By Travel columnist
updated 10/26/2005 5:20:38 PM ET 2005-10-26T21:20:38

The Rice family's Disney vacation goes goofy before it even begins, when their "nonstop" flight gets an unwanted stopover. With two kids in tow, that's a major inconvenience. Disney Travel admits the mistake, but now wants the Rices to buy completely new tickets. Is that the only option?

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Q: We travel to Disney World almost every year, and are usually thrilled with the quality of service we receive. Unfortunately, we’ve experienced some difficulty during the planning stage of our upcoming vacation that has caused us to think differently about the way Disney treats its customers.

We are traveling with two small children, so minimizing travel time is of utmost importance to us. When we made our reservations through Walt Disney Travel Company, we specifically requested nonstop flights to and from Orlando. When the reservations were made, we were assured that both flights were nonstop.

Last week, when I was reviewing our trip itinerary on Disney’s Web site, I discovered that the return flight had changed. It was no longer nonstop; instead, we were booked on a flight from Orlando to Cincinnati, where we would have a two-hour stopover before taking another flight to Lexington, Kentucky, where we live. Neither Disney nor Delta Air Lines had made any effort to notify us of this change.

A Disney representative admitted the error, explaining that when the reservations were made, the booking agent “failed to call the airline help department to get the return flight booked.” The direct flights were sold out before Disney caught the error, so we would have to make the Cincinnati connection. Disney offered us $50 Disney dollars to make up for the error.

We would like to just get off the plane in Cincinnati. We live only an hour away, so we can get home faster by car than we can by taking the connecting flight. But our checked luggage would go on to Lexington without us. We’ve asked Disney to rebook our return so that we can fly a single leg to Cincinnati, but the company won’t do it unless we pay for a new ticket. Can you help?

— Vanessa Rice,Lexington, Ky.

A: Disney should have booked your family on a nonstop flight, as originally promised. When it found it had made an error, it should have notified you and rescheduled your flights to suit your needs.

This lapse in service is particularly surprising when you consider that families are Disney’s principal clientele. Disney ought to know how important nonstop flights are to families, particularly those with small children. As the father of two, I always try to travel to a destination nonstop, if it’s possible. There’s less chance I’ll lose my baggage — or a child.

Now to the rules. When an airline changes your flights as a result of equipment or schedule changes, its obligations are clear: Under its contract of carriage, it must either put you on another flight that is acceptable to you or offer you a refund.

But Disney Travel is an agency. When it messes up, what are your rights? I spent a while searching for its terms and conditions on the Web, and came up empty-handed. Either my searching skills are sub-par, or Disney is being less than forthcoming about its obligations.

But we don’t need to read the terms and conditions to know what it should do. Common sense says that if your travel agency makes a mistake, it should fix it.

There is no need to bring Delta into this argument. The airline issues tickets and flies planes. Disney booked the tickets, and it is ultimately responsible for getting the reservation right.

After I brought your case to Disney’s attention, it agreed to cancel your flight and rebook your return ticket so that you ended in Cincinnati, allowing you to return from your Disney vacation at a reasonable hour.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.

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