San Francisco teen stranded in China after airline cancels ticket

7 On Your Side investigated after a Bay Area teen was stranded alone at an airport in China after the airline cancelled her ticket.
March 20, 2014 7:15:08 PM PDT
A teenage girl's first trip overseas without her parents was a dream come true, but it also led to one of the scariest moments of her life.

If you are traveling, there are so many things that can catch you unaware. A 17-year-old San Francisco girl was traveling for the first time on her own, and she was left stranded because of an airline policy even seasoned travelers don't know about. If you're going on a trip, you'll want to be warned.

Jessica Kai won't forget the excitement of her first trip to China.

"I like traveling and this time it was without my parents," said the teen.

Jessica and two friends went to Canton as part of a student exchange program. It was a thrilling experience. That is, until she tried to get back home.

"I went to check in for my flight," she said.

Jessica's friends got their boarding passes for the flight to San Francisco. But Cathay Pacific Airways said Jessica's ticket was canceled. Her seat had been sold to someone else. And the plane was full.

"They told me to buy a new ticket," she said.

But the next flight home was two days away.

"I just felt scared in the moment," she said. "I was just worried most about how I would be getting home first and where I would stay for the next two days."

Jessica watched as her friends reluctantly boarded the plane without her.

"I walked around the airport with my luggage," she said.

She stayed all night in the terminal. Luckily she knew a girl who was visiting family in Hong Kong.

"I had her Hong Kong number and I just prayed that it would work," Jessica said.

It did. And the girl agreed to help. Jessica caught a train to Hong Kong. She stayed there until her flight, then called her mother, Jannie Kai.

"She said, 'mommy I was alone in the airport the whole night,'" Jannie said.

And she was out $525 for that extra ticket. Jessica's mom contacted Cathay Pacific Airways

"Why you guys cancel my daughter's seat," Jannie said. "She was only 17-years-old, so dangerous for her."

The airline said it was because Jessica did not show up for a connecting flight into China. Turns out the girls took a train into China instead.

Her mom says that shouldn't cause cancelation of her flight home. She'd paid for the ticket. She contacted 7 On Your Side.

Turns out Cathay Pacific and most major airlines do indeed reserve the right to cancel your entire ticket if you are a no show for even one leg of your trip.

The contract of carriage says, "If you do not show up for any flight without advising us in advance we may cancel your return or onward reservations."

Still, after we told Jessica's story, Cathay Pacific really stepped up. The airline not only refunded the extra airfare, it offered meals, hotel, and two free tickets to Hong Kong.

In a statement the company said, "We regret the actions taken that didn't allow this passenger to travel with her companion. We have a policy that reservations can be cancelled if you miss any segment of a flight. But clearly, there need to be exceptions for certain situations. We are currently investigating the situation and will work to update our approach."

Mother Jannie was just happy her daughter got home safe.

"When we saw her we were very happy, Jessica is here!" she said with a laugh.

Airlines say the no show policy is aimed at keeping planes full and controlling fares. If they do cancel your ticket, you don't get your money back. So if you miss a connecting flight, be sure to tell the airline. Let them know you still intend to use the rest of your ticket.

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