Reader David H. passes along a scenario from a post on Flyertalk –
- Customer, who holds an Israeli passport, books a ticket between New York and London on Priceline.
- He’s given an Air India ticket, with Air India flight numbers, operated by Kuwait Aiways
- He’d denied boarding by Kuwait Airways. Even though an Israeli passport is valid for travel to the U.K., the airline’s home country does not recognize Israel.
Kuwait put him on British Airways. Which in many ways is likely better. He was probably re-booked into a revenue fare class and was thus eligible to accrue miles, despite having purchased his ticket on Priceline.
How does he get back, though? Is he going to have to wait to be denied boarding again at Heathrow, in hopes of getting re-accommodated? Or is there something else he can do?
The complication: He is flying Kuwait Airways on an Air India ticket issued by a third party agent. There are three different entities involved here.
- Air India used to fly New York JFK – London Heathrow. They no longer do. So they can’t just move him to their own flight.
- Air India isn’t going to want to move him to another carrier at their own expense when this wasn’t their fault.
- Kuwait is going to say that it isn’t their ticket.
All fingers point back to Priceline. That’s the agent that sold the ticket without checking the validity of the passport for travel on the carrier on which they decided to book the customer.
This isn’t a scenario where a customer without a visa to visit the UK books a ticket for travel there. The customer has documents valid for admittance to the country they’re traveling to.
Priceline booked the customer onto an airline that wouldn’t accept them. No customer would reasonably be expected to know that Kuwait Airways would be a possibility for this flight, or that if they’re booked onto the airline that they wouldn’t be transported between the US and UK when they have documents acceptable to those respective governments.
In all likelihood Kuwait Airways would rebook the customer who arrived at London Heathrow. But things shouldn’t have to wait that long. Priceline is the agency issuing the ticket, so things need to be taken up with them. They’re also the ones who made the booking without consulting the passenger about the appropriateness of the itinerary (presumably this is a “name your own price” booking).
The passenger says he only discovered he was booked on a codeshare when he arrived at the airport. If this was a name your own price booking he certainly wouldn’t have had the codeshare disclosed to him in advance. But even if it wasn’t a codeshare, if Priceline is unwilling to help then he might file a complaint with the Department of Transportation over failure to adequately disclose a codeshare in advance of ticketing. This might not get him the action he needs prior to travel, but it would be a start for dealing with things after the fact, e.g. if he has to buy a new ticket back to New York then getting Priceline to issue a refund.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has complained to Kuwait Airways about the practice of denying boarding to Israeli citizens before (when he was New York City Public Advocate). So has Senator Chuck Schumer.
This suggests to me that there’s potential interest here. I’d contact media, the offices of Senator Schumer and Mayor de Blasio, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The only real leverage here is through the airport and gates out of which Kuwait Airways operates.
This is a thorny federal issue. And while it’s not clear that New York could deny access to Kuwait Airwait over what are essentially federal guidelines in terms of permission to fly between New York and London, airports do have discretion in their gate leases. This is the sort of issue that would get tied up for a long time, get expensive, and become a political black eye not just for the Department of Transportation but also for the State Department.
Even if New York ultimately can’t do much about the policies of Kuwait Airways without the assistance of the federal government, even the likelihood that the issue gets raised is enough of a threat — something no one with the airlines or government wants to see or deal with outside of muckraking politicians — that a little bit of attention should be enough to move mountains and get things settled quietly.
There’s missing detail here about the form of booking. But this passenger isn’t going to ultimately be out of pocket, even if they’re inconvenienced (even dealing with Priceline customer service is – in and of itself! – an inconvenience).
- Does the passenger bear any responsibility here?
- Is this how you would handle it? What would you do?
- What should the US government do – if anything – about the policy of some airlines refusing transportation to passengers on Israeli passports?
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