When Benjamin Eckstein’s JetBlue plane tickets went missing, he didn’t know what to do. Should he call his online travel agency? Buying new tickets at the airport? Drive instead?
But it’s a 3,127 mile road trip from Boston to San Jose. It would have taken almost 50 hours non-stop. No, riding cross country with a wife and two young children was not what Eckstein had in mind.
Instead, he bought a new ticket to San Francisco on United Airlines the next day and tried to work things out with his airline and travel agency.
He could not.
And that’s when Eckstein contacted my advocacy team. He learned how easy it is for a plane ticket to disappear and how difficult it is to get it back. He also discovered that when it happens, no one wants to take responsibility for it. Often it is the unfortunate passenger who has to bear the cost of replacement.
But will the same thing happen to Eckstein?
How did those plane tickets go missing?
Eckstein’s story of missing airline tickets began last summer when he arrived at the JetBlue counter at Boston Logan Airport.
“When I arrived at the airport with my family, JetBlue had no record of these flights, although we had confirmation numbers for the tickets,” he says.
First stop? His online travel agency, Orbitz.
“I tried calling Orbitz,” he said. “The calls got disconnected twice, and we had to call back and start the conversation with someone new. Eventually a rep told me there was nothing they could do for us at the time, and we had to wait for a callback within 24 hours.
Of course, he couldn’t wait 24 hours to fly to San Jose. So he booked new tickets to nearby San Francisco on United Airlines for his family and got a room in a hotel in Boston. The next day, he called Orbitz back.
This is where things get a little complicated. Eckstein had used ticket credits from a previous cancellation to book the new JetBlue tickets.
“I found out that JetBlue never applied the credits. They were still sitting in my account,” he says.
Incredibly, Orbitz had confirmed his tickets on JetBlue and even issued a confirmation number – but there were no tickets.
Orbitz: “Don’t worry, we’ll cover your expenses”
An Orbitz representative assured Eckstein that he would not be responsible for the walk-up rate to San Francisco or his hotel.
“They asked me to send receipts for the flights and hotel I was supposed to book so I could get a refund,” he says.
But Orbitz did not acknowledge the receipts it sent.
“After the trip, we contacted them and they asked for ticket numbers and receipts. I provided them with all the information, but so far we haven’t gotten any response despite our many efforts,” he says.
I’ll explain what was wrong with Eckstein’s ticket and what I did to help him fix it.
Can plane tickets disappear like this?
So can a reservation just disappear? Absolutely.
I know of several cases where passengers with confirmed tickets show up at the airport only to be turned away at the gate by their airline.
This usually happens with a booking through a third party, such as an online travel agency. Technically, the tickets didn’t disappear – they never existed in the first place.
A ticket is more likely to go missing on a complex itinerary, such as those passengers who discovered a missing flight leg on their Expedia itinerary.
In extreme cases, online agencies even sell tickets for flights that don’t exist. But it is quite rare. I’ve only heard of it once or twice.
Usually, online agencies correct these errors long before the flight. But sometimes passengers only realize they don’t have a valid ticket on the day of their flight. That’s when you find yourself in a situation like Eckstein’s, where he has to buy a new ticket and find a hotel for his family.
But how does a ticket disappear? This is usually a problem between the online agency’s reservation system and the airline. When the two do not communicate, the reservation system may generate a non-existent ticket. It even has a confirmation number.
The obvious workaround: don’t book through a third party. Instead, buy your ticket directly from the airline. When an airline sends you a confirmation number, you can be 99% sure you have a reservation. (But it doesn’t hurt to double-check.)
What to do if your ticket disappears
If your plane ticket goes missing, here’s what you should do.
First, find a ticket number. If you have one, you should have a ticket. Travelers sometimes use the terms “confirmed” and “ticketed” interchangeably. But there is a difference. A confirmed booking will create a Passenger Name Record, or PNR. But a ticketed booking has both a PNR and a ticket number. This is the real deal.
If you have a ticket number, contact your airline. Your airline can find your ticket and get you on the flight.
If you do not have a ticket number, contact your online travel agency. Yes, you will probably be dealing with an online agency like Expedia or Booking.com. Tell them immediately that they failed to tag your flight and ask for options. The agency should book another flight for you and cover your basic expenses, such as a hotel and ground transportation.
DON’T WAIT TO ARRIVE AT THE AIRPORT TO CHECK YOUR TICKET. Check your reservation when you receive your ticket. Find a confirmation number and a ticket number. If you don’t have both, notify your online agency IMMEDIATELY.
But there are exceptions to these rules.
How this ticket disappeared
It was a bit of a complicated case.
Eckstein had a JetBlue flight at the start of the pandemic. JetBlue canceled the flight. He received credit from JetBlue through Orbitz.
Then he tried to use the credit for a theft last August. He rebooked that flight through Orbitz. He issued a confirmation number, which led him to believe he had the tickets.
Incredibly, there were also ticket numbers. He would therefore not have been warned that these tickets were not real. The only way for him to find out would have been to contact JetBlue directly.
JetBlue said Eckstein did not have a ticket when he showed up at the airport. So he had to book new flights to San Francisco, as well as a hotel room.
Orbitz asked him to submit his expenses. And when he did, he didn’t respond to his refund request.
And that’s what led him to Elliott Advocacy.
What Orbitz should have done
Usually, when an online agency sends you a confirmation number for your plane tickets, you can rest assured that you have a plane ticket. I don’t know why Orbitz didn’t apply the JetBlue vouchers to Eckstein’s new tickets.
When online travel agencies have a customer whose tickets disappear, they usually take action immediately.
Orbitz should have solved Eckstein’s problem quickly when he realized what had happened. And by “fix” I mean book a new ticket for him and his kids and pay for a hotel room if needed.
Instead, it just kept him on hold for hours.
And what could Eckstein have done except call to confirm his tickets? After Orbitz promised a refund, it could have given the company a little boost. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of appropriate Orbitz managers on this site.
A brief, polite email might have helped move Eckstein’s case in the right direction.
Orbitz: “It was a mistake on our side”
I contacted Orbitz on behalf of Eckstein. Here is how he responded:
Our customer relations team was able to get back to us fairly quickly about this and took immediate action. I can confirm that we have fully reimbursed the client for the amount requested, for a total of $2,601.
Researching this case was fairly straightforward insofar as it was an error on our end. The agent assisting the customer successfully booked the United flight but failed to complete the JetBlue flight reservation using the customer’s credits.
Mistakes happen, and we take responsibility for it. Thank you for bringing the case our way and we are glad we were able to resolve with the client.
The online agency also contacted the Ecksteins. Shortly after, received a note from his wife, Marnie.
“Wow! ” she wrote. We just received an email from Orbitz stating that they are processing the refund. You are a miracle worker. Thanks a lot!!!!”
Orbitz did the right thing by acknowledging its mistake and reimbursing the Ecksteins. But for the rest of us, it’s a valuable lesson in the often misunderstood dynamic between an online agency and an airline. It’s also a reminder to check – and double-check – your airline reservation before you depart. And if you’re using a voucher to pay for your flight, don’t take anything for granted.
Has your plane ticket already disappeared?
I’d love to hear your story about bills going missing. If this has ever happened to you, or if you have any advice for anyone struggling with a ticket that disappears, scroll down to the comments and do your thing.
About the art
Artist Aren Elliott wondered what a real vanishing ticket would look like for this illustration. “I imagined the boarding pass fading as you approached the gate,” he says. “I would panic. »