Travelers Be Warned! Don’t Let This Travel Scam Happen To You

travel scam
Last month AirTreks’ Customer Service team was dismayed to receive a report about a check-in counter travel scam that resulted in one of our clients having an unexpected and quite substantial financial loss. Since we’re of the mindset that knowledge equals power, I’d like to inform our blog readers so that they can feel empowered to take action if in fact they find themselves in a similar situation.

The scenario, as described to me by a member of our Customer Service team, came to pass while checking onto a flight from Delhi to Milan and then onward to Rio. I won’t mention the name of the airline, suffice it to say that it was big enough that you would know it.

The details of the incident are as follows:

Upon checking in at Delhi for the first of the two-flight trip to Rio, the check-in agent presented the passenger with some surprising news: that they couldn’t retrieve her reservation from their system and demanded that she buy a completely new ticket to Milan if she wanted to get on the plane—a ticket valued at $560.

The original ticket was a typical one for AirTreks, issued in such a way that two separate carriers were used but on one carrier’s ticket stock, a common procedure for connecting flights when a codeshare agreement is involved.

The news of course came as a shock to the passenger, but feeling hopeless about her choices and not wanting to be stranded in India at two in the morning, she went ahead and paid the sum. When she arrived in Milan the agent of the airline for her second flight, the one from Milan to Rio, said the ticket, even the one from India, had had no problems and that she certainly didn’t need to buy a new one. She then checked her into her flight to Brazil without further concern. Shockingly, the passenger was out almost $600 for no evident reason.
She was told in Milan that once she returned home to please submit the paperwork to their head office and the matter would be resolved. When the passenger contacted AirTreks upon arriving in Rio, we confirmed that her flight from India was indeed valid and it quickly became evident that what took place during her check-in in India was nothing short of extortion.

There’s no real way for us to know what happened at the counter in India, if it was some kind of CRS mismanagement or something more nefarious, but because the passenger paid for the new ticket on her own volition there isn’t anything our Customer Service team can do legally, save request a refund for the ticket she was forced to buy.

We’ve been doing our best to secure that refund, for over six months now, but the ticket stock carrier (the second airline) has been glacial in attending to our correspondence, obviously not feeling obligated to pay for another airline’s indiscretions, and we’re assuming they’ll keep delaying the matter indefinitely.

The airline actually responsible has also discontinued correspondence, essentially denying any fault whatsoever, and without proof of illegal activity there’s not a lot we can do.

Bear in mind our Customer Service Department always works with our clients’ best interests in mind and we will keep fighting to get her money back. In light of this, the best way to avoid a similar situation is to know that something like this is possible and if presented, DO NOT take one airline employee’s word for it.

If a check-in counter agent demands you purchase an entirely new ticket when traveling on a paid-in-full AirTreks ticket, here’s what to do before handing over your credit card. In chronological order:

  • Ask to speak with the agent’s supervisor and get a second opinion.
  • Contact the airline’s main customer service center to double check the status of your reservation. Speak with a supervisor.
  • Call/email AirTreks.

If worse comes to worse and you have to pay:

  • Get a receipt for your ticket, along with the name and location of the agent who sold it to you (this will help in refund negotiations later on).

That said, to avoid such unpleasant surprises upon check-in the best defense is to reconfirm your flights 2 to 3 days ahead of time. This will give you ample advance notice of any problems in the pipeline and allow you to time to speak with our Customer Service team should there be any bad news. For your protection, when reconfirming, write down the name of the airline agent you spoke with.

Combating corrupt governments whose illicit practices are translated onto the travel and service industry is usually beyond the pale for a travel agency like AirTreks. We can however, remind our customers that when traveling in areas where corruption and extortion are prominent in government, there will always be spillover onto those at the forefront of the service industry, such as hoteliers, restaurant and tour operators, and yes, airline agents. These people have little incentive to behave any differently than what’s fostered in their government’s upper ranks and perhaps actually feel vindicated carrying out the deviant behavior their officials also take part in. For them, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree of the state, so to speak.

To recap, any passenger asked to purchase an entirely new ticket to get on a flight they’ve already paid for should first speak with a supervisor in the airport, then call that airline’s 24/7 customer support department. If it’s during AirTreks business hours, we will do our best to call and argue on your behalf.  If all else fails and you have no choice but to pay what seems like a questionable fee, try to leave as big a paper trail as possible: pay with a credit card, request a signed receipt from the agent or their supervisor, or at the very least, get their names. These are the best tools we know of to rectify a situation such as this.

Remember, getting reimbursement after the fact may be next to impossible, so it’s important to be aware of this practice ahead of time, especially if you’re traveling in countries such as India, Africa, or the nations of Eastern Europe and Central Asia where illicit business is all too commonplace.

Image credit 1, 2.