My American Airlines/Orbitz Hell

So I guess it makes sense to begin at the beginning.

Since moving to Atlanta my wife and I have typically flown on Delta because this is a company town and it’s been the path of least resistance.  No more doing two or three connections like we did in grad school, just to get the cheapest possible fare through Orbitz or Travelocity.

I was supposed to attend a conference on “Smart Cities” at the University of Calgary on Thursday, August 17 through Sunday, August 20.  I was invited by my friend Eliot Tretter, who is a Geography professor and the author of a great book, to participate in an interdisciplinary discussion between historians, geographers, sociologists, political scientists and many others.

I booked my flight last month through Orbitz, since Delta flights to Calgary were twice as much as the flights I could get on Orbitz.  It seemed almost too good to be true to get a flight from Atlanta through Phoenix to Calgary for $370.24, and it turns out it definitely was.

I got to the airport well before my flight time of 11:45am on Wednesday.  I checked in at the electronic kiosk and sauntered forth with my two boarding passes and a receipt, only to be told, abruptly, by American Airlines staff that I needed to get in another line if I was “not able” to print my baggage tag.  I had no idea what they were talking about and they were not especially willing to oblige explaining what this all meant, except to say “Get in that line.”

I got in that line.

I waited for a while.

Then it was clear I was supposed to get into another line at the customer service desk, which took forever.  Eventually, I got to the desk and a very nice and helpful fellow explained that the flight Orbitz had booked for me was “illegal.”  As in, no one would book this flight.  They wouldn’t book it.  I couldn’t check my bag because there was too little time between the connections at Phoenix.

Here I am, booked on an “illegal flight,” and they don’t know what to do with me.  American Airlines offered to put me on much later flights in the day that would eventually connect to Calgary, or they might put me on a 6am flight the next morning.  Not wanting to catch a cab home, get up in the morning, and come back again, I opted for the alternative flights on Wednesday.

Big mistake.  I was rebooked to go through Chicago to Calgary, but that flight was delayed and there was no way I’d make my connection.  I was rebooked to go through Dallas but that, too, was delayed.  At my wit’s end on Wednesday evening, I literally begged the gate agent to rebook me on a morning flight because I did not intend to spend the rest of my day missing connections and getting stranded in airports far from home.

I came home, got up at 4:30am, and got ready to go back to the airport for my 8am flight the next day. You can imagine where things went from here.

Of course, the Dallas flight was delayed.  I talked with the people at the gate and they said just sit it out, maybe the flight will get in earlier than expected, and you won’t miss your connection.  I kept saying I’m obviously not going to make my connection. This flight is expected to get in at 10:35 and my connecting flight is at 10:45.  Still, they insisted I wait.

I got on the flight, knowing this was not going to work out and instantly regretting it.  I had already missed a huge part of the conference I was going to, and knew that I probably would not even make it to present on Friday morning.  In the meantime, I had spent a ton of money on cabs to and from the airport for no reason whatsoever.

Of course, I got to Dallas and I missed my flight. When coming off the plane, there were already people there saying “Alexander Cummings?” because I think I had shamed the company enough by then on social media, begging for them to please just send me back to ATL.  They said they were going to get me on a plane back to my home city, because there was no chance of me making it to Calgary.

After another pointless two-hour flight, I was finally back in ATL. Nothing accomplished. Hundreds of dollars wasted. Many angry tweets.  My luggage, of course, lost.  I got a message from American Airlines this morning offering to give me a $100 voucher for a ticket on their shitty airline as consolation for this nightmare.  I would rather wipe my ass with that piece of paper than spend it to travel with American Airlines again.

So far, Orbitz has refused to offer any kind of compensation for a screw-up that rests entirely on their shoulders.  I spent a shit ton of money getting to and from the airport over the course of two days; missed my conference; and wasted two whole days of my life accomplishing nothing because of the malfeasance of Orbitz and the incompetence of American Airlines, neither of which so far have shown any willingness to compensate for my losses.  I am willing to amend or take down this post if they decide to change their minds.

In the meantime, the takeaway is: Never book with Orbitz, and don’t fly with American Airlines if where you’re going is important to you at all. This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

Author: Alex Sayf Cummings

Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.

4 thoughts

  1. I had a horrible experience with I reserved a hotel room in NYC with them, and the hotel was not what it was represented to be. In fact, it was so bad that we could not stay there, and I had to find another place for us (my daughter and grandson accompanied me on this trip, so I was especially concerned re: safety and cleanliness). I could not obtain a refund through or the hotel because of the sneaky fine print in the restrictions. I reported this hotel to the Better Business Bureau. I disputed the $1,100+ charge on my Discover card. Ultimately, the hotel forged my name on the contract and Discover caved in and let the charge stand. So, now, I am infuriated at Grand Hotel NYC,, and Discover Card. Argh.

  2. My goodness. It’s a nightmarish situation, but unfortunately I can’t say I’m surprised. I tried using Priceline once — only once — to get a good deal on a hotel in New Orleans for the AHA. When I got there, the hotel people said, no, it costs more, that’s not the actual price; I said I booked it with Priceline, and they said, no, it was actually done with and if you have a problem, take it up with them. In the meantime, do you want a place to stay or not? It was awful. I’m never going with any of these sneaky intermediaries (Orbitz, Priceline, Booking, etc) again; when I was a starving grad student, getting the cheapest flight with 15 connections made sense, but now I really prefer to just book directly with the airline or hotel.

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