Multiple choice time: What is an airline's responsibility to people who wait at airports for passengers to arrive insofar as incoming flights or rerouting is concerned?
A. The airline must tell anyone who asks whether or not passengers had reservations on the incoming or just-arrived flight, whether or not the passengers were rerouted, and what a new flight number or time of arrival may be.
B. The airline has the latitude to decline to answer such a question.
C. The airline, as a matter of service and not government regulation, can permit passengers to phone the airport of arrival or phone the airport of departure.
D. The airline can communicate a message on behalf of rerouted passengers to people awaiting them at the airport on arrival.
The only answer that is not part of the everyday reality of airline operations is A.
While airlines are not required by government rules to answer such questions, they generally will, depending on the airport and the situation. Unfortunately, if airline policies are not implemented properly, the answer may be misleading.
Consider the experience of Shirley T. McDonald of Seal Beach.
At the airport on time for an overbooked flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Monterey, Calif., McDonald was rerouted to another flight that would take her to Monterey by way of San Francisco.
She tried to phone her parents to let them know of the change, but they had already left for the Monterey airport. An airline agent, at McDonald's urging, did try to reach her parents at the Monterey airport, but was put on hold.
But McDonald had to get to the gate to board her new flight. The airline's agent told her that she would try to contact her parents or leave a message.
For whatever the reason, McDonald's parents were not contacted. When her parents asked at the Monterey airport if a McDonald had a reservation on the flight, they were told: "Yes. McDonald did have a reservation on the flight, which just arrived, but she is listed as a no-show."
Worried, as they would normally have been advised of any change in plans by their daughter, McDonald's parents promptly called their grandchildren in Seal Beach, Calif.
They were told that McDonald had left for the airport well in advance of the flight. Now McDonald's parents and her children were concerned.
The upshot was a call to the California Highway Patrol to see whether or not McDonald had been involved in a car accident.
McDonald only learned of this sequence of events after her arrival at the Monterey airport. Ironically, she also asked the airline what the records showed about her flight status and was told she had been a no-show at LAX!
This anxiety-creating scenario, of course, could have been prevented by a more accurate answer from the airline's personnel.
Up to the Airline
"This is an area that is up to the airlines," says a Department of Transportation spokesman. "The government has never had jurisdiction over this subject, even before deregulation. While airlines may have good policies in this regard, it's possible for airline personnel to say one thing but do another, and pass the buck."
Moreover, the department spokesman adds: "The airlines do have the capability of communicating whether or not an individual was rerouted and on what flight. But it's up to the airline to do this."
Explaining how United Airlines handles such a situation, Rod Strickland, director of customer services, says: "The record in the computer is initially accessed by the flight number and then by the name of the passenger. Either a passenger is checked in for a flight or not. But if a passenger isn't checked in, this is not entered as a no-show.
"If handled properly, a passenger who has been rerouted on United or another airline would have his record revised. Any access to this revised record, either using the original flight number or the new flight number, would then reflect the passenger's status."
However, says Strickland, "If an agent starts a totally new record without linking it to the original reservation, anyone looking at the original record could interpret it as a no-show. It's uncommon for this to happen, though."
United's policy, Strickland says, is to let passengers who are denied boarding make a three-minute call, at its expense, to the airport of arrival. The carrier may also phone and page those awaiting the passenger. "If a passenger requests it, we also can leave a message at the airport of arrival."
Another measure of protection for departing passengers, especially if they don't have time to contact people awaiting them, is to ask the airline agent if the computer reflects their rerouted status on their original flight reservation.
The system at Delta Airlines is similar.
Call and Telex
"We try to make the phone call for the passenger if he can't do it himself because of the time factor, and then follow up by telex or phone to our people at the airport of arrival," says Vince Durocher, district director of marketing for Delta in Los Angeles.