And I thought it was just a glitch….

Up until yesterday I thought I had seen it all when it comes to itineraries with issues. While we’d like to think that codeshare flights and alliances translate to a smooth travel experience, that often isn’t the case.

Take yesterday, for example. I received an email from a reader that was flying roundtrip in a couple of months from a city (we’ll call it XYZ) to IAD via ORD both ways. He booked all the segments as US Airways codeshare flights, but all the segments were on United metal. So the itinerary looked like this:


Make sense?

So what was the issue? Well, everything looked good on US Airways’ website, but his issue was that the United website wasn’t displaying the first segment of his trip, XYZ-ORD. All other segments showed as normal. Kudos to him for being so vigilant.

At first I assumed it was a glitch, and I would have just left it at that had the segment been on US Airways, but since the segment was on United as a US Airways codeshare, I decided to give United a call. At first they told me everything looked fine with the itinerary.

I asked them specifically about the first segment, XYZ-ORD, and they said that they didn’t see him booked on that flight. After looking at the schedule it was apparent that there was a schedule change on the itinerary. This flight had changed flight numbers and was now leaving about 20 minutes earlier. No big deal, right? Well, the agent told me they sent that information over to US Airways about two weeks ago, but US Airways never accepted the changes and reissued the tickets. I said, “well it’s clear that there was a communication gap between United and US Airways, so can you go ahead and reconfirm him on that flight?” The response was “Sorry sir, this flight is actually sold out now.”

This is where it always gets fun. On one hand I feel bad being overly-l0gical to the agent because it isn’t their fault, but at the same time I secretly enjoy breaking it down as far as possible so that they can explain to me how such a thing can happen. So at that point, our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Well, then maybe you could open up space for him.”
Agent: “Unfortunately we’re not able to do that, the flight is sold out.”
Me: “This is clearly an issue between United and US Airways. What exactly could he have done differently? Thank God he checked his itinerary, because no one else notified him.”
Agent: “I understand sir, but this is US Airways’ fault.”
Me: “But that’s outside of his control. You choose to work with US Airways both as a codeshare partner and Star Alliance partner, so this is something the airlines should sort out between them. He’s essentially being involuntarily denied boarding two months out here.”
Agent: “Sir, we’d be glad to put him on any other flight, even on a different day.”

At this point I decided to leave it as is and advise him of the situation. Maybe he could benefit from a date change.

But I’m sorry, I’ve dealt with so many itineraries, and this is the downright strangest thing I’ve ever seen. And yes, I’ve seen a lot of strange things, from being denied boarding on Singapore Airlines because United didn’t reissue a ticket correctly to a plethora of other things. What made this particularly egregious is the fact that the flight was sold out, and we’re two months out! So a huge mistake was made, totally outside of this guy’s control, and worst of all they’re claiming they can’t fix it.

Hopefully he’ll get a good resolution to the issue….

Filed Under: Advice
  1. The first flight (apparently) missing on the United side seems to happen all the time. I’ve never actually had it translate to a lack of seat on the first segment though.

  2. How is a flight two months from now already sold out? Even the holiday ones aren’t usually sold out yet.

  3. It was my itinerary. XYZ is DSM. The flight that’s sold out two months in advance is UA5824 DSM-ORD on December 19. Iceman, I was surprised to hear that it was sold out too.

    The story does have a happy ending: on my fifth call to US’s reservations line, I got an extremely competent agent who promised me he’d fix things. He called UA and managed to get me rebooked on a different flight the same day.

    I’d like to publicly thank Lucky for his help here. His advice was invaluable.

  4. 2 of the 3 morning flights from DSM to ORD sold out on a Saturday nearly a week before Christmas — Get Out! Really, this is hard to believe. Every flight in and out of ROC on that day is Y9 or better. What’s the deal? Major sporting event?

  5. “While we’d like to think that codeshare flights and alliances translate to a smooth travel experience, that often isn’t the case.”

    I certainly feel for Alex’s frustration and inconvenience in this situation and agree that US was in the wrong and UA could have done more than help, I wonder if statements like the above, which I have read and bought into for years, are a bit sensational. For every example of a codeshare/interline going wrong, how many go right?

    I can give you an example of my recent experience of a fairly complex itinerary going flawlessly: DCA-BOS on AE, BOS-LHR on AA, LHR-JNB on BA, and JNB-CPT on MN.* Four flights each way, four airlines each way, three terminal changes each way, more than 24 hours of flying each way–I made it and my luggage made it (checked all the way through) with zero problems. I was even notified of schedule changes before I left promptly and easily.

    I was so skeptical that the trip would happen that I brought printouts of alternate flights and itineraries with me for each stop along the way and bought travel insurance to cover any delays of my person and my luggage. I was so impressed at how flawlessly the trip went that I began to question that skepticism. I’m sure I’ll keep my guard up on codeshare/interlining itineraries, but I’ll probably be less hesitant to book them now that I’ve seen firsthand that they can go well. Sometimes there can be a happy ending without having to call customer service five times.

    * I was flying on a frequent flier ticket, hence the less than ideal routing to South Africa.

  6. My guess is they realigned (corporate speak for downsizing) 2 flights into 1, and now they’re in an oversold situation, hence zeroing out. But it sounds like there was a happy ending after all.

  7. This is a well known problem with UA. They steadfast refuse to deal with these kinds of issues assuming (as happened here) that the passenger will cave and take an alternate flight.

    I had essentially the same thing happen to me. LH had a schedule change and a segment was dropped. UA claimed LH had made the mistake but detailed investigation by LH proved that in fact it was UA that had dropped the ball. Despite this UA refused to correct the problem and suggested I travel an alternate day or not at all. It took serious prodding from LH and a call to a high ranking individual at UA to get it straightened out and the issue wasn’t even a sold out flight. UA just didn’t want to ask LH to open space.

    I’ve never seen anything like it. As far as I can tell UA has no problems ignoring their Conditions of Carriage when it suits them. You can find story after story like the one above on Flyertalk. No other airline I have flown with seems to act like this so the only thing I can say is be careful when dealing with UA and make sure you know the rules and don’t give up if you are in the right.

    Or fly somebody else whenever possible and make it easy on yourself.

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