Emma Giantisco and Dylan Marton had a connecting flight canceled on the way back from Singapore.
They bought tickets with United, but the canceled flight was on the airline's partner Lufthansa.
The couple's rebooked tickets kept getting deleted, so they gave up and spent $3,153 to get home.
Home was close for Emma Giantisco and Dylan Marton.
The couple had spent two months traveling around Southeast Asia and were finally making the long journey home to Lambertville, New Jersey, on August 17, Giantisco told Insider.
They booked their flights months in advance with United. The itinerary viewed by Insider would have taken them on a United flight from Singapore to Munich, Germany; then, they'd fly with Lufthansa (one of United's partner airlines) to New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport.
The couple successfully made it to Munich, but before taking off to New Jersey, they were informed by the Lufthansa crew that their next flight was canceled due to weather, leaving them stranded in Munich for three days.
Between the two airlines, the couple said, they were rebooked multiple times, but their tickets kept disappearing from the Lufthansa and United apps. Ultimately, the couple gave up on rebooking through the airlines for free and bought new tickets home for $3,153 out of pocket.
"We spent hours on the phone talking to countless representatives explaining our situation dozens of times," Marton told Insider of the experience. "It was exhausting."
Lufthansa did not respond to requests for comment from Insider.
After their canceled connection, the couple thought they'd be on a flight the next day
After a stress-free flight from Singapore to Munich, the couple boarded their connecting Lufthansa flight from Munich to New Jersey.
They sat on the tarmac for three hours, the couple said, because thunderstorms in Germany had caused a delay and the flight crew timed out for the day. Ultimately, their flight was canceled.
Travelers were told to head to the airline's service desk for rebooking, the couple said, but their flight wasn't the only one canceled, and Giantisco estimates that there were over 1,000 people waiting in line to speak to a Lufthansa representative.
"Mathematically we're going to be here for 15 hours," Giantisco said she remembers thinking. So, they ditched the line and opted to call and chat with the airline instead.
On Lufthansa's chat feature, Giantisco said they received a message about rebooking the canceled flight for free. A representative told them that the next available flight wasn't for two days later on August 19, so they accepted the flight and planned to spend time exploring Munich.
Giantisco said they received a confirmation for the new flight via chat, but when they pulled up their account, there wasn't any indication they had an upcoming reservation — the first of many such incidents, they said.
"We didn't get any tickets, we didn't get any confirmation, and we didn't get anything," Giantisco said.
She added that without an active reservation, they called United since they purchased their original tickets from that airline. Giantisco said United told them that they could get them on flights the next day: Giantisco would fly through London, and Marton would fly through Houston.
While they weren't thrilled they weren't on the same flight, they were willing to do whatever to get home, Giantisco said. The couple confirmed the flights, logged onto their United app, and saw active reservations.
Excited to be home one day later than planned, they found a hotel and headed to bed.
The next morning, however, when Marton and Giantisco went to check in for their flights (which were scheduled with Lufthansa) on their United app, they said all their flight information had disappeared, and there wasn't any indication they had tickets or a reservation. Without the necessary flight confirmation, the couple said they were starting again from square one.
In a statement sent to Insider, a United representative said, "After receiving a new itinerary from their canceled Lufthansa flight, the customer called United to explore their options and we rebooked them on a new flight the following day. When the customers did not show for this flight, they reached out to Lufthansa instead."
The couple says neither airline took responsibility for their rebooking issues
Giantisco said she called United about the disappearing reservations, and an agent told her, "Lufthansa has taken control over the ticket. We can't do anything and don't own your ticket anymore."
So, they called Lufthansa. But Lufthansa told them the opposite.
"They say, 'No, we can't do anything, you booked through miles with United, and we can't do anything,'" she said.
Frustrated, Marton called Lufthansa back, and Giantisco called United.
When both agents told them that it was the other airline's responsibility, the couple put them on speakerphone so the agents could chat with each other.
"They start arguing back and forth," Giantisco said. "Lufthansa keeps saying that United needs to confirm a new ticket, and United is saying we don't have control over the ticket."
After 45 minutes, Lufthansa offered to book the couple on a flight to Newark out of Frankfurt, Germany, for August 20 — three days after their original flight was meant to take off. The airline also booked Giantisco and Marton on a train to Frankfurt from Munich, and while the situation wasn't ideal, the couple told Insider they were willing to get home whichever way the airline provided.
A few hours later, Giantisco opened the United app, and she said her tickets for both the train and flight were once again no longer there.
They called Lufthansa and were told once again that United needed to book them on a flight home, Giantisco said.
After arguing with Lufthansa representatives, the airline rebooked Giantisco for a fourth time on the same train and flight out of Frankfurt. Those reservations, too, disappeared from Giantisco's account a few hours later.
After multiple attempts and back-and-forths with representatives, Giantisco and Marton said they were finally booked and checked into a train to Frankfurt and a flight back home — only for these tickets to also disappear into the void.
Several rebooking attempts, multiple days, and dozens of phone calls later, enough was enough.
The couple spent thousands buying new tickets themselves
The disappearing reservations, Giantisco said, were frustrating and made their situation feel hopeless.
"There was a heart-sinking feeling that seemed to be more intense every time it happened because the more it happened at later and later dates, it just felt more and more like we were never going to get home," Marton said.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of all was that neither airline took responsibility, the couple said. News stories of partner airlines not receiving ticketing information or airlines losing reservations have gone viral this summer. For example, one family traveled to Nigeria and spent $4,000 out of pocket to get home to North Carolina when an airline didn't issue tickets to its partner. Similarly, a group of 31 students, teachers, and parents were stranded in Japan after challenges with a partner airline. These stories have left travelers wondering who is at fault when something goes wrong.
Giantisco and Marton ultimately decided to buy their own flights home. The couple booked a Lufthansa flight out of Munich that connected through London and finally landed in Newark on August 20.
The couple spent $3,153.50 on two tickets they believe Lufthansa or United could have booked for them free of charge from the very beginning.
Finally, they made it to New Jersey — but the saga wasn't over. The couple's luggage is still MIA.
Giantisco said the aftermath of their return trip didn't end when they landed.
The last time the couple saw their luggage was in Singapore, they said, and there's still no indication of where it might be.
"We've been calling United just about every other day," she said. "They said they've put in a notice at the Heathrow, but we feel like they should put in the notice with Munich and Houston and Frankfurt and the train station."
In a statement sent to Insider, a United representative said: "Lufthansa currently has their baggage, and we are reaching out to the customer to discuss next steps."
Giantisco said she reached out to the airlines for a refund on all their purchases. She was told that they would be fully reimbursed for the flights, hotels, taxis, train rides, meals, and items they purchased during the layover without their bags, but Giantisco said she doubts it would be an easy process to get her money back.
Altogether, the couple say they've spent $4,430.79.
On top of the money, Giantisco said both she and Marton were operating in fight-or-flight mode for days, and it's a feeling that didn't go away the moment they got home.
"For three days afterward, the lack of safety and uncertainty persisted," she said. "We would wake up and be like, 'Are we home? Are we able to get home?'"
"It doesn't sound terrible to be stranded in Munich," she said. "But it wasn't great."
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