Turkish Refuses to Believe Anyone Would Want to Go to Abu Dhabi (Tales From the Field)

Tales From the Field, Turkish

There are some days where I can only wonder why on Earth we’re in the business of helping people over at Cranky Concierge. Increasingly, airlines seem to want to punish travel agencies for actually trying to help customers when things go wrong, and today, I’ve got a nasty one courtesy of Turkish Airlines. How ugly was it? We were fined more than $2,000 for helping a client rebook after another airline made a schedule change.

Of course it’s not that simple of a situation, but in the end it’s hard to see why Turkish thinks it is behaving properly here. Between this and my last write-up where Qatar screwed us, you can see why this business can be exhausting.

This all started with a big group of more than 20 travelers heading from the US over to Turkey where they’d meet up and then fly to Italy to continue the trip. One subgroup of four people was already planning on being in Abu Dhabi, so they would just start and end their trip from there to make it easier.

This quartet decided to fly from Abu Dhabi to Turkey to meet the rest of the group, spend a week, then fly on to Italy with the group, spend 3 days, and then fly back to Abu Dhabi. The best option ended up being to issue a ticket on Turkish to go from Abu Dhabi to Turkey and on to Italy. Then we booked a separate ticket for the return from Italy to Abu Dhabi on Etihad, the only airline flying it nonstop at the time. Once again, we made the mistake of trying to be customer-friendly and booked this all in a single reservation with separate tickets. (Yes, we are stopping this practice.)

Not long after ticketing, Etihad decided that it wasn’t going to operate its Friday flights from Rome back to Abu Dhabi (this was for travel in August 2022), so it pushed through the schedule change and just canceled the flight in the reservation with no alternative provided.

The travelers didn’t want to change dates to when the flight was still operating, so the only option was to take a refund due to the schedule change. We did that with Etihad, and had no issues with that airline at all. Then the foursome ended up buying a separate ticket to just go straight back home to the US from Italy so they could avoid adding a stop and making this overly-complicated via Abu Dhabi. That new return was on a separate ticket in a completely separate reservation, so it’s not really relevant to the story.

Everything was fine until Turkish sent us a scathing debit memo saying we owed more than $500 per person in penalties because we had abused the system.

[Debit memo] reason is system abuse and sub-reason is point of commencement change. The agency abused the system by interfering with other airlines while creating the reservation. Fake segments are marked in red in log messages. [Ed note: the “fake” segment was the Etihad flight.]

Abuse process can be identified from log messages not only from [reservation] history itself. We have checked the records of related [debit memos] and it is definite that reservation rules has been ignored while booking. History and log message details have been shared below.

What on earth? There was certainly no abuse here. We booked the tickets that the clients wanted and were planning to fly. It’s not their fault nor our fault that Etihad canceled the flight, and it is perfectly reasonable to refund that when no other option was available. I imagine Turkish may have flagged this because the schedule change happened shortly after it was ticketed in the first place, but that really shouldn’t matter. It’s obvious where the change came from, and it wasn’t from us.

Further, I fail to see how this even impacts the “point of commencement” when they were always starting in Abu Dhabi. That didn’t change. All this did was change the last leg back to Abu Dhabi, or in reality, removed it entirely.

We fought this for months to no avail. Turkish refuses to acknowledge just how ridiculous this whole thing is, and we have been given no option other than to pay it. The total amount is $2,074. Naturally, this isn’t something we can pass on the client since they did nothing wrong, nor did we. So we just have no choice but to pay this and absorb the cost (or potentially try to make a claim on our E&O insurance, though unlikely), all because we provided good service to help a client impacted by obnoxious airline changes.

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34 comments on “Turkish Refuses to Believe Anyone Would Want to Go to Abu Dhabi (Tales From the Field)

  1. Curious…. Why do you have to pay it? What happens if you don’t? Is small claims court an option?

    1. Curious – This is part of the agreement between airlines and agencies. I’m not as familiar with it as I could be since we use a host agency and I don’t have the direct relationship with the airline. But in this case, I’ve been told that it has been escalated multiple times and Turkish refuses to budge. I was thinking about the small claims option. I have no idea if it’s allowed or not, quite honestly. But it would make their lives more difficult, so it’s certainly something that might be worth doing just to get their attention.

      1. Please do it! This is not the first time I had a ME airline think they can just steamroll me. You will likely win in the smalls claim court by default as they won’t even bother showing up.

        Please keep us posted.

        1. The issue is that if they lose in small claims court, they’re under no obligation to do business with you in the future.

          Also, IANAL, but I’d expect that the one that would have to sue is the client agency, since they’re the one that has a contract with the airline.. I’d also expect that contract has an arbitration clause.

  2. Bro, I can relate so unbelievably well with what your have written here. I have been in the business for over 57 years (the last 43 with my own) and the debit memo devil is over my head on a daily basis from which I live in fear. No one can tell me that the debit memo (if done in concert with the GDS’s) cannot be entirely eliminated. Why not ? Because it has become a serious revenue source! I had a senior executive at ARC admit to me 10 years ago that one of the big three (What’s the weather in Chicago today?) definitely uses the debit memo as a revenue source. So much for their debit memo committee! Check your E & O insurance as to what their deductible is. I once had the whopping figure of $483,000.00 from another one of the big three (How far is Dallas from the border?) for reasons similar to that you mention in your issues with Turkish only on a multiple basis. I negotiated a settlement from that $483,000.00 to the measly figure of $4300.00. A few months of stress for sure I will surely never forget. But there was a certain satisfaction in sending a check to the carrier bearing the name of the E & O company and not from my firm.

    The debit memo devil combined with NDC(I have really enjoyed your articles on it) has made me downsize my business to just 1/3 of what it was a year ago by eliminating all commercial accounts and the numerous sports teams I handled. It’s no longer about the 1996 elimination of commissions but about all the back-stabbing debit memos and NDC!

    1. Gene – Yeah, E&O may be an option but I don’t think this is expensive enough to matter. If I have a $400k+ bill, then I’d be using it right away!

      1. Small claims may work. I did it once with Delta over $1000 worth of memos. Filed in Fulton County Ga. which is home to Delta and a few weeks after I got a phone call from Delta, the debit memos went “bye-bye!’.

      2. This will contjnue to happen as yall just accept and dont fight back. In the end, dont complain if you wont take action. Since this happens to so many agents, why not band together, form a union of sorts and black ball the theiving culprits? Spite is powerful and feels so good, use it.

  3. Is this just an issue with foreign/foreign flag carriers, you’ve mentioned TK, QR, BR? So not UA/AA/DL/WN?

    1. emac – I haven’t had any issues with WN, though they’ve only been selling through the GDS recently. But yes, we’ve had our issues with all the US carriers as well. For them, it tends to be more ticky tacky stuff. Like if we accidentally leave off something called a ticket designator, I think United charges us $40. Occasionally there’s something bigger than that, but it’s really been foreign carriers that seem to play the big ticket games with us. It’s certainly a much bigger issue for international travel because there are a lot more games to be played about point of origin and point of sale, all that.

  4. Two can tango. Any vendor who engages in such inflexible application of their rules does not deserve your business. I would pull back giving them revenue until I am satisfied it was a costly mistake for them to insist on fining you.
    Recently a credit card company would not waive a a late payment fee of $150 even though my IPS provider was down for a few days,
    No problem, I switched card utilization for three months causing them a loss of $15,000 in billable revenues.

    1. David – See, here’s the problem. We are under assault by just about every airline in one way or another. American’s use of NDC has made us try to avoid booking them because of our inability to help travelers when things go wrong. United has quietly ramped up doing the same thing. We don’t want to book Qatar or Turkish now, but with all the joint ventures between airlines, this doesn’t leave us with many options. It is a very frustrating time.

      1. I had an issue with Qatar over $200.00 for about a year. They quickly removed both my ticketing ability as well as availability in Amadeus. I tried to get around it for a while by booking their flights as B6 code-share but somehow they were able to detect and within a few hours of having created the PNR the segments (all showing as B6) would be “HX’D” out.

        1. Yeah, see this is the thing. If I start fighting outside regular ADM dispute channels, I don’t have my own ticketing authority so I risk my host agency being impacted. That’s where it becomes very tricky.

  5. Cranky, might the TK response have been different if the EK segment had been included on the original TK ticket (you mentioned it had been ticketed separately)?

    1. Robert – It was EY, but yeah, I’m sure if it was on a single ticket it would have been. But these weren’t going to price together on a single ticket anyway. We will just never put these in the same record going forward.

    1. grichard – Sometimes, but it doesn’t change the outcome. After my last post about Qatar, I know that it got floated up to the highest levels and there was “concern” about it according to a contact I had within the airline. But there wasn’t enough concern for them to actually do the right thing. I expect absolutely no response from Turkish at all on this, because that’s how they tend to operate. But it does make me at least feel good to be able to blow off some steam.

      1. Wow. Turkey has some very inexpensive round trip from Texas to manila. I will not use them. I was seriously thinking about it. I will use EVA and maybe Singapore Air instead. If they screw you they will screw me if they can.

  6. I know this is “inside baseball” to an extent but still find interesting. That being said I don’t understand how Turkish thinks they were harmed by any of this? Their fare would not have been impacted by a separate ticket on another airline. I am sure their argument is terrible but I can’t even figure out what it is!

    1. Bill – I don’t either. We asked for clarification multiple times, and they acted like what they sent us somehow explained it perfectly. It makes no sense.

      1. Wow, I just thought I missed something as a non-professional. That’s truly baffling.

        1. From ADMs that I’ve seen at my agency (including some from QR with their horrid policy), it could just come down to the airline’s *belief* that availability was manipulated by another airline being in the same PNR. GDS availability can appear differently depending on what’s already booked in the PNR (so for example QR want everything booked in chronological order – want to change something in middle? tough! rebook it all! especially other airlines after QR! space gone? tough!!!). TK *logic* could be that they’d have got a higher fare of their own had EY not also been in the PNR. Can’t be disproved, so must be *guilty*.

  7. Condolences CF – awful position to be in, and I recall you had a similar incident some time (years?) ago.
    Do you think it would help in any way if we signed a petition in your support? Clearly, you have tremendous support, and their position is unjustifiable (IMHO).
    I also recognize that your customers have many good reasons to fly with these carriers. Generally, their on-board service is superb. But it’s when things go wrong that they rapidly loose their luster. (I once had a badly damaged bag and it took me a year to finally get a replacement. Since I’m retired, I had the time to wear them down!)

  8. Yikes. Sounds like you’ll be saying “No” to the national airline of Tür-ki-“yeah” going forward.

    /Someone had to say that. I’ll see myself out.

  9. Seems like something the department of Transportation or Congress should be looking at. Easy political win for them.

  10. Hey CF – Turkish is actually notorious for this, especially with agencies that use a parent firm for their access to the booking systems.

    Let me be clear: this is a conscious revenue generation decision on their end. They know that the incentives are heavily stacked in their favour:

    1. Typically, the parent agency would have to bring any court or arbitration action.
    2. Any issues caused by the sub-agency for the parent agency are likely to result in the sub-agency losing partial or full access to the parent agency’s software
    3. Smaller sub-agencies lack the financial wherewithal to fight
    4. Smaller agencies are often single person operations where they lack the requisite knowledge to understand whether their reservation was legal and conformant
    5. Plus a half dozen other reasons.

    The good news is that it is winnable. Happy to hop on a call and explain how we escalated and killed this for another agency back when I still worked in Aerospace/MRO and leveraged my Turkish Air connections. Feel free to email me at my email I posted with.

  11. I have long discovered that the fewer segments in a reservation, the better. We use one ways almost exclusively unless the price is significantly different.

    It allows flexibility when dealing with changes or delays. Too often we’ve had returns or open jaw legs all jacked up when flights get canceled or delayed.

    Putting multiple airlines on the same record is a recipe for disaster. Would think a travel agent would realize that also?

    The issue for agencies is that very few people need them anymore, and the airlines feel no obligation to assist or deal with them in a reasonable manner.

    This, like many things, could well change the next time there is a downturn and the airlines need you.

    1. “Putting multiple airlines on the same record is a recipe for disaster. Would think a travel agent would realize that also?”

      Only fairly recently has it become an issue. Traditionally, it was the way of doing it, and made sense to have an overview of where a client was in their journey.

      Different airlines handle it differently, for example BA don’t through check bags to another airline in a separate booking/ticket – unless they’re on the same PNR. Now BA practically never sell a separate tkt for another airline in the same PNR; the exception is written for the cases where travel agents make and ticket such bookings. BA don’t have a problem with it, and understand that TAs will book multiple airlines in one GDS PNR. But for QR/TK (and others) it’s become a dangerous practice, when it just used to make sense…

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