South African admits their mistake; refunds extortion payments

IMG00859-20110217-0726A couple weeks ago on my jaunt to Mauritius I had the great pleasure of flying on South African Airways, with one minor exception: they demanded $300 extra from me at departure to keep flights scheduled around my originally booked times following a schedule change that they initiated. Both twitter and this blog got their attention but the initial email conversations I had with them didn’t get very far and they stood their ground, insisting that it was my problem not theirs. Fortunately time heals some wounds, or at least give folks the chance to reconsider bad decisions. I’m happy to say that they have come full circle on this issue and acknowledged their error.

I received a call from a SAA representative late last week informing me of the good news and apologizing for the confusion. It was a nice chat and I’m glad that we had the opportunity to discuss the issue. The explanation given for why it happened in the first place was a bit weak, particularly given the specific details of the case, but in the long run it is the end results that matter and I got what I should have. It is somewhat disappointing that someone from the public relations side of the house had to “escalate the issue several levels within the organization” just to do what is right, especially when the customer service folks didn’t seem very interested at all. I’m sure the fact that American Express had initially sided with me in the charge dispute didn’t hurt my claim either.

Based on this turnabout on their part and the quality service I received in-flight I’m no longer hesitant to recommend flying with SAA. The product is one of the better long-haul economy experiences I’ve had and, so long as there isn’t a schedule change or you don’t need to deal with the airport agents too much, it really is a decent way to travel. Plus, I get to experience them again – in Business Class this time – on an upcoming award trip. Should be fun.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. You mention your issue being resolved and how that makes you want to recommend them, but you don’t mention that they have corrected this internally as to why they charged the fee in the first place, and whether others are likely to experience the same.

    I find it disingenuous and even concerning that you are willing to recommend a company that may very well screw the next person in line (based on your recommendation), in the exact same manner but that person would not have the available resources you had available to address their issue. And you are recommending them because they made you whole, not necessarily that they fixed anything.

    It could be your discussion with PR involved changes to correct the root of the problem, but your blog is not addressing that at all.

  2. Maybe they will screw the next guy. Anything is possible. So could any other carrier. What converted me on this particular issue is that they got it right in the end. Sure, it was a couple extra hours out of my life that I wish I hadn’t had to spend fighting with them, but they did right in the end.

    As for resources available, the most powerful ones are knowledge of what is right and the credit card company’s charge-back policies. Everything else is just shine.

  3. I wish I could agree with you on their service, but for those of us (who I know personally) who fly the long-haul African routes, inter-SA and intra-Africa regularly, SAA isn’t usually the first choice. I posted this recently elsewhere (I forget where, maybe on Lucky’s blog, maybe on FT), but I will look to BA whenever they share a routing with SAA. The service levels are simply too unpredictable with SAA, and I’ve had issues with fraudulent charges, etc., as well. Not the kind of insult you had, but they seem quite adept at turning transactions into projects, and I don’t have the patience for it.

  4. Anytime a blogger changes her or his mind on a company after a long struggle to “get it right” does not pass the stink test. It took weeks of escalation and emails with PR pushing it up the ladder internally to get this resolved. They only did this because your blog is on an influential site.

    To call it “shine” smells of bumf (and I am being very generous here.)

    I have learned a couple things:

    1) Don’t fly SAA.
    2) Bloggers can be bought for $305.

    1. As you wish, Brian.

      Truth be told, I already had my money back because AmEx stood up for me. If they never called me then I still would have had my money so them deciding to give me the money wasn’t actually the difference; I already had it. The difference was that they actually followed up. That’s what does it for me. Oh, and the “weeks of escalation” that I pursued was actually only 3 emails and the one time they called me after I challenged the charge. I spent more time fighting with them at JFK when they screwed me the first time then I did solving the problem.

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