Q: A few months ago I purchased tickets to Lilongwe, Malawi, for church missionary work through a full-service travel agency. I had two sets of round-trip tickets: One from San Francisco to Cairo by way of Paris on Delta Air Lines and Air France/KLM and one from Cairo to Lilongwe by way of Nairobi on Kenya Airways. Kenya Airways, Delta and Air France/KLM are all alliance partners.
I was given something called a "Ticket Reconciliation Needed" form and was told there would be no extra charge, since all of the airlines were in the same alliance. But the next day, when I tried to check in for my flight in Cairo, an Air France/KLM representative told me they would not honor the Ticket Reconciliation that Kenya Airways issued. They insisted that I pay an additional $462 to take the flight.
I have been back and forth since then with all of the airlines, and the best they can offer is a $100 coupon toward a new trip. These changes have cost me a total of $538, when you factor in the hotel accommodations. We have exhausted all resources and hope that you can persuade the airlines to reimburse me for the additional expenses I incurred in order to get on the plane, as well as the extra cost in hotel expense due to the one day delay. -- Sue Broxholm, San Francisco
A: Something wasn't right with your tickets. If your reservations had been connected, then you would have been able to continue your flight without being charged more by Air France.
You made your reservations through a full-service travel agency, which should have known that. But when you mentioned that you had two separate sets of tickets, I thought something might not be right.
When I checked with Air France and KLM (they are owned by the same company), it found that the reservations weren't connected. In other words, Air France/KLM and Delta wouldn't know that you missed your Kenya Airways flight. Being in the same alliance doesn't count; you need to have the same alphanumeric record locator for your entire itinerary, and only then is everything connected.
Normally, a problem like this can be avoided by using a professional travel agent. But even agents can make mistakes, and yours either couldn't or wouldn't link all of the flights on your reservation. That made a resolution difficult.
Your story underscores the importance of having a connected reservation. Simply booking tickets through alliance partners is not enough. Their systems aren't sophisticated enough to know if you are the person making or missing a connecting flight without a common reservation code.
Air France didn't have to help you, but given the humanitarian nature of your trip, it decided to refund your change fee and hotel bill.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)