Sandy couple Gets Gephardt after booking error left them paying out for pricey return flights

Mar 20, 2023, 10:26 PM | Updated: Mar 21, 2023, 9:39 am

SANDY, Utah – Paradise: A word many people use to describe Hawaii, especially superfans Linda and David Pearson. Nearly every corner of their Sandy home is adorned with something that just screams Hawaii.

“It’s my happy place,” said Linda, who flies to the Aloha State a lot. “Every year, in December.”

Those trips have been smooth sailing – until the Pearsons’ most recent vacation.

They got to Hawaii all right.

“Everything was fine and wonderful,” Linda said. “So, we didn’t think about it again other than I check my email a lot because airlines change the flights all the time. And we knew that. I was checking and never received anything else.”

Trouble in paradise

But trouble showed up when Linda checked on their boarding passes for the return flight home.

“I couldn’t get them, and I couldn’t understand why,” she said.

The Pearsons’ first call was to American Airlines.

“They said, ‘Well, we have that flight, yep, but you’re not on it,’” Linda recalled. “’Somebody else is in the seats you just told me.'”

The airline told her to call Orbitz, the booking site where the tickets were purchased.

“They said, ‘No, nope, there’s nothing we can do,’” Linda said of Orbitz’s response. “’You’ll just have to go back to American and maybe they can refund it.'”

The Pearsons were stranded in paradise. As much as they – well, Linda especially – would have loved to stay, they couldn’t.

“It’s Christmas, and we wanted to be home with our family,” she said.

It took hours for them to find a way home, a flight on Delta the next day, and it came at a decidedly un-paradisiacal price: $7898 for two one-way fights home.

“We had to buy because we were canceled,” said Linda. “And we didn’t do it.”

When David and Linda finally got home and tried to sort out what happened, they said they still were not getting help from Orbitz.

“They said, ‘Oh, well, we’ve closed last year’s books. We can’t talk to you anymore because I have no idea,’” said Linda.

Not willing to accept that answer, their next call was to Get Gephardt.

This time we reached out to Orbitz on Linda and David’s behalf – not through customer service but through the company’s corporate communications team. They told us they would need some time to investigate.

Nearly every corner of the Pearson home has something evoking Hawaii. (Credit: Meghan Thackrey, KSL TV)  Hawaii superfans Linda and David Pearson travel to the Aloha State every December. (Credit: Meghan Thackrey, KSL TV)  Linda Pearson bought roundtrip airfare to Hawaii on Orbitz. She decided to Get Gephardt when the travel site refused to reimburse her for the costly replacement flights. (Credit: Meghan Thackrey, KSL TV) The Pearsons tell KSL’s Matt Gephardt they should be reimbursed by either the airline or the online travel agency after having to purchase pricy last-minute return flights. (Credit: Meghan Thackrey, KSL TV) Federal rules say if an airline cancels your flight for any reason, it must refund your tickets. If you book your trip through an online travel agency, they must make a refund if the trip doesn’t go as contracted.

What are your rights?

In the meantime, we took their case to travel expert Scott Keyes of the website, Going.

“It is not infrequent that you will be told ‘no’ the first time,” said Keyes, who believes Linda and David are wise to keep pushing. Federal rules say airlines must refund a flier if the airline cancels a reservation, or makes a significant change or delay and the flier chooses not to travel.

And ticket agents or an online travel agency are required to make “proper” refunds when “service cannot be performed as contracted.”

“They ought to be making us whole for the replacement flight that we had to get, especially considering how expensive it was last minute,” Keyes said. “So, the ticket provider in this case ought to be the one to make sure that the travelers are not incurring out of pocket expenses and that they get that replacement ticket reimbursed at the end of the day.”

If a customer service representative tells you “no” when you ask for help, Keyes says to hang up and call again. The airlines and online travel agencies have hundreds of agents, each with discretion, and Keyes said the next agent may grant your refund. If not, contact the Department of Transportation.

Keyes also warns reservations can go haywire, so check on yours occasionally.

“I think the key to remember as a traveler is that the itinerary you have when you book your flight can change in that interim period,” he said. “Check back on your reservation. Log into the airline’s website. Log on to the online travel agency website and just say, ‘Okay, hey, look, is this trip still there? (Is) the flight still there? Are my seats still assigned as I hope they would?”

What happened to the return reservation?

After investigating, Orbitz discovered that a change in date Linda and David had made months earlier came back to haunt them.

“Our agent assisted her in changing the date,” Orbitz told us, “but regrettably made an error while re-issuing the tickets and the roundtrip ticket was exchanged to a one-way ticket.”

Because of that error, “Orbitz will refund Linda for the cost of the return tickets and the additional expenses incurred.”

One gotcha: the Pearsons’ mistakenly used a third-party booking site in their scramble to purchase the last-minute return airfare. While Orbitz covered the airline’s cost for the tickets, the Pearsons’ are still out the difference – a significant chunk of change.

Keyes advises that before you book any ticket, do a quick double check of the airline’s site to see if the price is any different than what you are seeing through a booking site or agency.

Three months after they made it back to the mainland, Linda and David got their refund, money they can use for their next trip to the islands of Aloha. Hopefully, trouble free.

“If I’m going to be stuck someplace, Hawaii is a nice place to be stuck,” Linda said.

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Sandy couple Gets Gephardt after booking error left them paying out for pricey return flights