Alitalia Strands Passenger In Iran

John writes:

Alitalia Airlines
Customer Relations
350 Fifth Avenue
Suite 3700
New York, NY 10118

To Whom It May Concern:

On October 21, 2007 I attempted to check in on time for an Alitalia flight from Tehran, Iran to Milan, Italy for which I was ticketed and had confirmed my reservation the day previous. The check-in agent informed me there was a problem with my ticket and that I would not be allowed to travel. I found this horrifying, as my Iranian visa was expiring and any delay could cause serious problems with Iranian immigration and could bar me from leaving the country.

Through no fault of my own, your mistake forced me to purchase a full-fare ticket on the spot for US$830 to board the flight and leave Iran while my visa was still in effect. In my fax and the attached copy I explain the details of this and attach a handwritten letter from the check-in agent describing the problem. I, in effect, was caused by your mistake to purchase the same seat twice, and for the inflated walk-up fare.

Your airline’s actions on October 21 nearly left me stranded in a hostile country with no United States embassy to turn to for help. Had I been unable to purchase that second ticket for US$830, I might still be helpless in Iran struggling to deal with an expired visa at the mercy of government officials. This is a nearly unforgivable way to treat guests on your airline.

On October 25, 2007 I spoke with Teresa in your New York customer service office. She informed my that my initial fax to that office had been lost and advised me to send the correspondence to her personal attention. Upon retransmittal of that fax, Teresa told me any refund from Alitalia would take 100 days and that the refund would likely be only for the less expensive unused ticket for which I was denied travel. The US$830 ticket I was forced to purchase because of Alitalia’s mistake would probably not be refunded, Teresa told me.

I hope you understand why this outcome is unacceptable. Your mistake forced me to purchase a second ticket for US$830 on a flight I had already paid for, was ticketed for and for which I held a confirmed reservation. The only acceptable action on the part of your company is to refund to me, in the form of check or credit card return, the US$830 cost of the ticket I was unnecessarily forced to purchase in Tehran.

Further, the projected delay of 100 days to resolve this matter is unnecessary, insulting and ridiculous. I am shocked and angered by your company’s mistake and its response to this situation thus far. As such I find it necessary immediately to involve other parties in its resolution.

I have forwarded copies of this correspondence to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office Division of Consumer Protection, as well as to the investigative reporting unit at WBAL Television in Baltimore.

I hope you will review the enclosed materials immediately and move expeditiously to bring this matter to its only fair resolution: a refund to me, in the form of check or credit card return, the US$830 I was forced by your mistake to spend on a second ticket from Tehran to Iran on October 21, 2007.

Please contact me at any time to discuss this matter further, by telephone at [redacted] or by email at [redacted]

Respectfully,

John

Know what it’s called when you tell people you’re going to give them something in exchange for their money, and then you don’t? Stealing. It is called stealing.

Why wait 100 days for them to maybe feel like not being criminals? Let’s say it all together now….charrrrrgggeeebackkkkk. Call up your credit card company and tell them your story and get your money back. That’ll get Alitalia’s attention better than any letter sent to a fax machine that feeds directly into the waste bin.

Comments

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  1. jpp123 says:

    “Always Late In Takeoff And Landing Italian Airlines” – ‘nuf sad.

  2. timmus says:

    Wow, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sure is tall!

  3. Beerad says:

    I’m on this guy’s side, and it sounds like Alitalia’s screwing him over (although it is a little vague from the letter what exactly the ticket problem was and how it was Alitalia’s fault). Cautionary tale here, though — when traveling in countries where you want to avoid trouble with the government, especially visa trouble, check, double-check, and triple-check those transit arrangements in advance. If I was booked on the last possible flight out of Iran and afraid of getting tossed in the hoosegow if I missed it, I’d verify everything a little earlier than the day before my visa expired.

  4. mantari says:

    Could we have found the FIAT of the airline industry?

  5. timmus says:

    (Also I agree the complaintant NEEDS to be getting their credit card company involved, and pronto. The state attorney can’t be trusted to do jack, though the media threat might work.)

  6. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    Awesome photo.

  7. MickeyMoo says:

    Alitalia is running out of operating capitol, the government refuses to bail them out (again…) Numerous offers have been made by other airlines/countries and have fallen through for one reason or another. If you’ve ever flown them you know what a disorganized mess the Italians have made of their flag carrier. My Milan-SFO flight in economy was one of the most unpleasant 14hours i’ve ever spent. The flight attendants could give lessons in surliness (in 2 languages though) (that is not a racial slur – I’m Italian) They probably needed the money and need 100 days to scrape up a refund.

  8. Amy Alkon says:

    Sounds awful. I do wish he’d given more information about what the problem was with his ticket.

  9. IconoclasticFlow says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to only have to fly Alitalia once, from Rome to Catania, Sicily. It was short, it was terrible. Not so much the FIAT of airlines, but more a deadly marriage of FIAT and a barrel of plutonium/gasoline cocktail.

  10. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Could the OP elaborate on what the “problem” with the ticket was that prevented him from traveling and hence necessitated buying a new inflated walk-up ticket?

    This is dreadful. I agree – do a chargeback and let the banks bicker this out. It has a lot more weight behind it than you do (sadly).

    Good luck!!

  11. North of 49 says:

    knowing how airlines have been treating passengers lately, all he had to do was show up and he’d be treated like shit on a shingle.

  12. FatLynn says:

    Also, what did the airline offer to do for him? If they offered to put him on the next day’s flight, and he had to refuse that because of his visa, it may not be the airline’s fault.

    People get bumped off of overbooked flights all of the time, and you can sometimes avoid it last-minute by purchasing a higher-fare ticket.

  13. MickeyMoo says:

    but they let him buy a full fare (Y?) ticket on the same flight/same day – something isn’t adding up…

  14. cashmerewhore says:

    @FatLynn:

    getting bumped would not be a “problem with my ticket” in my book. unless he showed up minutes before the flight was to depart.

  15. Amelie says:

    @FatLynn: So because airlines “overbook all the time,” this lets the airline off the hook? It is their fault!

  16. FatLynn says:

    @cashmerewhore: Right, which is why I’d like to hear more from the OP.

    @ZOUXOU: We’ve had this discussion on many threads…this is part of the airline’s business model and one of the ways they keep costs down. The market has shown time and time again that they are not willing to pay more to avoid this stuff.

  17. ExtraCelestial says:

    @FatLynn:

    overbooking a flight (if thats even what occured) is still completely the airlines fault. you pay for your seat on the date and time your ticket implies. if you dont have a seat for me at that date and time, dont take my money. and worse, dont sell my paid-for ticket to someone else

  18. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @FatLynn: Oh, Christ, not that naive “market” crap. I promise you that by any measure of Austrian, Chicago-school, free-market, radical, anarchocapitalist, economic geekdom, I Am More Anarchocapitalist Than Thou. You have left out one very, very important thing. In a free market, people are expected to render services per the explicit or implicit contract. You pay, they do what you paid them to do.

    Bottom Line: By any paradigm of free market capitalism, if the airlines take your money and promise to furnish you with a seat, they had bloody damn well come up with the seat as agreed or they are in breach of contract.

  19. richcreamerybutter says:

    I have been told it’s not uncommon to see chickens and goats running down the asiles on an Alitalia flight…much like the post offices in Brooklyn and Queens.

  20. niteflytes says:

    Wow…I’m impressed. No “blame the OP” comments so far. I guess the blamers haven’t read this one yet.

  21. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Of course, come to think of it, the average level of capitalism in the average Italian citizen is bumping the empty mark on the gauge. So whatevs.

  22. FatLynn says:

    @speedwell: Take a look at the contract of carriage when you purchase a ticket. You are NOT purchasing a specific seat on a specific flight. You are entering into a contract with the airline to provide a service, subject to a variety of conditions, depending on the type of ticket you have purchased. In cases where they bump you from one flight to another, they are NOT in breach of contract, if the contract says they can do that.

  23. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @FatLynn: I don’t give a damn about that. That is not the contract I’m talking about when I talk about the “market,” and if you had one particle of an iota of a clue what you were talking about when you talked about “the market,” you would understand that. I’m talking about the implicit contract created when someone agrees to pay for something that the other party agrees to provide.

    But then again if you had the aforementioned particle of an iota of a clue, you wouldn’t have mishandled the word in the first place. I figured I might be talking over your head.

  24. STrRedWolf says:

    All together now: DO NOT TRAVEL TO IRAN!

  25. Large says:

    True story: several years ago, when I was still in the industry, I heard a story from a pilot friend who had been on an Alitalia flight with two deadheading Alitalia pilots. They apparently all hit it off and shared more than a few drinks. When they landed, the deadheaders are the first passengers off the plane, they walk across the tarmac to an adjacent plane, and immediately set up shop in its cockpit. Stay away from Alitalia if at all possible.

  26. rjhiggins says:

    @FatLynn: But it’s very clear he wasn’t bumped due to overbooking. He was able to BUY a full-fare ticket.

    Let’s stick to the facts.

  27. jkhazael says:

    Regarding the charge back: The letter does not indicate that the second ticket was paid for by credit card. As it took place in Iran, the buyer may not have had the option to use his typical cards at teh airport and may have had to pay cash.

  28. harumph says:

    if they were overbooked then they would not have had a seat to sell him at all. correct?

  29. Beerad says:

    @speedwell: Cripes, are you festering in an Iranian jail as you write, seething with hatred because Alitalia did the same thing to you as to the OP but you couldn’t get a new ticket out? Lots of unjustified snark going on there, pal.

    I’m no fan of overbooking policies either, but I think FatLynn’s point was simply that overbooking is a fact of air travel, and it’s pretty unclear from the post what exactly the problem was. Frankly, I’d be very surprised if Alitalia bumped someone for overbooking when that person would incur visa violations as a result, and there’s no indication that that’s what happened here.

    Take some deep breaths, realize that people can have friendly disagreements about issues like the airline industry without resorting to empty ad hominem insults, and think about how much more you’d be willing to pay for an absolutely guaranteed seat on a flight. I’m not defending overbooking, but given the proclivity among airlines to go bankrupt at the drop of a hat, clearly they need to maximize revenue.

  30. FatLynn says:

    @speedwell: Thank you for the personal attacks. Implicit contracts are superseded by explicit contracts.

    People who fly know that getting bumped is a possibility (or should, if they read the fine print). If they want to lessen that possibility, they have the option to purchase a more expensive ticket. Yet most people don’t. What does that tell you?

  31. I’ll be watching WBAL to see what kind of extra’s they put on this story, but as the author of this article requested:

    “CHARGE BACK!!!”

    Nothing gets someones attention like a magical disappearance of $830 + the previous amount paid for the “erroneous” ticket.

  32. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @FatLynn: That you are a slave to and apologist for the status quo, and if there was a blog titled “Pushover Consumerist,” you would be their number one commenter.

  33. FatLynn says:

    @harumph: See, this is the tricky part. Let’s say that the plane holds 100 passengers, and 101 show up on flight day. Seven have paid a reduced fare, including the OP. He is the last of those seven to arrive at the airport, so he is going to get bumped.

    Now, if he is willing, at that moment, to pay a full fare, he jumps ahead of six other passengers, and gets a seat on that flight.

    I am not saying this is what happened, but it is a possible scenario, and I’d like to hear more from the OP on what the “ticket problem” was.

  34. Canadian Impostor says:

    @rjhiggins: If the airlines can sell someone a full price walk up fare, they’re more than happy to bump people to do it.

    The existance of a walk-up ticket does not mean they weren’t overbooked.

  35. ElizabethD says:

    @IconoclasticFlow:

    Hey, I made that same flight! way back in 1985. It was one of those crazy little prop airplanes where you walk in through the rear end. I white-knuckled it all the way. (Worth it to visit Sicily, though.)

  36. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Now excuse me if I don’t argue economic theory with you exhautively for hours; it’s beyond you and I have work to do.

  37. FatLynn says:

    @speedwell: Consumers (including me) want lower fares, not fewer bumps. The airlines have obliged. What are we angry about again?

  38. ColoradoShark says:

    @Amy Alkon: The OP has probably given all the information he has about the “problem with the ticket.”
    Alitalia tells him “there is a problem with your ticket”.
    OP notices the Iranian guard behind him with a stopwatch until his visa expires.
    OP starts friction fire by whipping out his credit card so fast to pay for new ticket.
    Alitalia profits!

  39. Ausoleil says:

    @FatLynn: Me, I just want to get to where I am going at a reasonable price and reasonably on time. And oh yeah, not be treated like a lying criminal along the way.

  40. betakitty says:

    Maybe its because I’m regularly sleeping with an Italian and am terribly biased, but I’ve flown Alitalia all over Europe and changed tickets around and dealt with their customer service, and they’ve been a pleasure to travel with everyone. And their staff was charming and lovely.

  41. kimsama says:

    @betakitty: Maybe it’s because I am an Italian, but I find that surprising ^_~.

  42. jenl1625 says:

    @pinkbunnyslippers: I second your question about what exactly was wrong with the consumer’s first ticket? If the consumer has purchased and paid for a ticket, the money was accepted, the consumer has a confirmation letter, and there is space on the plane, why did the consumer have to pay again?

    Was it that the selling computer didn’t tell the boarding computer that the ticket had been sold/issued? Assuming there was a confirmation number on the confirmation letter, was the computer saying it was invalid? Had someone else pulled a scam and requested a cancellation and refund of that ticket?

    I’m just wondering where this falls between “gee, it stinks that Alitalia’s this incompetent” and “wow, Alitalia really s*cks!”

  43. jenl1625 says:

    @FatLynn: The problem with the statement that people who fly should know about getting bumped “if they read the fine print” is that you don’t get the fine print until after you’ve clicked “purchase”, if then.

    They may call it a contract but the terms were not negotiated between the parties; they were simply declared after-the-fact. It’s as if I set up a lemonade stand, advertised lemonade for $1 a glass, took the customer’s money, then handed the customer a sheet of paper and said “according to our contract, I will provide you with your lemonade sometime between tomorrow and next Thursday. Oh, and I reserve the right to make it grape juice if I need to.”

  44. mandarin says:

    @betakitty: Well wooptydoo mr. fancypants…

  45. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @mandarin: Hahaha, seriously. “I’m boinking a foreign dude and jetsetting all over Europe, look at me! Oh yeah, um, airplanes. Are good.”

  46. hexychick says:

    Why did the guy wait till the last day of his visa to fly? I’m sure there’s a valid reason for him waiting till expiration, but if he’d gone a day early, this wouldn’t even be an issue and he’d fly out the next morning.

  47. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @betakitty: LOL well, I’ll take “Things I Don’t Really Need To Know” for $200, Alex…

  48. macinjosh says:

    The OP also fails to mention how much he paid for the 2nd ticket.

    :)

  49. 12monkeys says:

    What was he doing in such a “hostile” country without adult supervision anyway?Sounds like there might be a little more to this story.

  50. UpsetPanda says:

    I would really, really, really, try to avoid ever being NEAR the middle east unless I was actually going there.

  51. goller321 says:

    The reason for the 100 days is probably to ensure there will not be a chargeback. The OP has 90 days to file, if he used a credit card. I’d definitely do that, and if that doesn’t work, sue the New York office in small claims. I would be interested to find out what the issue was. Hopefully there will be a follow up to this article.

  52. peggynature says:

    @speedwell: I think you just won the Asshole of the Day Award. Good job.

  53. EtherealStrife says:

    I’d like to know what their reason was for stranding him there.

    @macinjosh: :)

    @STrRedWolf: Seriously.
    Entry by ground: contracted killers running rampant in neighboring occupied territories
    Entry by air or sea: incompetent Navy
    Safest way is to enlist and wait for Operation Iranian Freedom.

  54. shanerz says:

    You should also copy the DOT and apprise them of this situation. Airlines do not want the DOT involved…ever…

  55. jwissick says:

    His fault for going to a backward stone age country run by a mad man. I do not care if it was for business or anything. Supporting a terrorist regime with your dollars you spent while there is treason in my book.

    Should plan to leave a country a few days before your visa expires.

    Iran should be turned into a parking lot for American oil rigs. Miserable country.

  56. MommaJ says:

    I certainly agree that the consumer deserves to be refunded the amount of his cheaper ticket in a more timely fashion, but he did voluntarily choose to buy a more expensive replacement rather than wait for a later flight, and that fact that his visa was about to run out and that he chose to travel in a country with no US embassy is a situation of his own making and hardly Alitalia’s responsibility. Consumerist can be entertaining and useful, but I am getting rather sick of self-important people publishing their overblown complaint letters. We all have to deal with these sorts of issues from time to time, but they aren’t life threatening, just annoying, and there’s no reason to act so self-righteously aggrieved when you run into a rather ordinary consumer problem.

  57. RvLeshrac says:

    @Beerad:

    Unfortunately, ‘friendly disagreements’ about airline policies can’t and shouldn’t be the norm when a western airline extorts money from a passenger who may be jailed, tortured, or killed if they are not out of the country on their pre-arranged flight.

    We’re not talking about missing a flight out of Hawaii and being forced to drink a few more mohitos on the beach.

  58. RvLeshrac says:

    @jwissick:

    Please return to whatever conservative hell from whence you were spawned. Insulting the country is what turned them against us six years ago. Prior to that, they were beginning to westernize and democratize. If they hadn’t been goaded back into anti-american sentiment, perhaps the OP wouldn’t have been as fearful.

    You people are just like the man who kicks a dog and screams about how violent it is when it bites.

  59. Beerad says:

    @RvLeshrac: I think you’ve misconstrued my posts — I was responding to commentor speedball’s unnecessary and irrelevant rude comments about another commentor’s intelligence, not Alitalia’s actions. I was not referring to a “friendly disagreement” between the OP and Alitalia. Nobody was going to be jailed, tortured, or killed because someone posted an opinion on Consumerist that someone else disagreed with.

    As several others have noted, there’s not really enough detail here to know who’s in the right. Vague “problems with your ticket” may or may not equal extortion.

  60. Beerad says:

    @Beerad: Speedball, speedwell, close enough.

  61. vladthepaler says:

    Your flight from Tehran to Iran? Huh?

    Good letter otherwise though.

  62. cerbie says:

    @jwissick: the IRS would have a real problem with you not supporting one, wouldn’t they?

     
    If the airline could get him on a flight with a new full fare ticket, they could have moved him to that very flight without it. If he confirmed his reservation, it’s basically their fault.

    Overbooking may work, but there is certainly historical data (well, OK, that’s redundant in this case) available that would allow overbooking with a minimum of stranded people, and an efficient means of moving them between flights that do fill and that don’t.

    Such a system would probably not maximize profits, and many people are more or less trapped by the time overbooking causes a problem.

  63. sibertater says:

    Dear John,

    Don’t go to Iran. Just a thought.

    XoX,

    Nick

  64. sibertater says:

    @RvLeshrac:

    AMEN! I’m so sick of douchetastic commenters sitting in front of bad news. Get your news from more than one site and your education from somewhere NOT Oral Roberts U!

    Ug.