Travel Troubleshooter

An ‘invalid’ airline ticket to Lima — can I get a refund?

Q: I recently booked a round-trip airline ticket from Columbus, Ohio, to Lima, Peru, on Avianca Airlines, a United Airlines partner. The first leg of the itinerary was a codeshare flight with United from Columbus to Washington. This flight was scheduled to depart at 6 a.m. When I arrived at the airport, before 5 a.m., I attempted to check in with a United ticket agent.

After a delay of more than 45 minutes, he told me that he was unable to check me in, although he could see my ticket in the computer system and there were seats available on the plane. The stated reason was that the ticket number given to United by Avianca was “invalid.”

After 30 more minutes of delay, I was told that United would not assist in rebooking for a flight within the next 24 hours. I called United customer service and was told to take up the issue with Avianca.

I contacted Avianca and was told that its ticket was indeed valid, and that it was United’s mistake in denying me boarding; United also refused to rebook me on the next available flight. I was also told that the airline’s records showed my itinerary was canceled due to “no show.” I have a signed statement by the United Airlines ticket agent attesting that I was present at the ticket desk an hour before the scheduled departure time.

I had to travel to Lima for an urgent matter, so I booked a new ticket with a different carrier and hoped to clarify the issue later with United and Avianca.

I contacted Avianca and was told that its ticket was indeed valid, and that it was United’s mistake in denying me boarding. … Later, I contacted United and received a letter in which the airline reiterated that Avianca was at fault.

Liz Vivas, airline passenger

Later, I contacted United and received a letter in which the airline reiterated that Avianca was at fault. I corresponded back and forth with an Avianca representative who, after reviewing the letter sent by United, offered to honor the unused ticket for a date in the future. Avianca would allow me to change the ticket without a penalty fee, but I would pay any fare difference. I replied saying that I agreed to those terms and never heard again from that representative.

I’d like to be reimbursed for the money I spent on the ticket I had to book at the last minute or, if that’s not possible, another round-trip ticket from Columbus to Lima to be used at a later time.

Liz Vivas, Columbus, Ohio

A: If you arrived on time for your flight from Columbus to Washington, they should have let you on the plane.

But did you? A review of the correspondence between you and United suggests you missed your check-in time – in airline lingo, that’s a “no show.” If you weren’t checking bags, United recommends that you arrive at least an hour before departure; if you’re checking bags, the airline’s recommended check-in time is 90 minutes before departure.

Still, based on your account, it seems as if something was indeed wrong with your ticket. If you tried to check in with more than an hour before your flight, you should have been fine. It looks as if you arrived at the terminal with time to spare, and that the ticket agent checking you in had an inexplicable problem with your reservation. That was the cause of your delay.

Good thing you had a signed statement saying you were on time, and a promise to waive your change fee. So it looks as if United or Avianca was willing to accept some of the blame for this delay.

Christopher Elliott

Good thing you had a signed statement saying you were on time, and a promise to waive your change fee. So it looks as if United or Avianca was willing to accept some of the blame for this delay.

When a company makes a promise it won’t keep, it’s time to call someone higher up. Here are the executive contacts at United Airlines: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/united-airlines/ and here are the managers at Avianca: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/avianca-airlines/.

Personally, I find a case like this to be endlessly frustrating. None of the airlines seemed interested in owning this problem and offering a quick resolution. When you contacted me, they were both in radio silence. How irritating!

I contacted United on your behalf, which in turn contacted Avianca. (See what I mean?) Avianca agreed to send you half of your ticket value as a voucher. United Airlines sent you a voucher for $200. That’s not exactly the resolution you were hoping for, and I’m sorry we couldn’t do better.

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