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A family spent 3 months rebooking flights home from Bali after being incorrectly marked as a no-show by Turkish Airlines. Now, they might lose $5,000.

Monica Humphries   

A family spent 3 months rebooking flights home from Bali after being incorrectly marked as a no-show by Turkish Airlines. Now, they might lose $5,000.
  • Justin Parfitt's family spent $12,093 on Turkish Airlines business-class tickets to Indonesia.
  • Their tickets permitted changes, but when they went to extend the trip, the system didn't allow it.

Justin Parfitt has sent 47 emails, called more than 30 times, and spent an estimated six hours on the phone with Turkish Airlines in an attempt to change his family's flight home from Indonesia to France, he told Business Insider.

Last October, Parfitt purchased semi-flexible business-class tickets for $12,093, but he said his family couldn't adjust their return flights home due to a system error.

Now, ticket prices have increased, and the Parfitt family is looking at flights that cost $5,000 more than initially planned.

"At the end of the day, it's not like a life is on the line," the 54-year-old said. "But you're thinking, 'Am I going to lose all this money? How are we getting home?' It's been stressful and frustrating."

Turkish Airlines did not respond to a request for comment from BI.

A canceled flight caused the family to be marked as no-shows

Parfitt, who runs a short-term vacation rental company out of Bali, started planning his family's trip to Indonesia last fall.

While the family lives outside Toulouse, France, Parfitt said they found better flight prices out of Madrid. In October, the family spent $12,093 on four business-class tickets for a January flight on Turkish Airlines. The route would take them from Madrid to Indonesia, with a layover in Istanbul. Their return trip, scheduled for February, would bring them back home to France. BI confirmed the price and itinerary.

Parfitt said his family decided to splurge on the business-class tickets, which included a flexible fare flight policy. The family could change their flights for a fee, which Parfitt said was about $100 per ticket.

On January 4, the family made it to Madrid and boarded their flight to Istanbul, where they would catch a final flight to Denpasar, Indonesia. But after sitting on the plane for one and a half hours, the flight was canceled due to operational issues, Parfitt said.

Parfitt said the Turkish Airlines staff handled the situation "quite well." The stranded passengers boarded a bus to a hotel. With no available Turkish Airlines flights, airline staff rebooked the Parfitt family on an Emirates flight to Denpasar with a layover in Dubai the next day. Parfitt said Turkish Airlines paid for these changes, along with the hotel and transportation.

But this last-minute change meant the Parfitt family wasn't seated together in business class for the two long-haul flights. For both flights, seven hours and nine hours long, their 8-year-old daughter and Parfitt sat alone. Parfitt's wife Annabelle sat with their 3-year-old child.

Parfitt said he thought their flight troubles were over once they reached Denpasar. Still, four weeks later, the family decided to extend their Indonesia trip to the end of June so Parfitt and his wife could expand their short-term vacation rental business in Bali.

Parfitt figured this would be simple. He said he purchased semi-flexible tickets for this reason and was happy to pay the change fee. He went online to move their return flights to France, but the system wouldn't let him. He tried changing them via chat, which didn't work either.

Parfitt said he called the airline, and multiple customer service agents told him this change was not permitted on his account.

February 22, the date of their return flight, was approaching, and Parfitt had "these four expensive business-class seats that are about to go up in smoke," he said.

After 13 calls to Turkish Airlines, Parfitt said an agent finally discovered the issue: The family had been incorrectly marked as no-shows on the second leg of their original Turkish Airlines flight.

If an airline discovers a passenger hasn't boarded a flight, the system may mark them as a no-show. Depending on the airline, this may trigger future flights — like a return flight — to be canceled, and airlines may cancel a frequent flyer status, Simply Flying reported.

This may also happen if an airline suspects a passenger is "skip-lagging," when a person books a cheaper ticket with a layover as their intended destination and skips the second flight. Companies like American Airlines previously announced they were cracking down on the practice.

Turkish Airlines' no-show policy states that a business-semi-flexible ticket isn't automatically canceled; it "may be reused for a specified fee, no refunds." The airline does not state the cost of the no-show fee online.

Parfitt said discovering this mistake reignited his hope. Their return flight was five days away, but now that they knew the issue, he hoped the solution would be easy.

At the time, Parfitt said the agent told him he couldn't change it in the system but would call back with an update.

Parfitt said he didn't receive a follow-up, so he continued contacting Turkish Airlines. On March 13, he said a different representative told him the airline could not fulfill the change requests.

Parfitt told BI it was money "his family could not afford to lose." So he continued calling and emailing.

Finally, on April 26, Turkish Airlines sent Parfitt an email acknowledging the error. In the email, which BI viewed, the airline representative said they would waive the family's no-show fees. The email does not state how much the no-show fee costs, and Parfitt said he hadn't been told the price either. In the email, the representative added that Parfitt may still need to "pay change fee, fare and tax differences and ticketing service fee."

Parfitt estimates it could cost over $5,000 to change the flights

Parfitt said Turkish Airlines' fix isn't good enough.

"Now, the fare difference is thousands more and the idea that this is somehow a solution after three months ... I was livid," he said.

Parfitt estimates that the flights are about $5,000 more than they were at the beginning of February, and he would still be required to pay about $400 in change fees.

"I don't know how often this set of circumstances would happen, but it can happen," he said. "And there is no adequate way of dealing with this particular set of circumstances."

In addition to the extra cost and hassle, Parfitt said he believes his family is owed about 176,108 points with Turkish Airlines. When he booked the tickets, he said he was told that each passenger would receive 21,527 points for the flight between Madrid and Denpasar, but the airline never issued his family those points since they were rerouted with Emirates.

Parfitt said the airline did give him 30,000 points for the overall rerouting inconvenience, but no one else in his family received them.

It's been over three months since Parfitt first contacted the airline to adjust the flights. After this inconvenience, Parfitt believes Turkish Airlines should rebook them on a flight to Toulouse at no additional cost.

"I'm just amazed that this big company, this award-winning airline, is taking this tack," he said. "It's not addressing its customers' legitimate needs."

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