When planning a vacation, the last thing people think about are the things that can go wrong before the airplane leaves the ground. On the back of travel brochures and airline tickets the Terms and Conditions are listed. These limit the operator’s liability should something unforeseen happen. Travel agents are responsible to ensure their clients review the carrier’s terms and conditions. They’re just like many other legal documents – they’re lengthy and have small print. Who wants to take the time to review the limitations of a much-anticipated vacation?

Disneyland or bust!

Years ago I worked in the accounting department of a tour operator and heard some sad tales from customers who were trying to get refunds on their non-refundable tickets.

No Departure, no Refund

A family of four booked a Disneyland package, but when they attempted to pre-clear U.S. customs at the Vancouver Airport the father was denied entry into the United States. Twenty years earlier, at age sixteen, he had been arrested on drug charges. His wife and children voluntarily chose not to board the plane. The parents wanted to know if they could get a refund, but the company’s terms and conditions were clear. They’re not responsible for passengers denied boarding or passengers who choose not to board the plane. Our company refunded the departure taxes on the unused plane tickets and the Disneyland passes when the family returned them. The hotel charged a one-night cancellation penalty and the family was refunded for two nights accommodation. The ruined trip cost the family more than fifteen hundred dollars, with a small refund of three hundred dollars.

Oops – missed the flight!

One Saturday morning I received an e-mail from our airline regarding two passengers who had not shown up for their midnight flight from Calgary to Toronto, nor their connecting flight to Barbados. I phoned the travel agent and informed her the customers were no shows at the airport. Ten minutes later the travel agent phoned back to say her clients had thought their flight to Barbados was that night.

No Departure, no Refund

The travel agent asked when the next flight left to Barbados and I advised her the flights only operated once a week. I let her know the hotel had been prepaid and was being held under the client’s name for two weeks if they could find their own way to Barbados. Eventually the travel agent managed to book her clients on a milk run flight to Barbados, changing planes all over the United States. The cost of two one-way airfares to Barbados added an extra three thousand dollars to this Caribbean holiday. Once again, the carrier’s liability is clear. Not responsible for passengers who miss their flights.

Another Disneyland or bust!

I even witnessed a vacation unraveling at the Vancouver International Airport while I was checking in at the airline counter for a flight to Los Angeles. This was back in the days before everyone needed a passport to enter the states. A man with several children attempted to check in at the next counter, but the mother of the children was not present at the airport and the father did not have her signed affidavit stating her children were allowed to depart Canada. After futilely explaining to the father that he needed the children’s birth certificates and a notarized statement from their mother, the check in agent called over her supervisor.

No Departure, no Refund

More discussion ensued as the supervisor explained to the father why he should have brought all necessary documentation to the airport. Finally, the supervisor agreed to check them in but warned the father he might not be able to pre-clear the U.S. customs. The family did not show up in the airline boarding lounge, obviously denied entry into the United States. The father would either have to scrap the vacation and return home, or phone the children’s mother and ask her to come to the airport with an affidavit if they able to book a later flight.

Depending on the type of tickets this family purchased, they may have been allowed to make a change to another flight for a fee. If they were holding non-refundable/no changes tickets, they would have to purchase new tickets for Los Angeles.

No Departure, no Refund

  • Purchasing travel insurance does not always provide a full refund if you do not travel. Insurance policies generally pay in the event of illness or death of the traveler or immediate family members. Insurance will not refund for missed flights, denied boarding, or passengers who voluntarily choose not to travel.
  • In addition to showing valid proof of citizenship or passport, if you are traveling with children you must have signed permission from the absent parent.
  • If you have received a pardon for criminal activity, keep a copy with you.
  • If you are convinced your travel mishaps are due to negligence on your travel agent’s part, contact the local Registrar of Travel Agents or the Better Business Bureau for advice.

Have you ever missed a flight, been denied boarding, or seen someone else not make their flight? Leave a comment.


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