Travel Troubleshooter: Infant doesn't have a ticket; who's to blame?

Q: Earlier this year, I booked tickets through Expedia.com for me and my infant daughter to fly from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Billings, Mont., on British Airways. Our return flight was from Chicago to Johannesburg.

I purchased an infant-in-lap ticket for my daughter, and the confirmation I received from Expedia showed a fare of $283 for her ticket. A few weeks later, I got an e-mail from Expedia alerting me to the fact that it could not ticket my daughter’s reservation.

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this e-mail from Expedia. I also realized that Expedia had never charged me for the infant ticket. My Expedia profile showed that the itinerary was “booked and confirmed,” and my infant’s ticket was “ticketing in progress.”

I arrived at the Johannesburg airport two hours before my flight, but British Airways agents could not ticket my daughter, and I missed the flight. The agents insisted that it was Expedia’s responsibility to rebook me, so I checked into a hotel and called Expedia. After many hours on the phone, Expedia offered to refund the ticket. I had to buy another ticket, which cost nearly a thousand dollars more than the cost of my original ticket. I also incurred the costs of more than a day in a hotel, and meals.

In Expedia’s view, it fulfilled its responsibility by sending me that e-mail notification about my daughter’s ticket. In British Airways’ view, Expedia is at fault, since the airline had no idea that my infant was not ticketed before my attempted check-in at the airport. Neither company is admitting any responsibility, and neither one has done anything to reimburse me for the extra costs incurred.

A: When you’re acting as your own travel agent, you have to stay on top of things. On domestic flights, infants are not required to have their own seats. But on international flights, they’re charged a percentage of the adult fare.

Expedia should have notified you about the failure to ticket your daughter, and sending you an e-mail wasn’t enough. Certainly, British Airways could have had a more flexible system, too. Ultimately, a quick check of your itinerary at least a week before your departure date would have revealed the missing ticket. I think you might have benefited from using the phone, e-mail or possibly even social media to fix your problem.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf. The agency refunded most of the extra cost of hotel and rebooking. Expedia also issued $400 in coupons to cover your other costs it couldn’t reimburse.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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