For many months, my husband and I had been planning a a special vacation. Due to unforeseen circumstances, not illness, we were forced to cancel the trip. We plan to reschedule it.
When this became apparent, I needed to cancel our flight reservations. This meant contacting the airline – definitely not my favorite pastime – or as it turned out, full-time. The automated system immediately welcomed me on the phone, and, as instructed by the “voice” on the other end, I pushed all the right buttons on my key pad to modify our reservation. I was then told, by this talking computer that “ all representatives were busy helping other customers, but a representative would be with me shortly.”
During my inquiry to the airline, my husband, Louie, had been waiting to be seated at a busy restaurant while I stepped outside to make this phone call. By the time the “voice” had allowed me to speak with a human representative some 20 minutes later, he was not only sitting at a table, but could have been eating dessert when I finally joined him. I appreciate that he waited to order.
I learned from the airline representative, by now a real person who said she was sorry to break the bad news, that to cancel our tickets would cost us a fee of $200 per ticket penalty fee. That is a considerable fee considering our tickets “only“ cost $312 each. Expecting a penalty but not the figure I just heard, I gasped for breath. I explained again that our change in plans was unavoidable, and that I had never heard of such a high fee, although I had expected that there would be a cost to make changes. The human “voice” calmly reassured me that, indeed, it was $200 per ticket for both cancellations and changes – even if I made another ticket that very minute for rescheduling our trip. Not able to comprehend the full impact of this news, I said I would talk with my husband and get back with the airline.
I don’t know why I didn’t cancel at that moment because we truly could not take our scheduled flight. Maybe I thought I could figure out a way to get out of this unreasonable situation, or my husband would have other ideas, or we should push ahead and make the trip anyway. I was stunned. Needless to say, I did not enjoy lunch – I don’t even remember what I ate. But the truth was that we had to cancel this trip and though we plan to reschedule it, didn’t know when new dates would work for us.
Clearly, with this kind of policy about changes, I didn’t want to get on the airline schedule to have to go through financial ruin again. While the scant remainder of our ticket costs would apply to subsequent flights if used by March 2015, the left-over dollar amount was minimal especially compared to the cancellation fees. The human “voice” also told me that if I needed assistance from the airline to help me re-book, there would be additional $25 fees per ticket.
Later that evening, I made the phone call to confirm what I had to un-confirm. I steeled myself to throw money away – I officially canceled our tickets.
I dialed the airline and got the same friendly human-sounding computer message welcoming me as a valued customer. I was told to push a particular key or say the number that would connect me to a human being somewhere in the world. I’ve learned, by now, to say “representative” as loud as I can from the moment I am connected, but I went through the key pad routine, maybe hoping for a last minute reprieve.
I cancelled our tickets.
I also asked why there was such a stiff fee – more than ½ the cost of each ticket. The human “voice” graciously told me that he would have to connect me with another representative who could help me with my question. I knew what might happen – I feared it would happen. It did happen. I was put on “hold” – I heard glip-glop “music”, and I waited and waited and waited– finally putting my land line phone on speaker so my husband and I could listen to the most non-descript excuse for music you could imagine without holding the receiver by my ear. The sound played over and over and over…….with an occasional interruption from a computer voice who said “they valued my business and an operator would be with me shortly”. The quasi-music continued……….I went about my business and waited. The phrase “shortly” is subjective.
Thinking I may have a way to circumvent what by now was a half hour wait, I continued to let the music play on my land line and also dialed the airline on my cell phone. Surely two phones could be better than one.
I got the same gobbly gook announcements and was eventually placed on hold on my cell phone, reassured that the “operators were helping someone else and would be with me shortly”. I started to believe the contrary: that there was only one operator, if any, and he or she had a waiting list of customers around the world also waiting to have some question addressed. I no longer believed that there were multiple operators who wanted to speak with me. Maybe there was no operator at all.
I let both phones chirp away. I became increasingly annoyed – infuriated would be too polite to describe my reaction. No one would answer; no one would talk with me. Did they even know I was there? That I had just lost hundreds of dollars because of their ruthless rules! Evidently their cancellation policies didn’t include a dollar value for my time, aggravation, and exhausted patience. I started to realize that perhaps this was the airline’s MASTER PLAN – to keep you waiting on “hold” so long and to make you so aggravated that you just give up.
They don’t know me.
I found a way to “contact” them on line –which I did. I also received a questionnaire on my e mail asking for feedback about my phone call. Need I tell you what I wrote? If they want satisfied customers, they better look elsewhere than me.
Let me assure you that the customer representative online was unrelenting in refusing to reduce the penalty fee or even explain why it is so high, while reassuring me the airline values my business.
I can rant and rave forever about this unfairness. I can bemoan hard-earned money down the drain. I can be an injustice collector. I can tell you that I know that to feel taken advantage of and ignored and made to wait and not responded to taps into deep feelings for me. I think it would for most everybody. It helps to realize all this about myself. It does not change the reality of my attempts to communicate and the ridiculous phone experience with the airline. Reality of airline policy does not bring back my money or provide customer satisfaction.
To use the “friendly skies” one must first endure lack of value given to the traveler, who reclines in fetal positions in cramped seats on long flights, pays $5 or more for a few potato chips (I bring my own food), searches for lost luggage, and endures airline flight delays and cancellations – without explanation.
But wait, I am not giving up. I realize that things often happen for reasons unknown to us at the time – or ever – and that we are not defined by someone else’s decisions. We move on – maybe drive, take out travelers’ insurance, and find creative ways to travel successfully thorough out life.
I guess I should just be thankful that what goes up comes down. As far as that metaphor goes, my flying experiences have been perfect.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with the exorbitant cost of airline tickets combined with outrageous cancellation fees. My appeal to the airline to reconsider their outrageous cancellation fee was denied. I was told this was policy: no exceptions. Of course, they were cordial and friendly as they basically said “suck up the loss”.
Glitzy advertisements invite us to “fly the friendly skies”. Traveler beware: while the skies may be friendly, airline policies on the ground definitely are not.