My travel agency canceled my return trip

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Gill Charlton has been fighting for Telegraph readers and solving their travel problems for over 30 years, getting refunds, righting wrongs and suggesting solutions.

This week’s question…

Dear Gil,

My son Sam booked an ‘open mouth’ return with Virgin Atlantic (flying to New York and returning from Seattle) with Virgin Atlantic via TravelUp for £1,188. When he attempted to check in online for his outbound flight on Sunday July 17, it had been canceled by the airline.

I called TravelUp that night – and the next morning – to be told they were working with the airline to find an alternative. We could see that Virgin economy flights were booked that day, so I bought Sam a one way ticket to New York with British Airways as he had to be there for work on Monday.

TravelUp now says the second leg will be canceled as they did not wait for an alternative to be found. He will be refunded for the original ticket, but the current one-way fare from Seattle to London – on the same Virgin flight it was booked on – costs from £1,542. Why does the airline not honor the return ticket?

–Mark McCormack

Dear Mark,

Regular airlines sell journeys and not individual plane tickets like low-cost airlines do. This means that flights must be completed in order according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) rules. This is to prevent customers from buying a plane ticket in a third country where fares are cheaper (to encourage business) and from flying, for example, only on the London-New York sector. This is a contractual clause in the Conditions of Carriage of all IATA members.

Virgin Atlantic informed agents on July 1 that VS137 from Heathrow to New York JFK had been canceled due to lack of crew. TravelUp should have notified customers at this point, but told me their staff were struggling to deal with the large number of schedule changes coming from the airlines.

I asked Virgin if anything could be done to reinstate the return ticket as the airline itself had canceled the outbound flight. He agreed to do so even though it is not the usual policy. Customers must wait for the airline to find an acceptable alternative or accept a full refund. This allows the customer to book a return ticket with another airline, which is usually much cheaper than buying single tickets.

TravelUp says it’s launching a new app this month to automate schedule change notifications. This should make communication easier but, given the scale of the problem, travelers should check that their flights are working 14 days before travel – the date after which airlines must pay compensation if a flight is cancelled.


Gill supports a different case each week – so please send your issues to him for review at [email protected] Please state your full name and, if your dispute concerns a travel agency, your address, telephone number and any booking reference. Gill cannot answer all questions, but she will help where she can and all emails will be acknowledged.

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