Travel Troubleshooter

By Christopher Elliott

Q: We recently booked a oneway ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Virgin America to get us home after our trip from Tahiti. But about a month later, our travel agent informed us that our return flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles had been canceled.

I called Virgin America and was told that it would cost us $180 to change the flight to the next day, when our new flight was scheduled.

There are more than four months between now and then to resell those two seats. If those four seats were not rebooked in the next four months, I would be OK with getting charged or losing my money. Virgin's "guest services commitment" promises the airline is "constantly striving to give you the kind of Virgin America experience you came to us for in the first place." I can't believe that an airline is so steadfast in a policy that it can't work with a customer

Vacationing is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable and sometimes plans change, which I understand. What I don't understand is that when things do change, why an organization like Virgin America has to make it stressful and inconvenient on their customer's pocketbook. - Bret Bickar, Alameda, Calif

A: You're right, there's something fundamentally unfair about airline change fees. If an airline can resell the ticket, why should you have to pay for the change?

But Virgin America is doing what other airlines also do, and have been doing for a long time, and I don't have the room for the argument in this column.

Here's what struck me about your case: You used a travel agent to make your booking, and if you did, then your itinerary should have been connected. That means Virgin America should have known about your change and would have put you on the next flight at no cost to you.

(Actually, that's one of the reasons you use a travel agent; they can ensure your itineraries are connected, preventing you from being stuck in an airport with no way to get home.)

Your travel agent should have told you that your Los Angeles to San Francisco flight was taken care of When you called Virgin America, the representative you spoke with should have also seen that you were flying in from Tahiti. But somehow, these flights were not connected.

This is a common problem with do-it-yourself travel agents. They buy several legs of a flight separately, assuming that they'll be taken care of when something goes wrong. But they aren't. You're considered no-shows when the flight is delayed or canceled and are forced to pay for a new one-way ticket to reach your destination.

I asked Virgin America to look into your itinerary. It refunded your change fee and allowed you to fly one day later at no extra cost.

(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals'" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliottorg or e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Chnstopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)

Indoor ground-breaking

Moraine Valley Community College brought the outdoors inside on Thursday, Jan. 10 to break ground on its Health Education and Wellness Center. The college held the ceremony in the gymnasium complete with hardhats, shovels and dirt for officials who "broke ground" in front of a panoramic projection of the construction site on the gym wall.

The center is expected to open in February 2014. It will encompass more than 100,000 square feet and include a four-lane lap pool, three partitioned basketball courts, fitness center area with machines and weights, several group exercise studios, an athletic training room, a jogging track, and locker rooms. The college is currently in negotiations with a healthcare partner that will occupy space in the building, where its physicians' group can offer health-related programs and services to community members.

The groundbreaking ceremony was attended Andrea Ramirez-Justin, Moraine Valley trustee (from left); Elizabeth Gorman, Cook County Board commissioner; Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett; John Coleman, Moraine Valley trustee; Vernon Crawley, president emeritus of Moraine Valley; Sylvia Jenkins, college president; Joe Murphy, chairman of the Moraine Valley board; Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney; Lisa Szynalski, Moraine Valley trustee; Elizabeth Queen of the Chicago Blackhawks Charities; and Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin.

Church Corner

A new group that will aid persons who have experienced the loss of a loved one, job, home or marriage will meet from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 3 and 17, and March 3 at Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, 9411 S. 51st Ave. The group is for anyone who has experienced loss of a loved one, a job, a home or a marriage. Pastor Yvette Eber of Immanuel United Church of Christ in Evergreen Park will co-lead the group along with Pastor Peggy McClanahan of Pilgrim Faith. The public is invited, regardless of faith. For more information contact McClanahan at 422-4200 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Focus on Seniors

Box Lunch

The Oak Lawn Senior Center, 5330 W. 95th St., will hold a box lunch Thursday, Jan. 31 at 10:30 a.m. Wilson and Wilson Law Offices will discuss the five hot topics of elder law including estate planning documents, the new Illinois power of attorney, five wishes document, veterans benefits and the new Medicaid law. Begins at 10:30 a.m. followed by lunch and bingo. Tickets may be purchased for $4 at the Center.

Rules of Road

The Worth Township Seniors will hold a free Rules of the Road class from 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. April 3, June 5, Aug. 7 and Oct. 2. Appointment must be made to attend; call the Worth Township Senior Room at 371-2900, Ext. 28. Worth Township Center is at 11601 Pulaski Road in Alsip.

Meals on Wheels

The Evergreen Park Office of Citizens' Services offers a Meals on Wheels program for village residents 60 years and older who are unable to prepare their own meals. Meals are delivered Monday through Friday. For more information call 422-8776.

55 and Up

Palos Hills residents 55 years and older meet from noon to 2 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Palos Hills Community Center, 8455 W. 103rd St. Tickets for events must be purchased one week in advance. Entertainment includes musicians, singers, luncheons, movies, plays and bingo.


The Worth Senior Pinochle club is seeking new members. Membership is free. Visit the group at the Worth Park District Terrace Centre, 11500 Beloit Ave., every Monday and Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Games begin at noon. Call 448-1181 for information.

Sons of the American Legion chartered at Marrs-Meyer Post

Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 in Worth was recently issued a charter for the Sons of The American Legion - Squadron 991.

Newly appointed officers are Rick Nolan, adjutant (from left), Ed Dombrowski, chaplain, Tim Shamasko, sergeant-at-arms, Mark Jezior, senior vice commander and Glenn Kraemer, squadron commander.

Founded in 1932, Sons of The American Legion exists to honor the service and sacrifice of Legionnaires. SAL members include males of all ages whose parents or grandparents served in the U.S. military and were eligible for American Legion membership. Members of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion comprise the Legion family, which has a combined membership of nearly 4.2 million.

The SAL's mission: to strengthen the four pillars of The American Legion. Therefore, squadrons' campaigns place an emphasis on preserving American traditions and values, improving the quality of life for our nation's children, caring for veterans and their families, and teaching the fundamentals of good citizenship. Since 1988, SAL has raised more than $5 million for The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation. SAL members have volunteered over 250,000 hours at veterans hospitals and raised over $915,688 for VA hospitals and VA homes. The Sons also support the Citizens Flag Alliance, a coalition dedicated to protecting the U.S. flag from desecration through a constitutional amendment.

Glenn Kraemer states, "I'm honored to have been appointed Squadron Commander of our charter membership. We already have twenty-five new members and we're growing. I look forward to working with our membership locally, as well as nationally, to help raise funds and awareness of many worthy programs supported by The American Legion family."

For more information or to join The Sons of The American Legion - Squadron 991, contact Marrs- Meyer Post 991 at 448-7006 or visit the Post at 11001 S. Depot St. in Worth.