Q: A few weeks ago, I was supposed to fly from San Francisco to New York for the opening of a friend’s art show. I had booked my tickets on Continental Airlines months earlier through Orbitz.
Two days before leaving, we received a “friendly reminder” that we had only a few days before our departure. The note offered security tips and airport links so we could check on transportation. It was all very useful.
But when we arrived at the airport on the night of our trip, no one was behind the Continental counter. We found out that our flight had been canceled and that there were no more flights that evening. Orbitz had rebooked us on another flight that departed at 6 o’clock the next morning.
We needed to be on a red-eye flight to make it to the art show opening. For the next hour, I sat on the phone with Continental. A customer service representative told me that the airline had canceled our flight Oct. 29, just two days after we had made our reservation.
I then phoned Orbitz and asked why we hadn’t been made aware of the canceled flight. An agent said I should have received an e-mail on Dec. 30, but I never got the message. The phone representative then suggested that this was my fault, blaming me for not checking my junk-mail folder. Worse, he could not put us on an earlier flight and he couldn’t process a refund.
I ended up buying a ticket on another airline in order to make it to New York on time. Is there any way you can get Orbitz to refund my money?
— Caty Harris, Chico, Calif.
A: Someone should have told you about your rescheduled flight. And the responsibility for that rested with your online travel agency, Orbitz.
Then again, you should have called Orbitz or Continental to confirm your flight.
E-mail is a terrific tool for reaching out to customers, and few travel agencies are better at that than Orbitz. But e-mail is not completely reliable. The notification about your canceled flight was probably sent out, but it seems to have gotten lost in cyberspace or in your spam folder, as the agent suggests.
I’m concerned about the timing of all this, too. You bought the ticket in October but the cancellation notification wasn’t sent out until December? What took so long? If you had found out about the cancellation in time, you could have asked for your money back (and you are entitled to it under Continental’s contract of carriage) and made other flight arrangements.
Even if you had called 24 hours before your flight, as many people do to confirm their reservations, you might have had some rebooking options. But a few hours before departure? Unfortunately, you were out of luck.
Next time you book an airline ticket through an online agency, make sure you white-list incoming e-mail from the agency so it doesn’t wind up in your spam folder. Call the airline at least a day before your scheduled flight and make sure the flight is still leaving on schedule.
Needless to say, the Orbitz representative you spoke with should have focused less on who was to blame for the missed communication, and more on solving the problem of getting you to New York.
I wonder, too, how difficult it would be to design a system that requires travelers notified of a flight change by e-mail to acknowledge the change. Most would respond right away, I should think, and the others could receive a follow-up call from Orbitz.
Continental refunded the money for your unused tickets.
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 or visit his . Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting .