Problem Solver: Request for flight change leads to sticker shock

Crest Hill couple ask Lufthansa to allow them to skip leg of return trip, but airline says costly rebooking required

It took Bob and Angie Kleinfelder several years to save up for their upcoming trip to the International Lions Club Convention in Hamburg, Germany.

The Crest Hill couple, both retired and as they put it "mildly handicapped," paid extra for business class seats — $3,089.60 apiece — so they would be more comfortable.

They had no idea that a simple request to alter one leg of the flight would result in a $12,000 battle.

The Lufthansa flight, scheduled to leave O'Hare International Airport on July 4, has a short layover in Frankfurt before arriving in Hamburg at 9 a.m. the next day. Their return trip on July 16 follows the same path in reverse: Hamburg to Frankfurt to Chicago.

When they booked through the Star Alliance website in April, the couple planned to take a short tour of Germany after the convention ended but because of time constraints decided to cut the tour short, ending it in Frankfurt.

Because their return flight is scheduled to start in Hamburg, about 300 miles away, the Kleinfelders had a seemingly innocuous request. They wanted to skip the first leg of their return trip and catch the plane in Frankfurt.

"It seemed only reasonable," Angie Kleinfelder said.

Otherwise, the couple would be forced to fly from Frankfurt to Hamburg on the morning of July 16 then immediately turn around and catch another flight from Hamburg to Frankfurt.

To the Kleinfelders, it seemed bizarre and wasteful. Allowing them to pick up the return flight in Frankfurt was, they argued, a win-win. They wouldn't have to fly to Hamburg and back on July 16, and Lufthansa could resell the seats on the Hamburg to Frankfurt leg, essentially getting paid for the same seats twice.

On June 4, Angie Kleinfelder contacted Star Alliance and asked if it was possible to simply drop the first leg of the return trip. She said she didn't want any money back for skipping the Hamburg to Frankfurt flight, and was willing to pay a little extra if the change required fees.

"They informed us that although Lufthansa was willing to drop the $400 per person charges for changing the itinerary, we would have to pay the difference in the airfare, approximately $269 per person," Kleinfelder said. "We were told we would be notified within 72 hours or so of the extra costs."

Three days passed, and the couple had heard nothing, so on June 7, Angie Kleinfelder called Star Alliance again. A Star Alliance representative told her it had not heard back from Lufthansa about the final cost, Kleinfelder said.

Frustrated, she called Lufthansa directly, which told her it had no record of her reservation because she had booked through Star Alliance.

Finally in early June, Lufthansa responded. To drop the first leg of their return trip, the couple would have to completely rebook their tickets. The total cost was a bit more than $269 per person: Kleinfelder said she was told it would cost about $6,000 more each, or roughly $12,000.

Kleinfelder asked what would happen if they just didn't show up for the leg from Hamburg to Frankfurt, and was told the entire flight would be canceled.

So she emailed What's Your Problem?

"I think it's ridiculous," she said. "I thought this would be a simple one, two, three, and we'd have it done."

Lufthansa told her that if it rebooked her flights dropping the Hamburg to Frankfurt leg, it would have to reprice the trip based on two one-way tickets at the current rate.

Kleinfelder said she understands the airlines have rules but thinks Lufthansa is being too rigid.

"I understand what they're saying, but it just is a little silly," she said.

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