One of the main goals of this site is always to provide informed information about the entire cruise experience, which is why I routinely write about everything from cruises to airfare to pre-and-post hotel stays. The idea is to provide a comprehensive overview about the choices available for each, and to allow readers to learn from and be inspired by our experiences and adventures.

There’s also the opportunity to learn from my mistakes.

Darn you, TAP - you're bringing me down! Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Darn you, TAP – you’re bringing me down! Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Because of the nature of what I do, I fly a lot. I like to consider myself a savvy air traveller: I always check my booking confirmation numbers on the airline’s website to see that my name is spelled correctly, my flights leave on the correct dates, and that my seat preferences and frequent flier numbers are added.

I also check the status of the flight to ensure they’re confirmed. Unexpected delays and problems can throw even the most experienced travellers into a panic – and that’s exactly where I found myself at quarter after five in the morning on Sunday.

In order to fly back from the Viking Christening Ceremonies in Porto, Portugal, I had an itinerary that would take me from Porto to Madrid, Paris, Toronto, and finally Vancouver on three different airlines: TAP Portugal; Air France; and Air Canada.

Normally, I always check-in online the night before. But my itinerary was what’s known as an interline itinerary – in other words, one that is operated by carriers from different alliances. Typically, online check-in only works for codeshare itineraries. These can involve more than one airline, but ones that are part of the same Airline Alliance.

Check your flights. Then check them again. And again. Seeing "Confirmed" next to the booking may not be enough. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

An excellent example of a codeshare itinerary – Alaska Airlines, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific are all partner airlines. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Since my itinerary was operated by Star Alliance and Skyteam carriers, online check-in wasn’t possible for me. None of this concerned me, as I’ve done interline flights before. Bags are usually checked to your destination, and you merely have to visit a transfer desk within the airport to collect your next boarding pass.

But just after five a.m. in Porto, I ran into a huge problem: my flights had been ticketed incorrectly. I was reserved not on a flight to Madrid, but to Rome with TAP. The rest of my itinerary from Madrid to Vancouver had been ticketed properly, but I had no way of getting to Madrid.

Except, as the airline said, paying €500 for a one-way, full-fare ticket to Madrid.

Of course, they couldn’t do this at the check-in desk; I’d have to wait for the Ticketing counter to open at six a.m. My flight was supposed to depart at seven.

I am a huge Star Alliance fan, and I have Frequent Flier status with them. What amazed me was that when something went wrong, everyone passed the buck. TAP said it wasn’t their problem and repeatedly shrugged when I suggested that it was crazy to pay again for something I’d already paid for.

“Nothing We Can Do”

Last time I flew out of Portugal, a rogue ATC strike screwed up my departure. This time, the problem was far more expensive. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Last time I flew out of Portugal, a rogue ATC strike screwed up my departure. This time, the problem was far more expensive. Shown here is Lisbon airport in April, 2012. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Herein lies one of the biggest issues with air travel: each carrier has a myriad of rules and regulations so thick you’d need a clone of Albert Einstein to decipher them all. I flew nearly 150,000 miles last year, and I’m still barely scratching the surface.

I had to pay a lot of money – but a family of four might have been denied boarding. I would have, too, had the flight not been half-full. I’d doubt the average traveller has the ability to pay for full fare tickets on the day of departure. I know it sure put fear into me. I don’t carry two credit cards with me when I travel; I think I’m going to start.

Worse, by the time I was closing my eyes and swiping my credit card through the machine, it was 6:15a.m – 45 minutes to take off. Boarding has already completed. I grabbed the necessary receipts and forms and rushed off to check my bag with an agent who was waiting for me.

At the counter, more ‘good’ news: TAP was only checking my bag to Madrid. I explained I had a 50 minute connection in Madrid and flights on Air France that I couldn’t check in for, and that picking up my baggage would be impossible. The agent, again, shrugged her shoulders, held up her hands and said, “There’s nothing I can do.”

Once I cleared security, it was 6:45am. Now, the ramifications of missing this flight are huge: TAP only has an obligation to get me to Madrid – not Vancouver. Missing this flight strands me in my choice of Porto or Madrid because I wasn’t able to check in online with Air France. Failure to check in with Air France results in the transatlantic portion of my itinerary being cancelled because I’d be considered a “no-show” in Madrid.

I made it to the gate to discover three friends also had the same issue with TAP – their luggage was only tagged to Madrid. That means having to pick up your bag, check-in, re-clear security and make it to your gate – in 50 minutes. And that’s if the aircraft arrives on time.

As one of my friends said, “I should have just gotten off the bus and rolled my luggage into the parking lot. The effect would be the same.”

The Rush to Paris

My Air France 777-200 in Paris - the first moment of rest I'd had in an airport in eight hours. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

My Air France 777-200 in Paris – the first moment of rest I’d had in an airport in eight hours. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In Madrid, the clock started ticking the second my Embraer 145 touched down. I lost five more minutes when they couldn’t find the bus (how do you lose a bus?!) to take us from the remote stand to the terminal. By the time we got to baggage claim, the writing was on the wall: there was no way I could pick it up. I stopped to ask the TAP baggage agent there what we should do. Her words, exactly: ‘Forget your bag. You need to run. Air France is to your left and up the escalator.’

I then ran for probably a full kilometre to the end of the terminal and up the escalator, breathlessly asking an Air Europa attendant where Air France was located. She pointed behind me and I ran to the desks. A total of 43 minutes remained until departure to Paris; at 40 minutes, the check-in computers cease to work.

I wrote last week that I loved my first experience with Air France, and they made me a customer for life in Madrid. One of my friends who’d arrived before me told them I’d be running by any minute (thanks, Anne!!), and the Air France agent kicked into gear. “We have to hurry,” she said. “I think you have to forget about your bag. Air France can’t be responsible, you know, but I’ll take your tag number down and try to talk to TAP so they pull it and don’t think it’s abandoned. File a claim with any Star Alliance airline when you get home to Canada.”

She printed the remainder of my boarding passes, took down the TAP tag and booking number, and personally showed me where security was. At security, they were waiting for me and ran me into the line for air crews, where I breezed through in two minutes.

More running. As is typical in situations like this, your gate is never near security. No. It’s at the other end of a two-kilometre long terminal.

Finally in Toronto Pearson airport, with an Air Canada 777-200LR waiting to take me home. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Finally in Toronto Pearson airport, with an Air Canada 777-200LR waiting to take me home. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I was the third-last person to board AF 1001 to Paris on Sunday. Definitely not looking happy, and certainly not smelling like roses. Bless Air France for offering complimentary champagne in coach.

By the time my Airbus 319 touched down at Charles de Gaulle, I was ready for another marathon of sadness – but it never came. Changing from Terminal 2F to 2E was a snap, and a 20-minute delay plus a 90-minute layover allowed me to use the bathroom for the first time all morning.

Just after 2pm, my Boeing 777-200 roared into the skies above France, destined for Canada.

Interestingly, my colleague, Ralph Grizzle, was having his own difficulties getting to his next destination – but due to mechanical problems. His report is worth a read for a look at how Emirates handled the issue – markedly different from TAP’s indifference to my problem.

Last night, I was reunited with my missing luggage. I’d filed a claim with Air Canada (also a Star Alliance carrier) and they flew it out on my normal go-to transatlantic airline, Lufthansa. Major brownie points for both airlines.

The lesson I learned? Seeing “Confirmed” on an itinerary isn’t enough – you have to see a ticket number. And the ticket number isn’t always easy to find, nor is it listed on every printed itinerary.

You can bet I’ll be looking for it on every itinerary from now on.

From the Deck Chair will return tomorrow.


5 Responses to Interline Airfare – Learn From My Mistake

  1. Vanny says:

    phew! glad you made it home on time… and your bags arrived!

  2. Wansbrough says:

    Not the sort of thing I should be reading on the eve of a flight……

  3. […] be confiscated. The fact that my cognac even made it home is something of a miracle, after I had to abandon my luggage in Madrid on the return journey […]

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