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Turkish airlines cancels passenger's return ticket and charges him £250 after check-in error

The Independent logo The Independent 09/08/2018 Simon Calder

a plane flying over a body of water © Provided by The Independent Turkish Airlines told a London charity executive his homeward reservation had been cancelled as he was a “no-show” on the outbound leg – even though he offered proof that he was aboard the flight from Heathrow to Istanbul.

John May, secretary general of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation, was forced to spend £250 on a new ticket to get home.

He had flown out to Istanbul on flight TK1980 on 28 July, on a volunteering trip to Turkey’s largest city. On arrival in Istanbul, Mr May – travelling with cabin baggage only – left the airport, went for dinner and checked into his hotel.

Two days later, he returned to Istanbul to check in for his homeward flight, TK1987. But ground staff refused to check him in, saying that he had not travelled on the outward flight and therefore his return ticket was now invalid. 

In common with many airlines, Turkish Airlines cancels a passenger’s full itinerary if they are a “no-show” for the first flight.

Generic view of the UK Border Desks in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in Middlesex.   (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty Generic view of the UK Border Desks in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in Middlesex. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images) Mr May was shown the computer record for his booking, which contained the phrase: “Pax [passenger] was late – not seen at check in.”

He protested that the record was mistaken, but a Turkish Airlines supervisor said the only option was to buy a new one-way ticket to Heathrow.

Once home, Mr May contacted Turkish Airlines to explain that he had arrived at the gate early and that his boarding pass was queried briefly: it was rejected by the electronic reader, and instead was checked manually.

Aboard the Airbus A321, he sat in his assigned economy class seat, 14C, and ordered chicken rather than pasta for lunch.

But Turkish Airlines refused to accept his account, even though he supplied a copy of the boarding pass, marked by the airline’s ground staff, and a GPS timeline tracking his movements to Heathrow Terminal 2 and from Istanbul Airport to the restaurant.

A Turkish airline plane takes off at Heathrow International Airport in Middlesex.   (Photo by Steve Parsons - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty A Turkish airline plane takes off at Heathrow International Airport in Middlesex. (Photo by Steve Parsons - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images) When Mr May sent the airline a message protesting about the incident and asking for his money back, the airline’s customer service department merely expressed regret that he had been denied boarding from the Heathrow-Istanbul flight because of his late arrival.

In order to prove he was at the departure airport on time and that he boarded the Turkish Airlines plane, Mr May then contacted Heathrow Airport to make a “subject access request” for CCTV footage to show his progress through to the aircraft. He also contacted The Independent, which in turn made repeated representations to Turkish Airlines.

While Heathrow prepared the evidence, Turkish Airlines finally responded and acknowledged that its record-keeping was flawed.

The carrier explained that Mr May’s outbound flight had some technical issues with the check-in system. An unusual fix was implemented, which required some passengers to be regarded as offloaded. The plan was to rectify the bookings once the plane had taken off. But due to widespread disruption on the day, the manual update to show that Mr May had flown was overlooked.

Turkish Airlines offered “sincere apologies” for the incident and said it will be compensating Mr May.

“The whole experience has been extraordinarily exasperating, though I pretty quickly shifted from anger to amusement at Turkish Airlines’ completely incompetent customer service, once I’d got safely home,” he told The Independent.

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