What if Orbitz made a mistake and canceled your return flight home from vacation, leaving you stranded abroad?
Thousands of miles from home.
That’s what Aruna Krishnamurthy says happened to her last January. She was attempting to come home from India when she discovered Orbitz had inexplicably canceled her flight. That error cost her $3,400 — and hours of stress and anxiety.
She wants Orbitz to pay for the high-priced walk-up flight it forced her to buy to get home.
But hold on — Orbitz says Aruna actually canceled the flight, and it doesn’t intend to pay for her mistake.
Can we figure out what’s going on here?
Navigating the constantly changing and often confusing pandemic-inspired travel requirements has made adventuring out into the world quite complicated. But as this case will highlight, sometimes even the best-laid plans can hit a roadblock.
Traveling to India during the pandemic
At the end of last summer (2021), hoping that the coronavirus was subsiding, Aruna booked a flight to India on Orbitz. She and her daughter planned to travel to visit family they hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
Before purchasing the tickets, she carefully reviewed all the information and guidance offered by the U.S. State Department. She then cross-referenced with the Consulate General of India and became confident that the trip was possible.
“We decided we would spend the holidays in India,” Aruna remembered. “We left on December 16 and arrived smoothly without a hitch.”
All her detailed research had paid off. Aruna spent a wonderful month relaxing and enjoying the company of family.
But then everything started going wrong as she prepared to return home.
First, British Airways canceled the flight
About ten days before her scheduled return flight, British Airways sent Aruna an email alerting her to a cancellation.
“B.A. emailed me to say it had canceled our return flight, likely due to the new COVID variant identified in England,” she recalled.” I went to the website and changed our flights. I also contacted Orbitz and asked the agent to make sure all was well.”
A few days later, Aruna saw confirmation in her Orbitz account that all was well. She had successfully switched her flight. But she had a growing concern about the upswing in the coronavirus cases — especially the new variant.
“At that point, I really just wanted to get my daughter and me home,” she remembered.
Reaching that goal would prove much harder than Aruna could have imagined.
Asking Orbitz to switch this flight to avoid COVID problems
As the date of her return flight drew nearer with no notice of cancellation from B.A., she began to breathe more easily.
“It looked like the flight was going to operate as scheduled,” Aruna reported. “But I was nervous every day that we would suddenly find out that B.A. canceled our new flight, too.”
That anxiety caused Aruna to start researching alternative ways home — just in case.
“India began broadcasting news about possible flight cancellations between India and U.K. because of the new COVID strain,” Aruna remembered. “So, to be on the safe side, I asked my husband back home to call Orbitz to discuss our options.”
Specifically, she was hoping that Orbitz could change their flights to a nonstop trip. She wanted to take a United Airlines flight to avoid transiting the U.K.
Fact: When you use a third-party booking agent such as Orbitz, you should not expect much help in changing your reservation to a different airline. The booking agent has an agreement with the original airline on which it booked you. Typically that trip is secured at a special, discounted rate. Moving you to an entirely new airline when they’re not obligated to do so is not likely in the cards.
Aruna says that her husband reported the bad news: Orbitz would not move her to a nonstop United Airlines flight.
Disappointed but hopeful that things would still work out as planned, Aruna packed her bags for the trip home.
Unfortunately, her husband’s call asking about switching to a new flight had caused a giant miscommunication. By the end of that call, the Orbitz agent had canceled Aruna’s flight home. But she wouldn’t find that out until she tried to check in the night before the flight.
And that’s when all of her smooth travel plans came to an abrupt end.
Orbitz canceled my flight! I want to go home!
Just days after her husband’s call to Orbitz, Aruna — eager to head home — went to check in online for the flight. Instead, she was hit with a terrible surprise.
A day before departure, I logged into British Airways to select my seats for the upcoming flight. To my horror, I found that ORBITZ HAD CANCELED MY FLIGHT by mistake without my consent or even informing me.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had my husband contact B.A. from the USA (believe it or not, there doesn’t seem to be a way to reach them in India, which is a whole other story). In that three-way call, they informed us that Orbitz had called and canceled our flight on the 16th.
We called Orbitz frantically — it was past midnight in the United States. We endured a hold for almost two hours, with no one giving us a clear explanation as to what had happened.
Call after call and email after email ended with no explanation or resolution to the immediate problem. Because Orbitz had canceled her flight, Aruna was now stuck in India with no confirmed flight home during the pandemic. She immediately assumed that the Orbitz agent her husband had spoken to had canceled the flight in error. She hoped the company could quickly correct the problem.
That turned out to be a futile hope.
Orbitz immediately placed the blame back on Aruna’s side, specifically on her husband. The booking agent claimed that he had canceled the flight, not Orbitz.
Faced with no other choice, Aruna booked that United Airlines flight home that she had been eyeing the previous weeks. But it came at a very high cost.
The last-minute, one-way trip home from India cost her an unplanned $3,400.
Fact: Last-minute, walk-up flights are some of the most expensive flights that you can imagine. You should avoid them at all costs.
“This was not in my budget, and it caused me immense stress,” Aruna explained. “I need Orbitz to refund me for its agent’s mistake… I did not cancel this flight – Orbitz did.”
Who canceled this flight — Orbitz or the passenger?
When Aruna’s request for help showed up on my desk, she had tried various paths to fix her problem.
I cannot even explain what this whole situation did to my mental health and peace of mind from the 21st to when I left, the 25th. As I felt that Orbitz had gaslighted me, I was in pieces, a very unpleasant experience amid already considerable travel stress around the pandemic.
The sticky point for the entire case was that Aruna had not kept her correspondence in written form. As a result, Orbitz rejected her claim repeatedly by saying that the phone records showed her husband had canceled the flight, not Orbitz.
Always polite with her correspondence, Aruna tried to approach the issue:
We remain convinced that we never requested a cancellation. Yes, we did inquire about the possibilities if our flight via the U.K. is delayed due to COVID 19. We were following a news broadcast in India even in making such an inquiry. We believe that Orbitz canceled our flight by mistake.
I request that you please send me the transcript of the call that allegedly ends in our voluntarily canceling the return trip. That way, I can be assured that the mistake was from my end only. I ended up spending $3,400 getting back into the USA from Bangalore, so this is not something I take lightly.
Please let me know if you will be sending me the transcript of our call. I know it will show that Orbitz canceled our flight. We did not.
Asking Orbitz to clarify who canceled this flight
Unfortunately, there are absolutely no regulations or laws requiring a business to hand over their call center recordings for consumers. So if you’re basing all your resolution dreams on a company providing the transcript of your call, you can forget it. Nearly 100 percent of the time, your request for that information will be answered by crickets.
Why would a company provide you with the information you need to resolve your case?
That’s why our team always recommends keeping your problem-solving efforts in writing.
I contacted Orbitz on Aruna’s behalf.
How are you? We have a case over here that I thought your team might want to take a look at.
Aruna Krishnamurthy says that an agent at Orbitz made a mistake and canceled her return flight home from India on B.A., scheduled for January 22, 2021. This caused her to be forced to buy new tickets home at the last minute. Would there be any way for your team to review the transcript on January 16 between her husband and Orbitz and see if this was a misunderstanding or if he did actually cancel her flight home?
Thank you!Michelle to Orbitz
And because of our established relationship with Orbitz, our executive was willing to pull the call center recordings.
Those recordings proved that Aruna was correct. Her husband had just been asking questions. He never asked to cancel his wife’s flight. The Orbitz agent canceled the flight by mistake.
Good news: Here’s your refund from Orbitz
Our Orbitz executive contact came back soon with the good news for Aruna and her family.
Hi Michelle –
Thanks for your patience while we investigated this case with our customer relations team. Our team confirmed that they have reached out to Aruna Krishnamurthy, letting the customer know that Orbitz is offering to refund the full ticket price of the return flight she booked for January 22, after we reviewed the call recordings and case files.
In short, we did find that the Orbitz agent who spoke with Aruna’s husband canceled the flight by mistake after their conversation on January 16. That resulted in the customer having to rebook the flight home. Our team has asked Aruna to please provide receipts for the return flight she booked so they may refund her that full amount.
We do apologize for the inconvenience this caused Aruna. The case was slightly tricky to resolve because agents needed to locate the call files with the customer’s husband and not the customer directly. We appreciate the opportunity to rectify this case.Orbitz executive team to Michelle
And with that, Aruna says she is relieved and overjoyed with the outcome.
I recommend [your advocacy team] in the highest possible terms. I am truly grateful that in this dog-eat-dog world that we live in, that there is a set of people willing to go to bat for you with professionalism, efficiency, courtesy, and results!
[You] responded immediately to my problem and used [your] contacts and power to advocate for me with positive results with Orbitz. I am amazed and moved by [your] willingness to take on our problems without expecting a dime in return. I can’t think of who did that for me ever (except my parents!).
How to reduce the chances of getting stranded abroad by a canceled flight
No one wants to get stranded abroad. Here are some tips to reduce your chances of it happening to you.
- Book directly with the airline
Saving $5 by reserving through a third-party booking agent will work fine as long as you don’t encounter any problems. But if you do hit a bump during your travels, you’ll have added a layer of complexity to fixing the problem. Booking directly with the airline cuts out the middleman — who, as in this case, often just causes confusion. Without that middleman, you can communicate directly with the airline — the company that can actually solve your problem. And don’t forget, many third party booking agents build your itinerary with a series of one-way tickets which can cause you big problems if one of those flights are canceled.
- Use a professional travel advisor
Even better, book your trip through a travel advisor, and let them handle any changes or problems with your itinerary. The pandemic has made travel a bit perplexing. A professional travel advisor can help guide you every step of the way.
- Keep communication in writing
If you don’t use a travel advisor, then you’ll be tackling any problems on your own, domestically or abroad. Make sure to keep everything in writing — especially if you’re using a third-party booking agent. In this case, most of the correspondence was by phone. Orbitz reviewed the phone calls when I contacted their team and discovered that the agent had made a mistake and canceled the flight. But a company reviewing its call center recordings at a customer’s request is a very unusual occurrence. Unfortunately, you aren’t owed a copy of your call to a customer service center (but the company just might review your call if a consumer advocate asks). Keeping all requests via email, text or letter rather than by phone protects you (and your cash) should there be problems later.
- Research your transit requirements
To minimize travel confusion, book nonstop flights whenever possible. But if you must book a connection, make sure that you carefully research your transit destinations as well. Use the U.S. Department of State website to check the latest travel information.
- Only allow others to call on your behalf as a last resort
Adding people into the mix of troubleshooting almost always complicates matters. This case is no different. Most companies will not even entertain a call or inquiry by a third party for your reservation. It’s unclear why Orbitz did this here, but it’s essential that you act on your own behalf for any travel reservations.
- Escalate your complaint
If the worst happens and you find that someone has canceled your flight by mistake, make sure to document everything. Then escalate your complaint through the corporate ladder of the company using the self-advocacy tactics we recommend — starting at the customer service level. You can ask our researcher Meera and she can find you key people within a company who have the power to resolve your problem.
- Contact the Consumer Rescue team
Of course, as Aruna discovered, sometimes no matter how hard a consumer tries, their request for a resolution hits a roadblock. And that’s why the Consumer Rescue team is here. If you’ve tried everything and you’ve reached the end of your rope, we’re here for you — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We’ve got your back. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)