$753 Airline Tickets End Up Costing Two Seniors Nearly $10,000

Two seniors who bought $753 roundtrip tickets to Rome ended up paying nearly $10,000, thanks to flight delays and airlines reneging on their promises. The Lopilatos had a flight on American Airlines from LAX to JFK, then continuing on to Rome on Alitalia. The flight was scheduled to arrive in New York three hours before their flight to Rome, but it didn’t and they missed the flight to Rome. At first, American got them seats on a plane to London and then on to Rome on British Airways, for free. But then all of a sudden the seats were gone and now the tickets were $2,065 each. Not wanting to miss their tour group, the couple agreed. Then when they went to come back from Rome, Alitalia canceled their return flight because they missed the outbound, another $2,000+ in return tickets. When they tried to get refunds, each airline blamed the other and denied liability. How to avoid the same thing happening to you? Fly nonstop.

A $10,000 lesson in airline policies and missed connections [LAT] (Thanks to David!)
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. llcooljabe says:

    From a quick read of the LA Times article, it seems that they didn’t get any refunds of any sort. Too bad. AA could have had customers for life…

  2. CRNewsom says:

    Not many airlines fly non-stop from LAX to Rome… I would say that they should have gotten the arrangements in writing before they left JFK, and made sure their return arrangements were in place.

  3. ecwis says:

    How to avoid the same thing happening to you? Fly nonstop.

    Or simply don’t buy separate tickets for each segment, buy it all on one ticket.

  4. Anks329 says:

    Flying non-stop doesn’t always work. Sometimes you just don’t have the option of doing that.

  5. @Anks329: Very true, it is like a bus service of sorts, meant for mass population and not focusing on the needs of a few to outweigh the needs of the rest/majority.
    Non-stop isn’t always possible…

  6. teh says:

    You should also consider purchasing trip insurance for expensive flights.

  7. ecwis says:

    @CRNewsom: Yeah, I actually couldn’t find any direct flights from LAX to Rome. Good advice Ben…

  8. LorneReams says:

    @teh:

    I think the article said it only would have paid $500 or so anyway.

  9. linkura says:

    This is why I refuse to do stopovers unless absolutely necessary. It’s not even the money most of the time; it’s just the incredible hassle involved if you miss a connection.

  10. JustAGuy2 says:

    It’s a badly reported article. The lesson isn’t “fly non-stop,” but “have all your flights on one ticket.”

    The LAX-JFK and JFK-Rome tickets were two entirely separate tickets. As a result, nobody was on the hook when the LAX-JFK flight was late. The passengers had missed their JFK-Rome flight, just as if they had started their trip in New York, and gotten stuck in traffic on the way to the airport. In that scenario, the cab company wouldn’t have been obliged to find another way to get them to Rome.

    If there had been one ticket LAX-JFK-Rome-JFK-LAX, then American and Alitalia would have had to figure out how to get them there at no additional cost.

  11. Concerned_Citizen says:

    What about a charge back against AA for the tickets? Telling someone you will rebook them to their destination for free than canceling it because another airline’s ticket counter was closed for the day seems ridiculous. Plus how the hell do they justify charging the maximum ticket price when their flight being delayed caused all the problems. There was no reason why they couldn’t at the very least charge a normal rate. And to the airline that canceled their return trip. If someone bought non refundable tickets you should have no right putting another body in that seat. For any reason. Unless you want to refund the original tickets.

  12. Hector Z says:

    It sounds like they booked two completely seperate tickets. They would have run into the same issue if the American flight had been delayed for weather or air traffic delays. Had they booked a ticket straight through with a code share, the airline they bought the ticket through would have been responsible for getting them to their destination. If they aren’t saavy enough to understand the difference, they should have used a reputable travel agent to book for them. Also travel insurance may have helped as well for this type of situation.

  13. jamesdenver says:

    quote: The flight was scheduled to arrive in New York three hours before their flight to Rome /quote

    No way in hell I’d accept this connection when booking the trip. Three hours is fine for a domestic connection – but not from a six hour in-bound flight connecting a once a day int’l flight – from two horribly busy airports.

    I’d rather sit in an airport for six hours – or arrive a day early and relax in NY, (or Rome,) giving me ample time in case of contingency.

    Its the same issue for folks who book cruises at 4pm out of Miami, and their flight arrives at 10am. Not gonna happen.

    Also “fly non-stop” is a dumb statement. Why not just say “have superman fly you there” Its condescending for those who don’t live within a few hours drive of LAX, ORD, or JFK.

    james [www.futuregringo.com]

  14. Clare says:

    Another way to avoid this problem? Don’t travel with tour groups. Compulsory exploration and canned patter? Yuck.

  15. Yeah, uh, LAX doesn’t offer direct flights to Rome. Alitalia will start offering direct flights from LAX to FCO on June 1st. Until then, you’re SOL.

    SOURCE: [en.wikipedia.org]

  16. BalknChain says:

    Ben,
    Found another great use of a media company taking something very seriously. In an article on Gawker the quote “we take this lapse very seriously” is used.
    [gawker.com]

  17. backbroken says:

    Fly non-stop? I guess all my future travel plans from Pittsburgh will be restricted to Atlanta, New York, and Chicago.

  18. JustAGuy2 says:

    @backbroken:

    Well, I’d suggest booking a ticket to either NY or Chicago. One way.

  19. Asvetic says:

    From my father’s perspective… “That’s 10 Grand the kids won’t be inheriting.”

  20. Ass_Cobra says:

    Ummm yeah….this is why I don’t ever book separate tickets. You’ll never save the money you think you are plus if one airline is a colossal pain in the ass imagine the joy of dealing with two.

    I feel bad, but it sounds like these people booked an all inclusive tour from NY and just thought they’d tack on the airfare from LAX. Usually in those group deals they can get you a single ticket from wherever you are coming from. It may not be as cheap as the advertised rate but you avoid this kind of problem. The article gets a 0 for excellence in journalism.

    Ben, I hope your non-stop flight suggestion was tongue in cheek given it’s the original author’s first (and most useless suggestion).

  21. Redwraithvienna says:

    They are flying with Alitalia ? MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

    Ok seriously … this is the one time when i say it was their own fault … the one time i wont blame the airline (which is crappy and on strike half the time) but the consumer for getting tickets on the airline …

    Dont book it … it will go down in october … and thats good. belive me.

  22. sleze69 says:

    I think this is great advertising for American Airlines and Alitalia. No wait, I meant the opposite of that.

  23. Buran says:

    @llcooljabe: Just frequent flier miles — good luck using those. That surprised me because usually those newspaper consumer columns manage to get companies to pay up.

  24. specialed5000 says:

    It sounds like the real problem here is that this wasn’t a connection, but 2 separate itineraries, separate tickets on different airlines. I’m guessing that they might also have had to claim baggage and re-check it on Alitalia. This can save you money, but AA is correct that they were under no obligation to do any more than what they did. If it had been one itinerary on one airline or partner airlines, then they would have been obligated to get them to Rome and back for the original ticket price.

    It also sounds like they didn’t contact Alitalia about this at all until they got to Italy. Their tickets were understandably canceled since as far as Alitalia was concerned, they were no shows for they outbound flight. Had they called Alitalia as soon as they landed at JFK and knew that they had missed it, they might have worked with them on the return, particularly if they could have talked with anyone at JFK in person. Their first stop should have been an Alitalia ticket or gate agent, if there was one available, not someone from AA.

    This kind of stuff is a risk that you take when trying to work the system for lower prices. It doesn’t say so, but I’m guessing that they booked through some online discount site. For international travel, where the arrival date and time is crucial (like when going on a group tour), it is always better to at least buy directly from one airline. Or, if you don’t fly internationally often, this is is the one time when I might recommend to people to use a travel agent, or spring for the refundable fare.

    Online travel sites can tend to make everyone think that they are a travel expert, but sometimes it saves money (or time/frustration) in the long run to not be so cheap.

  25. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Can anyone speak to the whole “cancelling the return flight if you miss the outbound flight” policy? I had a connection on Jet Blue last month where I missed my connection to Phoenix and because of an article I’d read here on the Consumerist, I made sure to call Jet Blue to make SURE that my return flight was still in tact, and they assured me that they don’t cancel your reservation if you’ve missed the first leg of the flight.

    Is this a pretty standard thing industry-wide? Or is it just done at the whimsy of each airline? Just curious.

  26. chgoeditor says:

    As other posters have mentioned, there are a lot of possible solutions, and “fly non-stop” isn’t one of them if you’re trying to fly from Los Angeles to Rome. But the couple in question made a few mistakes, presumably because they don’t understand how the travel industry works.

    1. If your travel requires you to change airplanes–and, more importantly, if it requires you to change airlines–book your travel so it’s all on one ticket and one record. The couple in question had two rountrip tickets: One on AA from LAX to JFK and one on Alitalia from JFK to Rome. Because this was booked on separate tickets, AA’s only responsibility was to get them to JFK. And because Alitalia’s ticket was only from JFK to Rome, Alitalia had no way of knowing if their AA flight was late, or they were rebooked on another airline.

    2. Know that if you don’t fly the outbound segment of a roundtrip ticket, then the airline will cancel your return segment.

    3. Know that most airlines have a flat-tire rule. In other words, if you get a flat-tire enroute to the airport (or are similarly delayed) and miss your flight, they’ll get you on the next available flight and often won’t charge you a penalty fee. Why did this couple turn to AA to help them get to Italy from JFK? They should have been dealing with Alitalia, and if the Alitalia desk at JFK was closed, they should have gotten on the phone with Alitalia’s 800 number.

    4. The flight from LAX to JFK is 5-6 hours. After their flight from LAX was delayed 3 hours or more, they should have known that they’d miss their connecting flight and gotten on the phone with Alitalia while still at LAX.

  27. specialed5000 says:

    @chgoeditor: Exactly correct answer. I feel badly for them, but it didn’t have to turn into such an expensive mess for them if they had done things a little differently, even after the AA flight was delayed. I don’t blame them at all for not knowing exactly what to do when it started going wrong, but I don’t see that the airlines are really at fault here either.

    As I mentioned in my comment, if you rarely fly internationally, and don’t really know how these things work, that’s one of the rare times when it might make sense to use a travel agent (with a good after hours emergency number).

  28. Caveat says:

    Even IF nonstop flights are restarted in June, DO NOT ever fly Alitalia. They are the worst. They are pretty much bankrupt and waiting for a bailout from Air France. If you need to get to Italy, the best way is to fly from LAX on a nonstop European airline such as Lufthansa to Frankfort or Munich or Air France to Paris, and then there are plenty of flights to Rome, Milan, and other Italian cities from there. While going to Italy and while in Italy don’t count on anything being on schedule. Union strikes are a continuous part of life (airlines, air traffic controllers, trains, and so forth).

  29. By “in writing” do you mean something like an airline ticket?

  30. P41 says:

    Plenty of good travel advice from commenters about having one itin and everything, but these are seniors, not savvy business travelers. Probably the tour company had no idea they weren’t starting in NY, and AA clearly didn’t know they weren’t stopping at JFK. Whoops. AA’s right, they’re under no obligation to provide free trip to Rome for something they didn’t know about until the pair landed at JFK, but it sounds like they actually agreed to then backed out because AlItalia was closed.

    But I’m sure this situation would have turned out much different if, when the pair was at least 2 hours taking off from LAX, they’d contacted AlItalia. Even if they’d talked to AA and been brushed off with a “Don’t worry, we’ll rebook you when you get there”, they’d have a bit more to go on.

    So AA started to arrange to get them to Rome, but obviously didn’t talk to AlItalia about it AT ALL (at least put them on the phone with 1-800!) or they would have known the return flight was canceled and could have at least done the favor of screwing them for a ROUND TRIP, preferrably even at less than full rates.

    One lesson is the first time someone says “that’ll be $5000″, it’s time to rethink what’s happening. Article is right, they’re in a tough regulatory situation. Hopefully publicity will at least get AlItalia to waive fees and AA to reduce fares, otherwise maybe they could sue (Small claims in LA!??) AA and AlItalia jointly and hope for the best.

  31. FatLynn says:

    @P41: Please don’t assume that seniors don’t know anything. That’s really offensive to people in that category.

  32. Geekybiker says:

    They should have just stayed overnight in new york and caught up with the trip in Itay the next day. Sure its annoying, but no way I’d be shelling out thousands of $$$$ on a maybe.

  33. trujunglist says:

    Why can’t the airlines just agree that both fucked up and split the cost between the two companies, thus minimizing any damage to one company? What a bunch of fuckwads.

  34. henwy says:

    I don’t quite see the point here other than it being a case of bad luck. Neither company did anything wrong in the end, nor should they have paid for the additional tickets. It would have been great if they were willing to, but I don’t see any onus on them to do so.

    Think of it like this. I book a flight to LA because I want to see a concert there. I pay $300 for the ticket and another $200 for concert tickts. I’m supposed to arrive 3 hours before the concert but my flight is delayed and by the time I get there, I’ve missed it. I don’t see how the airline would be responsible for buying me another concert ticket for the next night.

  35. Redwraithvienna says:

    @trujunglist:

    Alitalia cant cause Alitalia is loosing money like water running down the mississippi, so i think that they will only pay what they really and absolutley have to pay.

    And AA simply says that its Alitlias fault … so well the next time … stay with one airline or at least in one airline alliance that makes slvig such problems a lot easier.

  36. P41 says:

    @FatLynn: I’m not assuming because they’re seniors they don’t know anything, I’m assuming because they’re seniors they’re unlikely to also be business travelers who (by virtue of flying 25k, 50k or more miles a year) would know what a gotcha it would be not to have flights on the same itinerary, something other people were saying they did wrong. Chew out the people I’m refuting, not me. I was trying to point out that they shouldn’t be blamed for not knowing that, but there are a lot more obvious things that both they and AA did wrong. Like apparently nobody actually talked to AlItalia until after they reached Rome.

  37. JiminyChristmas says:

    Here’s a good family story about Alitalia;

    Last year, my in-laws booked a trip to Libya (don’t ask). One of the few ways to get into Libya is via Alitalia. As chance would have it, the US and Colonel Khadafi got into some sort of diplomatic dispute and the Colonel decreed that no Americans could enter his country until he said otherwise.

    So, the in-laws’ trip was canceled. They got their tour fees back, but Alitalia held out. No refunds, no credits, no rebooking with a change fee. They initially took the position that the $1500 tickets were simply forfeited. Keep in mind, this all happened three months before the trip.

    After several weeks of arguing with them, Alitalia agreed to let my in-laws use the tickets round trip from the US to Rome, so long as the flew on the exact same flights they originally booked for the Libya trip, minus the connection to Tripoli.

  38. ecwis says:

    @P41: I’m not a business traveler but I still know that booking two flights on separate itineraries is a bad idea. And what happens when business travelers retire? Do they lose all their knowledge simply because of their age?

    I don’t think age matters in this story. It could happen to anyone regardless of age. It happened to these “two seniors” because they are not seasoned travelers, not because they’re old.

  39. dangermike says:

    I find the treatment of these poor folks somewhat offensive. Almost as offensive as the use of the phrase “went to come back.” =D

  40. Fly Girl says:

    Wow! Good job, Consumeristas!

    I was all ready to chime in with my travel industry wisdom, but you guys beat me to the punch– big time! I’m impressed.

    1.) Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER buy two separate tickets for one itinerary. Never. Ever. Did I mention that you should NEVER do it? Don’t. Ever.

    2.) If you’re going to do it (don’t do it!) give yourself so much extra time that there is NO WAY that this kind of situation could happen. An overnight, perhaps?

    3.) If you do it anyways (don’t!), when you realize that your first flight is taking a delay and you’re going to miss your second flight, call the second airline IMMEDIATELY. Don’t wait until you get to your connection city, for cryin’ out loud! The second airline doesn’t know that you’re one an inbound flight. For all they know, you just overslept your alarm and didn’t make it in time. They have no reason, or obligation, to reaccommodate you, so your best bet is to get to them quickly and hope for compassion.

    4.) Tell the originating airline what’s going on as soon as you realize that there’s a problem! They don’t know that you’re connecting out, so to them it’s just a plain ol’ run of the mill delay. While they’re technically under no obligation to reroute you or FIM you, if you get a compassionate agent, there’s strings that they can pull.

    4.) If you miss the outbound portion of a round trip ticket, the carrier WILL delete your return portion. (It’s a ROUND TRIP ticket. If you don’t take the outbound, you don’t get to take the return.) If you miss the a segment of a multiple ticket itinerary (several tickets issued in the same record or two one way tickets in the same record) the airline may or may not delete the rest of your segments. For your protection, don’t no-show a segment. Ever. Always call. Always.

    5.) Don’t just fork over $5,000 when they tell you that you have to. Ask them when they can rebook you. Tomorrow? The next day? Isn’t a day or two delay and hotel expense worth saving THOUSANDS of dollars? And reconfirm your flights a few days in advance. You don’t have to call– just check on the internet. That way, you’ll have a few days head-start on any issues… Getting an issue resolved if you have a few days of lead time is MUCH easier than trying to sort things out at the airport with 45 minutes before your flight leaves.

    6.) Unless you know EXACTLY what you’re doing, what your rights are, what the rules of the tickets are, and are ready to pay up for any issues that might arise, use a travel agent and buy travel insurance. That way, every issue that comes up is someone else’s issue on someone else’s dime. It’s worth it. Seriously.

  41. Fly Girl says:

    Those two fours are supposed to be 4A.) and 4B.)… But I’m sure you already figured that out.

  42. FatLynn says:

    @JiminyChristmas: I’m pretty sure this is why you buy trip insurance when you travel to questionable countries.

  43. daners1028 says:

    My jaw dropped when I read this article because the exact same thing happened to six members of my family in March 2006. American Airlines booked our connecting flight from LAX to JFK Alitalia too close and they would not let us get on the flight in New York even though it did not leave for an hour, because it was less that two hours before take off which is the standard check in time for international flights. So while our flight sat on the runway and took off without us we had to scrambled and argue to get put on a different flight which had a layover in Germany and then fly to Rome. The best part was that upon our arrival all of our 12 bags of luggage were missing and neither airline could account for them. We were in Rome after 48 hours of flying with no luggage for three days. When we headed to the airport to fly back home Alitalia and American Airlines had cancelled our return flights since we had missed the original connection, yet they had failed to inform us of the matter until we were standing at the airport ready to go home. After more hours of phone calls and arguments, many of which I attempted to have in italian,we finally got on a flight back to LAX were our luggage arrived five hours after we did. And what did we get in return for the whole experience??? A one hundred and fifty dollar flight voucher for American Airlines, which cannot even fly me to San Francisco let alone back to Europe. It saddens me to see that they are still making money off of their own mistakes and ruining vacations at the same time.

  44. Javert says:

    First, correct me if I am wrong but did it say in the article whether the travel from NY to IT was a part of the tour? Most packages offer a round trip air option if you don’t want to deal with obtaining your own transfers etc. In this case we don’t know. As such, I would hesitate to blame them in the sense that ‘oh, they were stupid for not booking on a single itinerary’. If it was part of the package, they had to get to the departure city somehow. Also, I am not saying this because they are seniors but lets pretend that they assumed that airlines keep schedules and are reliable then what happened here was unfortunate but they are not stupid. I fly a lot so I know that the airlines look at the schedule as a guidline rather than a set of rules. In this case, I would have booked both ends at + a day to account for trouble like this but it is probably b/c I am used to having my schedule wrecked by airlines.

    Also, to @pinkbunnyslippers: I think it is airline by airline. I know Northwest is very strict about this. I have a flight situation where it is cheaper to connect to an airport further away than depart at Detroit Metro (which is where I want to exit the plane) but if I don’t make my connection they will cancel the rest of my flights. It is stupid but if they want ot waste fuel and give me a bonus on my miles and legs and basically give me elite status, whatever but it is frustrating in that it adds and hour to my travel time.

  45. FatLynn says:

    @Javert: Usually, you deal directly with the tour company to get the add-on airfare.

  46. aleck says:

    Comment on $753 Airline Tickets End Up Costing Two Seniors Nearly $10,000 I had somewhat similar situation. I missed a flight and the airline charged a fee to switch me to a different flight, even though it should have done it free. I agreed, since the prospect of being stuck in an airport overnight was not appealing. Later I called the airline, attempted a refund, which they refused. So, I disputed the charge with my credit card company and send the printouts from the airline web site as a supporting document for the changeover fee. The charges were reversed after a couple of months.

  47. YasinDemonassa says:

    Comment on $753 Airline Tickets End Up Costing Two Seniors Nearly $10,000 We really appreciate all the comments about our situation at JFK with AA. We realize that non-stop is better but there are no LAX-Rome non-stops. .AA flights stop in JFK or Heathrow so we chose the AA-Alitalia combo which was hundreds of dollars cheaper and had more than a 3-hour JFK layover compared with AA’s 40-minute layover.

    The AA-JFK flight was 2 hrs late leaving LAX because of mechanical issues but the pilot said they would try to make up some time. He didn’t. We arrived over 3 hours late. The flight attendants told us our Alitalia flight left on time and we should go directly to the AA ticket counter at JFK and they might be able to get us on one of their later flights. We did. The AA agents told us not to worry – “airlines help each other out all the time” – and they booked us on their 11:45 PM flight. After trying unsuccessfully for two hours to endorse the tickets, they told us there were no seats available. AA would put us up in a nearby hotel and we could try to get on an AA flight the next day.

    We are in our 70s, it was midnight and we had already missed our tour bus and first day. When we asked how we could get on the flight that they already booked us on, the agents said we had to buy 2 one-way tickets for more than $2,000 each. They did not offer us round-trip tickets which cost less than $1,000 each or even tell us that we would need round-trip tickets because Alitalia would cancel us as “no-shows.” When we found out in Rome that our return tickets were cancelled, AA refused to convert our one-way tickets into round-trip ones.

    We had 5 minutes to decide. We bought the tickets because we assumed AA would refund the money because it was their fault:

    a.. The AA flight was over 3 hours late, causing us to miss our connection
    b.. AA booked us on their later flight
    c.. AA agents were not able to endorse the tickets so they reneged on their offer
    d.. AA charged us four times what 2 round trip tickets cost although we never took the last empty seats on any flight.