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Bumpy merger could lead to travel headaches

We are getting ready to go into the busy summer season, and flier beware: There are changes in the air. American Airlines and US Airways are merging systems and it’s making travel a nightmare for some.

One of my associates is a travel agent and flies at least twice a month. She decided to join her husband on a business trip from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, and since her husband’s company paid for his ticket, she purchased her ticket separately.

Her husband was booked on an American ticket for an American-operated flight to Salt Lake City, with a return operated by US Airways.

My associate booked her ticket on the exact same flights through, but her ticket was booked on US Airways, and because of that, she was subject to US Airways’ rules, while her husband was subject to American’s rules.

Having tickets issued on two different airlines might not have been a problem, but the American flight ended up getting canceled due to a mechanical issue, so American should have reissued both tickets. Because my associate had a US Airways ticket, American told her she needed to contact US Airways. Both she and her husband were on the phone trying to get rebooked onto a new flight and American told her husband that no seats were available, while US Airways told her there were other seats available.

If a flight is canceled, the airlines are supposed to make their best effort to accommodate you on a new flight at no cost to the traveler. If American didn’t have seats, passengers should have been put on a different airline.

Because they couldn’t get to Salt Lake City on American until midday Saturday instead of Friday as planned, her husband would need to reschedule meetings for Monday. American said it was a voluntary change to extend the trip, so it wanted to charge a $200 change fee.

If your flight is canceled, it is an occasion when you can make changes without having to pay fees.

After four hours of not getting to an agreement on a new flight, my associate and her husband were so frustrated they were ready to cancel their trip and get a refund, but they still had to go to a US Airways ticket counter. There they found an agent who was willing to find a solution.

The agent sat on the phone for three hours and was able to get both tickets changed, including changing the return with no fee. She even got hung up on by an American agent during the process. While the US Airways agents were helpful and friendly, the American travel agent help desk, the regular help desk and multiple agents at the gate were not helpful, telling the couple there were no other flights left.

If there is anything that irritates me it is when an agent lies to me or to another customer, and that appears to have happened here. My associate and her husband are both seasoned travelers with elite status on several airlines. These are the kind of passengers that airlines seek and should woo, yet they still had this nightmare experience. Imagine if you only fly once or twice per year and don’t know the rules.

American has tens of thousands of employees, and Atlanta is a small location for the airline. I’ve had some great customer service experiences with American, so I don’t think this attitude is across the board at the airline, but this situation was poorly handled.

You can buy tickets on or, but you might end up on the other airline. In this case, the traveler did not have the slightest clue that her ticket was ticketed on US Airways until the charge showed up on her credit card statement.

While American and US Airways have been touting their merger, they do not seem to be in agreement on how to run things and it could be awhile until they act as one company. Anytime you have a merger, there are issues, and right now the friendly skies are not so friendly.

Tom Parsons is CEO of best