The travel adviser: Don’t act like a fool

If you’re a no-show, not only won’t you get your payment refunded, you won’t be able to use the rest of your ticket.

By
October 29, 2011 23:22
[illustrative photo]

airplane 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

He claimed he had known me many years ago. Wizened, unshaven, with only three teeth in his entire mouth, he requested to meet with me. With his shabby jacket, his upright stature revealed someone who had fallen upon hard times.

With the holiday season in full force, I could hardly refuse such a humble request.

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He explained that while he desired to fly to New York, he was unable to fly nonstop, as the thought of being held captive in a metal cylinder for over 12 hours was something he simply couldn’t handle. He spoke clearly and lucidly, not at all what one would expect from his appearance.

He pointed out that a long time ago, he had flown with Sabena, departing Lod Airport in the afternoon to Brussels and continuing the next morning to Idlewild, with the airline footing the bill for an airport hotel. I politely explained that Brussels Air (the successor to the bankrupt Sabena) no longer paid for an overnight in Brussels on the way to JFK (the “correct” name for Idlewild Airport these days).

Realizing that business class might prove too expensive, he asked what I knew about BA’s vaunted premium economy class. British Airways has been marketing this product for over a year, offering a superior product to the normal economy class, complete with a separate check-in counter at the airport and aircraft seats with more pitch than the normal seat. They’ve priced it at only a few hundred dollars more, and it has proved very popular among customers. So popular, in fact, that El Al has decided it, too, will offer a premium economy class on its flights to both London and New York next year.

He elected to avail himself of this extra comfort and booked a 7 a.m. flight to London with a stop of almost 24 hours before continuing the next morning to JFK. He pulled out all of his documents, his credit card was charged and he loped out of the office with his e-ticket.

It took him only 10 minutes to return and ask if he could delay his trip by one week.

Happy to oblige, with no additional cost, one more week in Israel was arranged. I explained that in the future, changing his ticket would incur a $100 reissue fee, provided there was space in his reserved class.

Away he went, but a nagging feeling festered in my mind that this was not the last I would hear of him.

QUIET DID prevail until the morning of his flight, when I received an urgent message from BA that he was a no-show on his flight to London and the airline had canceled the rest of his trip.

Curious to find out what plight had transpired for him to miss his flight, I rang him at his home to find him quite calm. My first reaction was to inquire if he had mixed up the date of his departure. Quite the contrary, he retorted, he had ordered the taxi to pick him up at 4 a.m., but it had simply never appeared. Befuddled and betwixt, he had stayed in his house waiting patiently for a cab that never showed.

“Did you call for another cab?” I asked.

“Did you call my office? Did you call BA at Ben-Gurion Airport to inform them you weren’t flying?” He sheepishly admitted that none of those options had entered his mind.

Asked what he did want to do, he said he might fly with the airline in the future.

I called BA, only to be told the following information, which from a cursory investigation seems to be a policy that few airlines have adopted (I have confirmed that it appears on BA’s site): Passengers who no-show for a flight will be considered as canceling after departure, and the ticket will have no value for refund or onward travel.

I repeat – if you’re a no-show, not only won’t you get your payment refunded, you won’t be able to use the rest of your ticket.

BA did point out that the client would get back the airport taxes, which in this case totaled over $300.

By sitting in his living room doing nothing, my client lost his entire ticket, with no option to refund it and pay the cancellation fee. A simple phone call or e-mail would have resulted in BA simply canceling his first flight; failure to do anything meant he forfeited the entire ticket.

Personally I felt this was rather draconian; professionally I asked BA to make an exception.

They were fairly forthcoming, pointing out that they were making a large exception, but in the end relenting and permitting him to rebook his ticket with a large penalty for a future trip. Let’s hope that this time he manages to show up for his flight.

I RARELY argue about an airline’s policy, especially when it appears clearly. It behooves the passenger who blithely feels that if he or she doesn’t show up for the scheduled flight, there will be little backlash from the airline, to know what that policy is.

Most airlines, Delta or Continental, El Al or US Air, charge a steep no-show fee on international tickets that originate in Israel, but don’t restrict the client from refunding the ticket as BA does.

Still, if you’re not going to make a flight, let someone know. If you’re not working with a travel consultant with a 24-hour phone number, or if you booked online, be responsible and contact the airline directly.

Trust me: These days, nothing and nobody can slip under the radar. If you don’t show up for your flight, it will be seen.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.

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