‘People need to know about this’: Travelers warn of post-pandemic security issues

Michael Talpai was flying Alaska Airlines to the islands.

“I saved for years for a vacation to Hawaii with my family,” says Talpai. “And I was taking the entire family - nine of us.”

But before takeoff, he embarked on a costly web search.

“And you know they made $2,300 dollars. I feel embarrassed actually,” he says.

“They” happens to be a travel agency Talpai says was posing as Alaska Airlines.

It started when the Kitsap County resident attempted to reach the airline the day before the trip with a question about the tickets.

“So my wife googled Alaska customer service. And a phone number, 800 number, toll free number popped up,” says Talpai. “They answered the phone: Alaska Customer service.”

It wasn’t Alaska Airlines, but rather a travel agency which had alarming news.

“The lady says, ‘oh my! Your flight was just canceled.’ And so my wife is like ‘oh no what’s going on here?’” remembers Talpai.

Talpai says the travel agency re-booked him on Delta at a higher ticket price and charged him $2300 in service fees.

This is the travel company he called: Texas-based Flights E Ticket Inc.

In a statement, the company says “...when Michael called us, his Alaska tickets were already cancelled.”

However, this letter from Alaska Airlines to Talpai says: “…our flights on your original reservation with Alaska Airlines operated as scheduled.”

As to Michael’s claim that the operators said they were with Alaska Airlines, the company writes: “We are Flightseticket and we do not pretend to be Alaska or any other airlines!”

We checked Better Business Bureau records and found more customers complaining that Flights E Tickets staff said they were misrepresenting not just Alaska airlines, but Delta, too.

“This is an absolute problem right now,” said security expert J. Michael Skiba.

Skiba said to make sure you really check search engine results before making a call, so you know who you’re calling.

“They don’t have to prove they’re with anybody,” said Skiba. “They can put whatever they want up there. And google spits that stuff up, right?”

Whoever picks up the phone can then tap into your emotions and sense of urgency of getting that last seat, that last rental car, or that last hotel room.

So what happens if you google Alaska airlines customer service on your cell phone? Your first hit is an ad. The next is another ad, not Alaska airlines. Along with it, a number you can just tap and call.

It’s not until the fifth result do you actually get Alaska Airlines.

So if you all of the sudden tapped on one of those other results, you might think you were calling Alaska airlines. But you wouldn’t be.

After our inquiry, Flights E Tickets sent us this statement saying:

“…we are truly sorry for the inconvenience Michael had to go through.”

The company then promised to give Michael a full refund.

“First off, make sure you know who you’re speaking with,” says Talpai. “People need to know about this… so that they don’t fall victim no matter who they’re flying with.”