Travel agent's spelling mistake strands mom and toddler in Iran

Arman Aria had planned a big party to celebrate his son’s second birthday. But instead of spending the day with friends and family in Metro Vancouver, little Arad and his mother were stranded in Iran — all because of a travel agent’s spelling mistake.

B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal orders Richmond company to pay $1,100 for negligence

Azadeh Lotfifar and her toddler son were stranded in Iran for two days because of a travel agent's spelling mistake. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Arman Aria had planned a big party to celebrate his son's second birthday. But instead of spending the day with friends and family in Metro Vancouver, little Arad and his mother were stranded in Iran — all because of a travel agent's spelling mistake.

An employee at Richmond's Plan-It With Pam Holidays had misspelled Arad's middle name on his airline tickets and did nothing to correct it when the family pointed out the error, according to a recent decision from the Civil Resolution Tribunal.

Last week, the tribunal awarded Aria more than $1,100 from the travel company, after finding it responsible for leaving mother and son stuck in Iran for two days.

Aria said he was happy with the ruling, but "the pain and frustration, the money isn't going to cover that."

The family had booked the tickets over the telephone in October 2017, according to the decision. When Aria's wife, Azadeh Lotfifar, visited Plan-It With Pam's offices, she noticed Arad's middle name was spelled wrong.

She pointed it out, but an employee told her "that the middle name is not always that important, as airlines look at the first and last names," according to tribunal member Kate Campbell.

Arad, shown here with parents Arman Aria and Azadeh Lotfifar, missed his second birthday party because of a travel agent's spelling mistake. (Provided by Arman Aria)

Lotfifar and the little boy flew to Iran on Lufthansa without a problem, but their return trip on Dec. 1 was booked with British Airways. When mother and son arrived for their flight, they were turned away.

Aria remembers getting the call from his wife in Iran. It was "awful," he told CBC.

"The whole time my son was crying in the airport," Aria said.

The little boy was worn down after a month of travelling, and "he was constantly crying because he was sick."

Email contradicts travel company's story

Aria said he spoke with airport officials and representatives from the airline but was told he'd have to fix things through the agent who had booked the tickets. It was late on a Friday night, so he had to wait until the next morning to visit the company's office.

Aria said he'd had major surgery about a month earlier and was still in serious pain.

"I couldn't barely walk, and I had … to go through this stress," he said.

Aria paid for the new tickets out of pocket. The travel company's manager, Dean Malik, denied that the misspelled name was the reason for the ordeal — he blamed the fact that Lotfifar had two passports under different names, according to the decision.

But Aria received an email from British Airways a few days after the incident that contradicted that story.

"I've checked our records and see that the name of your child on the booking and on the ticket did not match. This was the only reason for you not being allowed to board your flight," the email said.

In her decision, Campbell said Plan-It With Pam was negligent and had failed to meet a reasonable standard of care for its customer. She awarded Aria the cost of the new ticket, plus $200 for food and two nights' hotel accommodation in Iran.

But Campbell declined to reimburse Aria for $350 he'd spent on the birthday party that little Arad missed, writing that it was "not a reasonably foreseeable cost arising from the respondent's negligence."

Aria said he has yet to receive any money from the travel company.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.