e-ticket? Paper tickets are overwhelmingly easier to change. In most situations there's no need to re-issue the ticket or recalculate the fare (either of which is likely to trigger the question of whether you owe a re-issue fee or additional fare). All that's supposed to be required is a hand-written notation on a revalidation sticker or endorsement stamp. In practice, even that often isn't necessary: More than once I've had a gate agent collect my flight coupon for one flight, and hand me a boarding pass for a new flight, without bothering to revalidate or endorse the coupon. Sadly, paper tickets are now rare if not extinct, despite their many advantages (for travellers) over e-tickets.

  • Did your original schedule satisfy the airlines' recommended Minimum Connecting Times? If you schedule didn't allow at least as much time for each connection as the airlines recommended, they are unlikely to waive any fees or penalties regardless of the reason you missed your connection. The only way to find out the MCT recommendations is to call the airline or a travel agent and ask them to look them up for you in their CRS. I know of no online travel agency or publicly-available Web site that makes an accurate MCT recommendation table available for travellers to consult. To complicate matters, there's an elaborate hierarchy of MCT recommendations for any given connection. Typically, there's are four default recommendations for each airport, one each for connections between domestic flights (DD), connections between international flights (II), connections from an inbound domestic flight to an outbound international flight (DI), and connections from an inbound international flight to an outbound domestic flight (ID). Each of these can be overridden by superseding rules specific to the terminal or terminals, the airlines operating the inbound and outbound flights, or the specific flight numbers. (Some flights, because of their passenger mix, typically take longer than others to check-in -- if many passengers tend to check and pay for excess baggage -- or to clear inbound or outbound customs and immigration -- if they tend to be from a country or demographic subject to special scrutiny or disfavored treatment. All of this is most common or routes with a high percentage of passengers visiting friends and relatives, or "guest worker" flights, between rich and poor countries.) There are two common, and significant misconceptions about MCT's: (1) that a "legal" connection (one satisfying the MCT recommendations) is also "guaranteed" (see above: airlines never guarantee any connection), and that airlines and travel agencies won't offer or issue tickets for a set of connecting flights unless the connections are "legal". CRS's and the software used by online travel agencies should validate options against the MCT tables, but often they don't, and in any case they can be overridden. The only way to ensure that you are booked on legal connections is to call and ask about the recommended MCT for the specific inbound and outbound airlines and flights numbers, before you buy your ticket. If a connection seems too short, it probably is. Do yourself a favor and book flights scheduled with more time to make the connection. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer online reservation services let you construct connections manually, flight by flight, or specify a desired connecting time greater than the MCT, although those optional modifiers are allowed in queries from the CRS command line. You'll have to call the airline or a travel agency.

  • Did you have a single ticket for both or all flights, or separate tickets for each flight? Whether your flights were all on the same ticket is far more likely to be decisive than whether they were all on, or labeled with flight numbers of, the same airline. Each ticket, even for flights on multiple airlines, is issued by a single airline identified, somewhat confusingly, in the "issued by" box (even when the ticket is actually issued by a travel agency and not the airline itself). That "issuing" or "validating" airline may not actually be operating any of your flights. But it initially gets all your money and is responsible for parceling it out to the transporting airline(s) as well as for fulfilling your contract of carriage. If you miss a connection, it's usually the validating airline you have to deal with to make any necessary changes. If you have separate tickets for flights on different airlines, each of them is much more likely to disclaim any concern or responsibility for what the other(s) did. Once again, the problem is that most ticket sales Web sites, including those both of airlines and of travel agencies, fail to tell you which flights will be ticketed separately or which airline (not necessarily any of the operating airlines or those whose flight numbers appear on the flights) will issue your tickets. In the USA, Department of Transportation regulations at 14 CFR 399.83 require the airline to give you an actual ticket, which would show all of this information and more, but that rule is routinely violated and has never been enforced. Always demand a ticket when you pay, not just an itinerary or confirmation showing that you have some sort of ticket(s) for certain flights. If you have an e-ticket, what you want is a complete copy of the Virtual Coupon Record. If the airline won't give you one, make a formal complaint and enforcement request to the DOT.

Regardless of the circumstances, airlines can and often do waive change fees and penalties for passengers who miss connecting flights, in their discretion. Just remember that even if you think your missed connection is the airline's fault, you are asking for a favor, not claiming a right. You are more likely to get to your final destination without extra fees if you ask politely and with an attitude that conveys that you are prepared to take "No" for an answer.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 3 February 2010, 22:56 (10:56 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I guess I have never had the experience of a cancelled/delayed flight when the connecting tickets weren't of the same family.

Last time I missed a connection (airline's fault) I got hotel and meal vouchers, but a few people in line ahead of me (at the customer service desk) missed their flights for other reasons and didn't get squat.

Posted by: CanCan, 9 February 2010, 23:14 (11:14 PM)

Hi, Edward: Recently I used some of my FF miles on UA for my husband to fly to Dallas from LA, connecting though SFO. The LAX-SFO was delayed and when it became clear that he would not make his SFO-DFW connection due to the LAX delay, he was rebooked LAX-ORD-DFW. While he was enroute to ORD I could see online his ORD-DFW flight had been cancelled. I called customer service and reached an off shore call center that after much wrangling with, booked him on the last flight out of ORD to DFW some six hours or so after he arrived at ORD. I was not pleased with the two issues so called UA customer service back and reached a customer service supervisor in the US. Yes, this made a difference as to how my call was handled. The offshore call center seem to have been little discretion to waive rules/provide help if it veered off standard procedures and in my experience with this trip and the multiple calls I made to them, the off shore call center has to work through a very rigid, scripted process before one could get to the issue/reason for calling. All of which resulted in long, drawn out time consuming calls.

At any rate, the US customer service supervisor I reached rescheduled my husband on an earlier flight and upgraded him, despite the fact it was a non revenue ticket. He also issued $500 in vouchers, which actually was not as great as it sounds as they cannot be used with discount fares. When he arrived in DFW he was told by ground staff his luggage was in Washington DC. This was a short pre Xmas trip to visit his daughter in the Air Force, based in Shreveport, LA - so it also involved driving three plus hours DFW to Louisana. After I made multiple calls to UA (offshore) when after three full days he still hadn't received his luggage, I received more travel vouchers and approval to be reimbursed up to $200 for change of clothing, toiletries etc. This approval took about two hours to obtain, after much back and forth and my insistence that my husband needed new underwear and UA should pay for reimburse him for it. The suitcase was located after sitting in DC for four days and flown to Shreveport airport on another carrier the day he was leaving to return to LAX.

On his return leg his daughter's car broke down on the drive from Louisana back to DFW. I called customer service yet again to reschedule his flight and they rebooked him to fly next day, without a fee. (I think they dreaded my call in the Phillipines at this point!) My husband had returned to Shreveport, Louisana to spend the night (getting back there in a tow truck) and took Greyhound very early the next morning to get to DFW.

Enroute on Greyhound the FBI and marshalls entered the bus at a rest stop and arrested several armed passengers. This delayed the Greyhound arrival into Dallas, and you guessed it, my husband missed his rescheduled flight!

At this point I could not face another call with the off shore call center, so I suggested to my husband that he ask to speak with the UA Station Manager at DFW and throw himself on his mercy! The Station Manager was extremely sympathatic and graciously provided him with $50 worth of food/drink vouchers and rebooked him on a flight for later in the day, without a fee. Lesson here is if something can go wrong it will, but if you are fortunate enough to come across airline representatives who are willing to help, they seem to have discretion to provide a range of compensation and of course, the ability to reschedule without fees. Remember, this was a non-revenue ticket and UA still helped him even when my husband missed TWO flights due to circumstances that were not caused by UA. In closing, I was originally told to submit a receipt for the $200 reimbursement to UA HQ in Chicago. Two days after my husband arrived back home and before I had sent in his receipt (which only totaled $90) a $200 check arrived in the mail. I called UA and they said never mind with the receipt, sorry about the lost bag and the problematic trip.

Hope all is well with you!
Warmest regards, Mel

Posted by: Mel Webster, 13 February 2010, 09:23 ( 9:23 AM)

Just wanted to say that this is one of the best sites for travel. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Traveller, 1 March 2010, 21:51 ( 9:51 PM)

I have unfortunately had this happen to me, I made a reservation via Kayak which had the cheapest available flight making a connection in Atlanta to another airline.

The two airlines supposedly had some time of arrangement, but the second airline was extremely uncooperative of me having missed the flight, even though the first flight arrived 2 hours late. I was expected to pay the difference in ticket fees for the first and next flights, and a penalty.

I complained for a good 45 minutes and eventually a manager let me on the flight. What I found most odd is my checked baggage had already been arranged to be placed on the next flight prior to me paying! I guess it was assumed I would just pay without question.....

Posted by: Simon, 24 July 2010, 13:00 ( 1:00 PM)

On MCTs: Thai Airlines, on its own website, will sell you BLR MEL tickets with a layover in BKK. Scheduled layover duration is 55 minutes. Can II MCT really be that low?

Posted by: girish, 10 March 2012, 14:23 ( 2:23 PM)
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