Weak link re code-share tickets

This item appears on page 30 of the February 2009 issue.

My wife, Carol, and I used the Internet to ticket a February ’08 trip from Orlando, Florida, to Christchurch, New Zealand. For booking the flights, we selected www.orbitz.com because it seemed to offer the best connections by combining several airlines. Our order was placed on Oct. 8, 2007, at a cost of $2,411 each.

Over the next three months, we received repeated e-mail confirmations for our Orlando-Los Angeles-Auckland-Christchurch flight on Jan. 31. The return flight was booked for Feb. 24 — Christchurch-Auckland-San Francisco-Orlando.

We submitted our seat requests and received confirmation of seat assignments for the flight Orlando-Los Angeles-Auckland-Christchurch, noticing that our other seating requests had been forwarded to the airline. Everything seemed fine and we firmed up our land reservations.

Two days before we were to leave, we decided to see if we could arrange better seats. We contacted United Airlines, since we were ticketed with United even though the flights were actually on Air New Zealand (ANZ).

United confirmed our reservations but said we had to contact ANZ about seats. ANZ said they showed no seats under our names. We got back to United, who insisted we were ticketed. We contacted ANZ again, who said we weren’t ticketed, then suggested that we get ticket numbers. We got the numbers from United and called ANZ yet again only to be told we had no such tickets and, besides, there were no seats left on the flight.

We were dumbfounded.

Trying not to shout or scream, we again called United. It’s hard to believe, but we were on hold for over four hours. We were told that United, Orbitz and Air New Zealand were working together to sort out our problem.

Carol and I took turns holding the phone, and the clerk checked back with us every 15 to 20 minutes. We asked if they couldn’t just call us when they resolved our travel. We were told we had to keep holding so no one else could get on the line and so they could check with us. Of course, we were receiving apologies on top of apologies.

Finally, the clerk delivered the decision, which she labeled the “bad news”: there were no seats from Los Angeles to Auckland on Jan. 31 and there wouldn’t be any seats for five days.

“What’s the good news?,” I asked.

“We’re going to get you to New Zealand by way of Australia.”

Believe it or not, that’s what happened. We flew Orlando-Denver-San Francisco-Sydney-Christchurch.

United did offer to refund our money, but we had prepaid for tours, etc. They offered to let us lay over in San Francisco or Sydney and sent us vouchers for $150 along with a letter of apology, but they denied our request for a day pass at their airport club lounges.

When we asked United to recheck the return flights, they discovered we had no tickets for those either. They finally found seats for us, however — separate and both in the middle. We said we couldn’t handle that, so we delayed our return by a day in order to sit together and have an aisle seat.

Ironically, when we got to San Francisco on the return flight, the United agent couldn’t find tickets for us. Finally, she said, “Oh, you were supposed to fly yesterday.”

This whole dilemma seemed to result from the code-share system and was complicated by our using the travel agency. Orbitz booked the flights, United marketed and ticketed them and Air New Zealand operated them. When our reservations fell through the cracks, each could point their finger at the others, though United finally picked up the pieces.

We learned to beware of code-share flights and to be sure to confirm with the actual carrier.


Vero Beach, FL

ITN sent copies of the above letter to Air New Zealand (Private Bag 92007, Auckland 1020, New Zealand), Orbitz Worldwide (500 W. Madison, Chicago, IL 60661) and United Airlines (Box 66100, Chicago, IL 60666), asking how travelers could avoid the same predicament and what to do if caught in that situation. The replies from Air New Zealand and Orbitz appear below.

United did not reply, but Mr. Mullett wrote to ITN, “A United Airlines customer relations representative wrote me on May 20 and apologized for the service we received. He reported that when he investigated their Apollo reservation system, our original reservation could not be found. He said that when a reservation is booked on a different computer system, the flight information should be electronically transmitted to the Apollo system. It appeared there may have been a breakdown in this communication process. He said he had forwarded our comments to responsible management so they could target improvement. He also sent along two 150-dollar vouchers, and we subsequently received two more.”

It looks like a ticket was plated on United on Oct. 8, 2007; however, there was no booking associated with the ticket in Air New Zealand’s system.

Because the booking was made using a United Airlines code, the primary record locator and all the ticketing detail was controlled by United. ANZ had access only to the information that was sent over to our systems.

It looks like the original ticket was exchanged by United on Jan. 28, 2008, and that record did come across to the ANZ system and was used by the Mulletts for travel to New Zealand via Sydney. From ANZ’s perspective, this was the first booking we saw.

It took longer than expected, but I found out from United that ANZ’s system never generated a confirmation code; hence, there was no record on ANZ’s side.

ANZ’s availability displays in the various GDSs* still rely heavily on AVS** information. AVS is a static snapshot that is updated periodically (in NZ’s case, every 24 hours). This may vary from real-time availability based on new bookings and cancellations.

In a brick-and-mortar environment, the agent would end the PNR*** and get a KK (confirmed) or UN (unconfirmed) notice back when the system goes to request the seats from real-time availability. This issue is magnified when you start adding in code-share and multiple GDS systems.

In the online environment, where purchase is instant, the “end PNR” and consumer charge occur at the same time. In this case, it looks like the space may have come back as “UN” after the ticket was issued.

Unfortunately, technology is not always 100% and sometimes messaging between travel agencies, GDSs and airlines does not always synch correctly. Once the problem was identified, Orbitz, United Airlines and Air New Zealand all did everything possible to find space for the Mulletts.

My advice — double-check with the long-haul operating carrier to ensure that your reservation and ticketing information is correct and received.

CHARLES SCHULER, Business Development - The Americas, Air New Zealand

*GDS = Global Distribution System, a computer system for searching, reserving and purchasing travel products.

**AVS = Advance Visual System (software)

***PNR = Passenger Name Record

Below are some tips that help address some of the issues we see travelers dealing with when booking. I hope this is helpful information for ITN’s readers.


1. Double-check your city or airport codes. An incorrect code can route you to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) instead of Detroit (DTW). Keep in mind that some cities are serviced by multiple airports. Chicago (CHI), for example, also has O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW).

2. Review the name on the ticket. The traveler’s name must match what appears on the government-issued ID or he/she risks confusion at security or, worse, being denied boarding. Once a ticket is issued, an airline does not allow passengers to assign the ticket to any other people or to change the name on the ticket.

3. Make sure you’re comfortable with the connection time between flights. Although airlines must abide by minimum requirements for connection times, some people may feel they need more time to get from gate to gate.

4. Before completing the transaction, take a moment to look over the flight details and review your itinerary. Then check it again in confirmation e-mails and “My Stuff.” An oversight is usually easier to fix earlier rather than later.


1. Don’t forget to check your flight confirmation. Check your e-mail account that you booked your ticket with a day after to confirm that you are booked and all information is correct. Also, if you book with a site like Orbitz, check the “My Trips” section, which will also house your trip information and confirmation numbers.

2. Check on your flight a week out. A week before your departure date, call the website you have booked through or the airline you are booked on to confirm the details of your flight(s). While most online travel companies will proactively notify you if there have been any changes, it’s always a good measure to call to ensure your flight has not changed. And in today’s travel environment with capacity reductions, it’s an important step in ensuring your trip goes smoothly.

JEANENNE DIEFENDORF, Director, Public Relations, Orbitz Worldwide