Consumers Speak: OrbitzMisunderstanding Sends Pop on Wedding Day Adventure

Update: A couple of you have written in to criticize our framing of this complaint, pointing out that this was not an error on the part of Orbitz or America West so much as a failure of planning on the part of those involved. You’re right. We do read every complaint before posting them, but we didn’t think this one through. Apologies. (We still enjoyed the story, however.)

Paul D. writes:

This is half customer complaint, and half wedding horror story.
I got engaged last January, and got married last July. Around March of last year my parents generously decided to pay for a great honeymoon vacation to Puerto Vallarta: airfare, lodging in their time-share condo, and some cash to spend. Awesome. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

My dad ordered the airline tickets online through Orbitz in April. A couple of weeks or so later, the paper tickets arrived. Flights were being handled by Delta and America West.

Then things went bad. In June, my then-fiancee and I moved to a new house. Despite our best efforts to keep our sh*t straight, we managed to totally lose the tickets in the move. Gone. Couldn’t find them even after tossing the entire house and the boxes in the garage. Okay, that much is our fault.

With the wedding date rapidly approaching, I called my dad and explained/apologized. He said “no problem” and offered to get on the phone and see what could be done. He called back a few days later complaining of being on hold for interminably long periods of time, and then getting the runaround and having to speak to several different people; typical phone customer service stuff.

But the resolution, as he was told, was to purchase a new set of tickets (with identical itinerary) and “apply” for a refund of the old ones. It was going to be $1600. Fine. No big deal; they assured him that the refund application was a formality and that the circumstances surely merited a full refund of the original tickets.

We bet it all goes as planned after the jump. (Right?)

Okay, where can I do this? “Oh, any America West ticket counter. With blah-blah-thousand locations throughout the US.” Great. So mom and dad hop in the ol’ minivan (mom insists on driving a minivan even though there haven’t been kids in the house since the mid-90s) and drive 540 miles from Northern Virginia to Lexington, KY for the wedding.

Upon their arrival, my dad gets on the phone again to inquire about the location of the nearest America West ticket counter. Surely with 3 relatively major airports within an hour’s drive…

Lexington-Bluegrass Airport? No.

Louisville Airport (1 hour drive)? No.

Cincinnati (1 hour away)? No.

Columbus, Ohio. 3 hours away.

It’s Friday afternoon. The wedding is Saturday evening.

My dad the hero gets up at the butt-crack of dawn, the day of his eldest son’s wedding, and he and my 84-year-old grandfather drive the 6-hour round trip to Columbus to get the replacement tickets. While they were at the ticket counter, making small talk with the ticket agent, dad mentions that he drove all the way from the DC area (9 hours) only to have to drive an additional 3 hours to get these tickets.

The ticket agent’s response? “Why didn’t you get the replacement tickets from our counter at Dulles International?”

Dulles is a 10 minute drive from my parents’ house in Centreville, VA.

It is by sheer virtue of the celebration of his son’s wedding that my father did not beat the hapless ticket agent heavily about her head and neck. Dad and grandpa arrived at the wedding literally 5 minutes before the ceremony was to begin (although we would have waited.)

We had a pretty good time in Puerto Vallarta (there were some further setbacks, but that’s another story). I am eternally grateful to my dad and grandpa for all the trouble. I’ve apologized many times for losing those tickets. Despite a certain amount of culpability on our parts, Dad still blames America West’s convoluted lost-tickets policy, and the phone customer service folks for not mentioning that simple fact which could have saved a lot of trouble and stress. By the way, the refund DID in fact come. It took 3 months.

Needless to say, we are strictly e-ticket these days, and we avoid America West when we can.
Thanks for your time and continued efforts on behalf of us poor consumers everywhere; I subscribe to your RSS and read the site every day. Keep up the good work.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Brian D says:

    This story has to be utterly the worst consumer story ever.
    First, the idiot loses his tickets. Not the company’s fault, all his fault. Then, his idiot dad, after the America West rep tells him to get a replacement ticket at “any America West ticket counter. With blah-blah-thousand locations throughout the US,” proceeds to ignore this advice and drive to the wedding, forgetting the fact that he lives ten minutes from an airport that might just have one of those ticket counters, since it’s in a major metropolitan area (DC). Instead, he drives to a not-so-major metropolitan area and expects there to be a ticket counter there. About the only consumer complaint that is legitimate in this story is the long hold times, which we’ve heard umpteen gazillion times before and which no one should be surprised about, or the long wait for the refund. The rest is all the idiot consumer. The writer says “Despite a certain amount of culpability on our parts, Dad still blames America West’s convoluted lost-tickets policy, and the phone customer service folks for not mentioning that simple fact which could have saved a lot of trouble and stress.” But in fact, the customer service folks did inform them that they could get tickets at any ticket counter, and it’s the father’s fault for not finding out where those ticket counters were. In fact, a quick web search turned up this page which shows at least some of the airports where ticket counters are located (this may be new, since they are merging with US Airways, but it couldn’t have been that hard to find out).
    Oh, and the title of the post references Orbitz, which near as I could tell, had very little to do with the problems (it sounded like an America West rep told him to go to a ticket counter).

  2. Smoking Pope says:

    @Brian D: True this seems to be on the consumer himself, but it involves America Worst so I’m willing to place all the blame on them, even for unrelated things such as global warming. I’ve been screwed over so hard by them in the past that any flak they take, deserved or not, warms my heart.

  3. micah says:

    yeah, brian d, i agree completely – this fella really hasn’t got much to complain about. the only thing that would have been worth bitching about would have been if he didn’t get the refund (which is honestly where i was expecting this story was going).

    honestly, the moral of the story is (which i know even having never been married) is that things can and WILL get crazy when you get married, so if you go through the process without taking care of some things that could be easily checked – like, oh, 3 minutes on the internet to find out where the nearest america west is – you’re going to have some problems.

    this guy was LUCKY.

  4. RowdyRoddyPiper says:

    Ummm this is entirely off topic, but it’s an America West gripe/question. I was flying regularly from DC (National) to Charlotte at one point in my life. I always flew US Airways and always took the same roll aboard carry on bag.

    One weekend I was flying from National to Vegas on America West. They are in a different terminal. I was going for the weekend so I took my same roll aboard bag that I had flown (easily 15 departures from National on Yinz Air) with previously. The security agent (person operating the X-Ray machine) told me that I couldn’t take the bag with me. I asked her to measure it, as I had taken it on board countless US Air flights departing from the Terminal JUST OVER THERE (imagine me pointing to another security line). She told me that the bag was in violation of FAA requirements for size. That seemed like a bit of a fish story to me, as the FAA only has guidelines for a carry on baggage programs implemented by airlines, not actual mandates for what as size of baggage can be. I tried to explain this and was cut short, told that if I want to continue to argue, they’ll just not let me through.

    Thankfully (and predictably), America West was running behind so I had time to go back upstairs, check my luggage and come back. It really isn’t an issue any more for me, but is this a function of the Airline or is this just a TSA employee having a bad day? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a uniform standard based on the equipment for a given flight rather than airlines making it up as they go along?

  5. Paul D says:

    To Brian D and micah:

    You would be right to criticize me if my version of the story were more accurate. I sent this link to my dad, who filled in some details and corrected some of what I had written. It seems that the blame does, in fact, get placed more on Orbitz and America West.

    Here’s what he wrote me:

    On the phone, America West told me that I could get replacement tickets at “the airport.” Since travel commenced in Lexington, we went to Bluegrass and could not find America West, so went to Delta (most of the trip was technically on Delta) who told us exactly the same story (buy tickets/get refund), so I said great, sell me some tickets. They checked and found that they could not issue a ticket at the discounted price and we would have had to buy two tickets at over $5000, then get a refund. Didn’t have $5000. Called America West and was told that I had to go to Columbus, then the lady asked, “why didn’t you go to Dulles to get them?” (sound of teeth grinding). It was Friday, so I asked when they close in Columbus and they said 1PM, too late to go that day.

    Saturday morning, drove to Columbus. The people were nice, sold me the ticket as advertised, then asked, “why didn’t you get e-tickets? We have an e-ticket agreement with Delta.” (more teeth grinding) Then asked why we rushed on the wedding day, and I said I was told they close at 1 PM. “Oh no! We are open until 8 PM.” (molars gound to dust) Supervisor told me that the paper ticket thing was Orbitz’s way of getting extra money for unnecessary paper tickets. The America West people couldn’t have been nicer.

    The real culprit (in spite of half-ass information from America West on the phone) was Orbitz who washed their hands of anything once the ticket was issued.

    This is really more of a story of Orbitz scummy practices, and ridiculous relationships between airlines (AmWest & Delta) not training their staff appropriately (to answer questions correctly), and the customer gets screwed.

  6. micah says:

    ahh, paul, i see… well, it seems that nobody wanted to be left holding the bag on any part of that whole soiree. and so, like most consumer-gets-jerked-around stories, we will never get to the bottom of this completely.

    i hope the honeymoon was at least good! ;)

  7. Paul D says:

    ‘Twas indeed good. Puerto Vallarta is a cool place to spend a week. Just um…don’t drink the water.

    Thanks to everyone for spending their time on my sob-story. Just watch out for airfare discounters like Orbitz. Most of them figure their responsibility to the customer ends after the money changes hands.

  8. billhelm says:

    Despite all the comments blaming the consumer, you would think that airlines could make it easier to replace tickets. It’s not like they can’t just void the old ones out of their system and reissue. They do check tickets at the gate. Or maybe I’m missing something here.

    Most of the major airlines (the majority of which are in bankruptcy, coming out of bankruptcy or teetering on the edge of it) are going out of their way to nickle and dime travelers to death. I just don’t see how this is a good strategy for long term growth.