Q: I booked a flight on Emirates Airlines from Buffalo to Manila, with connections at New York JFK and Dubai. The flight from Buffalo to New York JFK was on JetBlue, but I bought the entire trip through Emirates on one ticket and with one reservation number. I had 2 1 / 2hours to make the connection at JFK on the outbound flight, but the JetBlue flight was delayed and I missed my onward connection. Emirates was very helpful in getting me to Manila on other airlines with minimal inconvenience. However, when I showed up for my return flight from Manila back to Buffalo I was informed that my entire return itinerary had been canceled because I was deemed a "no show" on my New York to Manila flight. Emirates got me to Dubai, but I ended up stranded in Dubai for 22 hours, eventually getting on a flight from Dubai to Dallas, then Dallas to Pittsburgh (which I paid for myself) and then had a friend pick me up for the drive back to Buffalo. All in all, it took me 65 hours to get home. By the way, Emirates refused to provide meals or a hotel while I waited for nearly a full day in Dubai. My question: Why was my return flight canceled even though Emirates was aware of the "misconnect" at JFK on my outward journey and what, if anything, can I do about this? Am I entitled to denied-boarding compensation per U.S. law?
A: Oddly, yours was not the first story like this in my inbox this week. There was also the woman flying on Air Canada connecting in Toronto to a British Airways flight. Both of you ended up missing your outbound connection and being labeled as "no shows" on the return.
First, let me say this. Neither of you had enough time to comfortably connect. Two-and-a-half hours is not enough time to make a domestic-to-international connection at New York's JFK (or Toronto Pearson), especially in winter over the busy holiday travel period. You should never accept such a tight connection. Next time, insist on the maximum layover you can get (four hours sounds about right). If your first flight is on time, great. Enjoy the airport. Read a book. Get a day pass to the lounge. It's worth it. Second, if you do miss your connection, do not get on the rebooked connecting flight without a printout of your complete new itinerary in hand, showing a confirmation of your return segments. Assume that the airline will cancel all of your return flights (even though they're not supposed to do that). Don't wait until you show up for the return to discover you're stranded.
Now to your specific situation. No, U.S. denied-boarding compensation does not apply in Dubai. Why was your return flight canceled? I contacted both Emirates and JetBlue, and although both are now offering some sort of compensation, I have to say I'm not satisfied and neither should you be. (Emirates is offering to pay for your out-of-pocket expenses, which is great, except it doesn't compensate you for the agony of a 65-hour ordeal getting home; JetBlue is offering a $100 credit, to which I say "big deal.")
Each airline, in the most polite possible terms, is blaming the other for not "protecting" your return flights. Emirates' customer service claims that "It is the responsibility of the inbound carrier (in this case JetBlue) to protect a passenger's booking when they become aware of a delay which could result in a missed connection." Emirates further claims that their representative who booked you on alternate flights (on Delta and Gulf Air via London and Bahrain) did attempt to reinstate your return booking, but your seat was snapped up by another traveler "due to the busy holiday season." JetBlue is saying that they, too, attempted "to find passage on any one of our 20 partners" but were unable to do so, at which point "Emirates stepped in to assist by confirming your travel on another carrier .. Emirates indicates that a communication issue failed to recognize your outbound flight as flown."
I think the key words here are "failed" and "communication." As soon as your inbound JetBlue flight was recognized as being late (perhaps even before you left the ground in Buffalo) both airlines should have realized that you would miss your Emirates connection from JFK, and both should have immediately worked to protect your return flights. Whether because of human error or poorly coordinated computer systems, this was not done. I think you're entitled to a refund of the return portion of your flight homeward. And I'm shocked that Emirates refused you hotel and meals in Dubai, and made you pay your fare from Dallas to Buffalo. I thought they were better than that.
George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.
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