The Travel Adviser: No show, no fly

Paper tickets were particularly useful if your flight was canceled or you missed the flight or had any airline-related problem.

By
September 26, 2015 23:45
flying

Airplane takeoff. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Eli wishes he was older. Eli wishes he was wiser. Eli these days wishes he didn’t have to turn to social media to raise money to support him to fly to Israel.

To explore the morass that has dozens of people denigrating and degrading him we need to dip our toes into the history of airline tickets. Every single one of you reading this is aware there were once two types of tickets – paper and electronic. Paper tickets ceased to be issued in 2008. Paper tickets were so named because of the flight coupons, pieces of paper that contain the exact flight information. With an electronic ticket, commonly called an e-ticket, this information is held within the airline’s reservation system, and is indicated as such when you check in.

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Paper tickets were particularly useful if your flight was canceled or you missed the flight or had any airline-related problem. There was a world of options that savvy travel agents and seasoned travelers availed themselves of. Let’s say your agent discovered space on another airline.

With that paper ticket, it was far easier to switch airlines. More often than now, simply showing up at the airline counter was sufficient for them to accept your paper coupon and issue you a boarding pass.

Far more common was the practice of cancel and continue.

You decided you didn’t want to fly on the plane between Washington DC and Newark. No problem. You pulled out the paper coupon, made sure your trusty travel agent canceled the flight so you weren’t a no-show and showed up at the airport in Newark.

Nobody was wiser, no reissue fee was incurred and you made off like a bandit. Family members, often successfully, changed the first name on the paper ticket when one of them decided to change a flight.



Technology is not always a blessing. With an e-ticket, you are at the mercy of the airline you are booked on.

Today if a flight is canceled you need an active human interface to effect a change. In fact, relying upon the airline personnel at the airport is the least desirous option.

Far wiser is to contact your travel agent or your Internet airline representative. He or she has the best chances of solving the problem and having your e-ticket reissued.

Eli chose neither path and has earned the wrath of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Tens of thousands fly to Uman in Ukraine to spend Rosh Hashana at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. The chant of ‘Na-Nach-Nachma-Nachman Meuman’ fills the air as the devoted find a spiritual awakening in Uman. Eli elected to buy his ticket without going through a travel agent and forked over $760 for the privilege.

With no guidance, nobody told him to check how long his passport was valid for. At Ben-Gurion Airport, guidance and refusal of service came quickly. His passport was not valid for the required six months and he was unable to fly. Not being an Israeli meant he had to go to the US Embassy to renew it. Turning to the Internet, he started a campaign to raise the $500 for a new one-way ticket to Kiev. Taking responsibility for missing the flight, his request for funds fell on friendly folks.

Score one for the Web.

All’s well that ends well but guileless Eli discovered the sad truth when trying to return to Israel. When attempting to fly back to Israel, he was told that by missing his outbound flight, his return flight was automatically canceled and there was no space. Once more he turned to social media, stating that “If you can help in anyways and donate it will be a great help and me collecting money here in the airport I can get back to my sister in Jerusalem for Shabbat.”

It was at this stage that his second request alienated a wide swath of people. Yaacov writes, “No offense bro, but I find this whole situation to be highly problematic from an ethical and religious point of view. It was wrong to schnorr for a ticket in the first place and a huge chutzpa. Taking tzedaka money is a very serious thing and your ‘need’ to get to Uman after you irresponsibly missed your flight is extremely questionable to begin there. Did you ever think of asking someone for a loan instead of a handout?” A “no-show” is a clause that some airlines include in their terms of use. It basically means that a user not showing up for the outbound flight will be considered a no-show, and all the connecting flights associated with this one, even a return flight, will be canceled and no refund will apply.

This is an example of a no-show clause in the terms of use of Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS): No-shows occur when the travel agent fails to cancel a booking that is not required by the customer, which leads to inventory spoilage. If the reservation is not canceled it may result in a no-show, rebooking/refund restrictions may apply for no-show after ticketing.

Un-ticketed segments, which result in no-show shall be liable to penalty fees.

Switch travel agent to passenger and understand you never want to be a no-show. If you’re going to miss a flight, let your agent know, let the airline know and CONFIRM the rest of your flights are still reserved.

Menachem defended Eli to the hilt. “I know Eli very well and he’s a hard worker and that’s how he paid for his ticket in the first place. Not many people know the six-month rule on passports. Be real people. Uman is an amazing thing.”

Actually Menachem is right. Few people know the sixmonth rule, and even fewer understand it. Countless times I’ve had to point out that not one country in the world, demands of its own citizens that their passport be valid for any time beyond the date they’re departing the country. For example, you can leave the US on your American passport even it’s valid for only one day. You can depart Israel, too, no matter how long your Israeli passport is valid for. The problem is entering a third country. Israel demands of all tourists, like Ukraine, that the passport be valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Surprisingly, the US makes no such demands. An Israeli visiting the US only needs his or her passport to be valid during the actual visit in the US.

Elisheva was less forgiving: “Eli, you are an irresponsible toddler; you should be ashamed of yourself. You are guilting people at the time of year you know they will be more vulnerable, to pay for your idiotic escapades with their hard-earned money.”

Nat too was downright sharp in his retort: “You booked a round-trip ticket to Uman, without first ensuring that you have a valid passport to enter Ukraine. You missed your outbound flight. You crowd-funded to beg money to buy a one-way ticket there. You THOUGHT the return leg of your missed outbound flight was still there. And you are again crowd-funding to beg for money for your return flight. There’s a sucker born every minute but I hope there aren’t any in this group.”

Eli’s response was more basic: “You’re all wrong. God put me in this situation point blank. I dealt with it with the tools God gave me to get out [of it].”

Let’s see if we can glean some knowledge from Eli’s situation – who did find the funds to return to Israel and who hopefully will find a way to pay back all of his generous benefactors.

In my career, I’ve encountered no-shows on almost every airline that flies or has flown to Israel. The excuses, and yes, let’s call them what they are, run the gamut from oversleeping to a late taxi to inclement weather to the police or courts blocking their exit to an attitude that reeks of insolence. Creative they may be, curious many are but none passes the simple litmus test: Why didn’t you inform SOMEONE that you would not be on the flight? Ten years ago I could accept they didn’t have access to a phone, but today either possessing or finding someone who has a phone you can use, belies any pretext.

By nature, I tend to view airlines as faceless corporations redolent of huge sums at their disposal, but when it comes to no-shows I side completely with the airlines.

When an agent is told you’re going to be a no-show he or she will do everything to protect the rest of your flights. You may need to pay a reissue fee – airlines love to charge anytime a ticket needs to be reissued, even if the result is you reducing the number of flights you taking.

In the pre-e-ticket days, we would simply instruct the passenger to pull out the unused coupon and hope the airline wouldn’t notice the flight was not used and waive the change fee. Today it’s much harder to sneak that knowledge past an airline. We still offer the choice to our clients but warn them quite clearly that the airline has the legal right to request a change fee and that trying to wiggle out of it at the airport could result in them missing their flight. As mentioned, airlines classify ANY change cause for it to be reissued and reserve the right to charge for it.

Eli’s assertion that he’s only 18, and has been on his own since 14 and is learning life lessons all the time, radiates both sympathy and curiosity. It’s sad that with a sister living in Israel, and a brother in the US, he doesn’t seem able to turn to them in times of financial crisis. His tale of mistake after mistake is something that we all can learn from. My simple request to paraphrase, the great US playwright Tennessee Williams is: Do not, I repeat, do not rely upon the kindness of strangers.

The author is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments: mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il

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