The Travel Detective

Travel Detective Blog: How an Online Travel Agency Left Me in the Cold

Locations in this article:  Dallas, TX Los Angeles, CA

plane_overheadIn the most recent blizzard to hit the East Coast, almost every major airline issued a “weather waiver” for passengers stranded by the storm. What the waivers stipulated was that you could change your flight, cancel it, or get a full refund without any penalty.

So far, so good, and under the circumstances, a fair approach to a weather emergency by the airlines.

That is, until the offer doesn’t work.

Consider the following: under most of the airline “waivers,” passengers were allowed to rebook their flights as long as they flew by today. Are they kidding? It’s almost impossible to do that.

Then, there’s my story. I flew from New York to Dallas on Monday and got out of LaGuardia just before the airport closed. I was also scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday evening to meet colleagues flying out of New York. I booked the tickets with Orbitz on American/US Air code share flights.

But by Tuesday morning, New York was totally shut down, and my colleagues couldn’t fly to Los Angeles, which defeated the purpose of my flight. With my colleagues stranded in New York, there was no point in me flying to Los Angeles. I couldn’t fly. Indeed, It was ALL weather related.

But when I called American to cancel my onward Los Angeles flight under its waiver, they told me they couldn’t help me, because the flight had been booked on Orbitz. So I called Orbitz and they declined the refund, claiming that since there was no weather in Dallas, they wouldn’t refund anything because the flights were scheduled to operate.

But I was indeed stranded because all my colleagues were stranded by weather. No one at Orbitz would help. I was then told I would forfeit my entire fare. That, ultimately, is what happened.

So, will I accept Orbitz’s refusal to honor the waiver? Of course not. First, I am disputing the charge on my credit card. After all, the waiver states that if you can’t fly because of the weather, you can use the waiver to either rebook your flight or cancel and get a full refund.

I couldn’t fly because of the weather—because my colleagues were also trapped. Since the Orbitz representatives refused to budge, I will give Orbitz executives an opportunity to explain their logic—through this posting—to me and everyone else.

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By Peter Greenberg for