Sunday, July 04, 2010


A shared trip can cement a friendship ... or ruin it forever. Sometimes you don't even have to go.

A reader was planning a trip with a friend, and had already made the hotel reservations. The problem was airfare: Since the trip was for a holiday weekend, my reader was having trouble finding reasonably priced tickets.

"I asked my friend to see if she could find a better deal," my reader writes.

That proved to be a good idea: Her friend soon called to say that she had been able to find tickets at a price that, while still high, was better than either of them had found previously.

"I told her that, although the price is high, to go ahead," my reader recalls.

A few days later, however, the two happened to meet, and my reader's friend asked if she had bought her airline ticket yet. Apparently she had misunderstood the situation and bought only her own ticket.

"I was amazed and upset," my reader writes, "knowing that, as time goes by, the price only goes up. Indeed, when I did get online and bought the ticket, the difference was about $180 more than what she had quoted me."

Sensing how upset my reader was, her friend has offered to pay the difference in the airfares. My reader feels awkward about the whole thing, however, especially in light of the fact that she is in a better financial position than her friend. What's more, she is not only a friend to this woman, but also her mentor.

"What do you think is the ethical course here?," she asks.

Clearly there was a miscommunication between my reader and her friend. The mistake was an honest one and, while it is gracious of her friend to offer to pay the difference in the ticket prices, she has no obligation to do so. Likewise, though she has chosen to do so, my reader has no obligation to accept the offer.

In short, the question here is not so much "What is the right thing to do?," but rather "What is the best thing to do?"

Frankly, there's likely to be awkwardness no matter which way my reader chooses to resolve the issue. Does she really want to risk an unpleasant trip if she lets her friend pay part of her fare? But, if my reader pays the full cost, is she going to be able to keep that from coloring her feelings toward her friend on the trip?

On balance I think it would be best for my reader to foot the full cost. From an ethical perspective, it's significant that she is in a better position to pay for the more expensive ticket than is her friend. In a situation involving an honest mistake, the resolution that does the least overall damage is usually the ethical choice. And it is, after all, my reader's ticket, so she bears at least some of the fault for not having made sure that her friend understood that she was expected to book both tickets.

Given that my reader is not adamant that her friend pay the difference between the tickets, the right thing for her to do is to chalk up the whole incident to a miscommunication and take responsibility for her own ticket. A good lesson for future excursions is to be explicit anytime she wants someone else to book tickets or attend to other essential business - or, of course, to do it herself rather than leave it to others.

Before she decides to foot the bill for the additional charges, however, my reader should make sure that she is capable of not holding a grudge against her friend. As her friend's mentor, she can use the whole experience as a lesson in the importance of clear communications.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is another option - they can split the difference so that they each end up paying the same amount in total.