- Posted June 27, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Travel photo of the day
Diary of a Frequent Flyer: Encountering "Ghost Flights"
As any frequent traveler knows, traveling well is all about being prepared. And so we make our lists. And we check them twice. Or, if pre-travel neurosis kicks in, as it usually does for me, we check them multiple times. In an effort to at least reduce the number of forgotten items. Because something always gets missed… We just know it’s inevitable.
But as long as all of the important items are present, we’re good to go. Literally. Passport. Wallet. Miscellaneous essentials. All are securely packed away.
Last but not least is double-checking the flight itself. Confirming it online. Checking which airport and which terminal. Not a minor detail, as terminals can be considerable distances from one another. And then, in places like London and New York, where there are multiple city airports, we need to make sure we are headed for the right airport. I’ll admit, I have learned that one the hard way.
Usually, by the time I arrive at the airport, I have transcended any worries and feel completely calm and collected.
Now let’s talk about what happened to me last week. For this, I could not have been prepared.
I was on familiar home turf and felt understandably comfortable as I arrived for my flight at YVR. But my travels were about to be thrown way off course. So far off that one might say my adventure landed me in travel’s own “twilight zone.”
How else to explain what I heard next?
“You appear to have missed your flight,” the check-in agent stated calmly, looking at her computer screen.
I blinked, gripping my freshly printed flight confirmations in my hands, and stared blankly back at her. My papers all stated the contrary.
But alas, she repeated herself.
“You missed your flight.”
Seriously, welcome to the travel twilight zone.
The flight I had booked?
It didn’t exist. At all. At least, not that night. So the system somehow put me on another flight. A little fact that had not been communicated to me, the ticketing airline or the online booking site.
I now call this my “ghost flight” encounter.
The flight was booked online through the .ca version of a popular international booking site. My entire journey was to be with a US-based Star Alliance member airline, whose flights were to be “operated by” by Canada's major airline. The mishap appears to be as a result of a communication loophole between the ticketing airline, the operating airline and the booking site.
As I stood there panicking, the Canadian airline’s ticketing agent told me that because the Canadian airline had not issued my ticket, she could do nothing more than sell me another ticket. No thanks. And at 10.30pm, all of the agents for the US ticketing airline had left for the night. I ran through the airport to double-check, then called the online booking site’s 24 hour helpline.
My call was routed to the booking site’s Egypt-based call center and I was assured, repeatedly, that I was successfully booked on my original flight. He even called the US airline directly to confirm this.
If only the flight existed.
In the end, the US carrier booked me on a 6am flight via another route. I arrived at my destination 6 hours later than originally planned, but at least I got there.
The cost was merely a $25 re-booking fee from the US airline (which has since been reimbursed by the online booking site) and a night’s sleep on an airport bench. After the nearly two hour long phone call to sort out my journey, I decided it wasn’t worth going home only to return to the airport for check-in a couple hours later.
The next day, the online booking site’s corporate headquarters responded to my tweets and launched an impressively thorough inquiry into the booking of this non-existent flight. They are still working on it...
And they hope to prevent it from happening to anyone else. That's clearly the most important outcome of all of this.
Hail twitter for its power to directly reach the source.
As for me, of all the places I could have been stranded, I am thankful it was Vancouver International Airport. I consider it one of the world’s most comfortable airports. I can now confirm its benches are relatively comfortable too.