The Travel Adviser: Caught between a rock and a hard place

There is one thing I know for certain: Flying on two different airlines on one ticket is almost an invitation for problems.

airplane 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
airplane 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
I don’t know how some frequent fliers manage to do it. Travel can be discombobulating and disruptive by nature, but there is one thing I know for certain: Flying on two different airlines on one ticket is almost an invitation for problems.
Yes, I know airlines love touting how travelers may mix and match a myriad of airlines, and earn miles on any airline that belongs to the same alliance. But experience has shown that when a problem arises, no airline likes to step up and take responsibility.
Let’s take Mr. Levy’s recent foray into what must have been the Twilight Zone.
He had business meetings for a day in Warsaw and wanted to get back to Israel as quickly as possible.
Offered the cheapest option by his travel consultant to fly Lot Airlines, nonstop, round trip, he opted to spend a wee bit more and fly El Al nonstop to Warsaw, then return to Tel Aviv via Vienna on Austrian Airlines. His reasoning was simple: The Austrian Airlines flights brought him back to Israel a bit earlier. As the cliché says, time is money, and rather than arrive in Israel at 3:55 a.m., Levy decided to take a connecting flight bringing him back at 1:00 a.m.
He soon came to rue his decision.
His travel consultant acquiesced to his client’s request and issued him one ticket combining El Al to Warsaw and Austrian Airlines on the return portion. His frequent flier number was entered, his meals reserved and his desired seats confirmed.
His meetings in Warsaw proved successful, and he departed Warsaw en route to Vienna with nary a worry. He was scheduled to depart from Vienna at 8:30 p.m., but even in the summer, weather can alter flight times. They say that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but once was enough: A bolt hit the airplane while they were still on the ground.
Austrian Airlines wisely elected to check the aircraft, and after 90 minutes decided it would be best to bring in a new plane.
Within 90 minutes, the passengers were already on the new plane.
As fate would have it, an errant bird flew into the engine of the new plane, and Austrian engineers determined that the engine should be flushed. The clock struck midnight, but the engine light continued flashing and technicians were called once more.
One can only imagine the thoughts going through the minds of the 200-plus passengers on the aircraft; it’s likely that several decided, after all that had transpired, that this was a sign. Some of them elected to voice their concerns, and a short time later, the captain came on the radio, stating that due to some passengers not having full confidence in their ability to fly, they were canceling the flight.
Levy reports that the uproar from the majority of passengers who wanted the flight to continue did little to assuage the flight crew. At 1:30 a.m., buses arrived on the tarmac to deplane the passengers.
Believe it or not, this was not the climax of his adventure.
Upon arrival at the Vienna terminal, all passengers were informed that contrary to European Union regulations, they would have to sleep in the terminal, as no hotel rooms were available, and when the counter opened up at 5:00 a.m., they could “try” to rebook their flights.
Each passenger was given 6 euros to purchase food and left to their own devices.
Knowing that the Friday flight from Vienna was already sold out, Levy realized that he could be spending a few days in Austria.
His first action was to walk across the road to the airport hotel and discover, lo and behold, that the hotel had plenty of rooms! Checking himself in, he pondered his next move.
Why he did not contact his travel consultant is not clear; he no doubt thought that his travel agency did not have a 24- hour service. I’ve written in the past the importance of making sure that this service is available wherever you book your ticket. Any travel agent worth his salt would have rebooked him on any plane in any class and had his ticket reissued.
Levy did the next best thing – he contacted someone in the US, who contacted their travel agent and purchased a oneway, full-fare ticket for $1,700 to fly Austrian Airlines back from Vienna on Friday morning.
A scant few hours later, Levy walked back to the counter, bypassing the hundreds of clients desperately trying to make alternative bookings, and boarded the plane, which arrived without incident in Israel.
Levy paid out of pocket 113 euros for a hotel room and $1,700 for a plane ticket.
Surely someone would compensate him, he surmised.
The following week, his travel consultant contacted Austrian Airlines, which stated emphatically that it was an El Al ticket and that all requests for reimbursement must be addressed to the Israeli airline. El Al’s personnel laughed at the inquiry, stating just as resolutely that the delay had happened on an Austrian aircraft and that any redress must come from Austrian Airlines.
Threats were made, voices were raised, but both airlines held their positions steadfastly.
At this stage, I intervened and reluctantly told Levy that he would have no choice but to engage an attorney well versed in aviation law.
Austrian Airlines is quite correct that it was an El Al ticket, but to deny responsibility and flaunt the European Union regulations requiring that he be compensated for the delay is to lead us to become a more litigious society.
The only question that remains is how much compensation Mr. Levy will get.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.