It was either a very, very nice sale or a mistake fare. Either way I’m not all that surprised that the airline did not want to honor the ticket I was issued. Even sold by a US-based OTA the DoT regulations probably do not apply either. And so my very cheap business class trip from Asia to Canada is not to be. I’m mildly annoyed about that, but also accept that this is what happens with these fares. That said, I’m very, very frustrated with the way the cancellation was handled, both by the airline and the OTA.
For starters, no indication or notification that the ticket was suspended. I only found out when I logged on 5 days later to check flight times to book the connecting segments I’d need to finish out the trip. Even worse, some two weeks later after it was clear that the ticket would not be reinstated I received another confirmation email from the airline stating that the ticket was confirmed. I think they’re trolling me.
Separate from that was the pain in communicating with either party. The OTA could answer the phone quickly – I never waited more than a minute for the initial rep to pick up – but that agent inevitably was unable to do anything with the reservation. I was stuck waiting for a supervisor for more than an hour on average over the handful of calls I made. More than once I sat down for a meal with the call on hold, able to finish a leisurely dinner without an agent coming on to the line. And, even as I would eventually reach the correct supervisor, I found that the call would magically disconnect. Sometimes they’d call back. Sometimes not. And no way to know which it would be until it happened.
There were the claims that the ticket was never issued, despite the fact that the ticket number was clearly in the reservation record. There were other, similar misstatements of fact. It was a customer service nightmare and no one seemed to care.
The airline was a similar mess, though in other ways. Again, calls were answered quickly but for some reason the call center in Bahrain was assigned my case. Other offices (with toll free or cheap phone call service) refused to touch the reservation. And so I’d sit on Skype listening to agents spout off a variety of excuses, including that I did not have the proper visa (Visa on Arrival is readily available for my layover; no visa required at the origin nor destination), that I had a duplicate reservation (one paid/confirmed, one just held) so they canceled both and, eventually, that it was a fare error made by the OTA or by the airline but that it was not going to be honored, even after agents assured me that cancelling was a mistake and that the trip would be reinstated.
Perhaps worst of all was the smug replies from the OTA, informing me that it would be willing to refund my fare paid without any fees, as if that was doing me some sort of favor. No effort to challenge the airline on the suspect claims of an “error” in the fare. No answers as to why I was not notified. No real help at all.
After a few tweets over the course of the effort, increasingly frustrated with long hold times, dropped calls and the inevitable “it must not be our fault” comments from agents I eventually heard back from someone who possibly could actually help, not the actual company twitter account (that reply finally came another 2 hours later, more than a week after I first reached out) but the personal account of the Director of Communications. Maybe I was finally making progress. Nope. The reply was reasonably timely, I suppose – only 3.5 hours from when I sent my trip details to the email response – but absolutely no help offered in terms of getting the trip fixed, short of me buying a new ticket.
So, why use an OTA? After all, they always cause problems, right? That is actually not my experience. OTAs can offer mixed carrier itineraries or access to other fares which airlines do not sell directly. And, strangely enough, sometimes dealing with the OTA is easier than dealing with the airline, particularly on smaller carriers. If nothing else, at least I wasn’t paying 25 cents/minute to call the carrier for hours at a time, though my Skype balance did take a hit. And it is not like the airline was willing to deal with the situation directly, either.
So, at the end of all that, what’s the verdict here? Mostly that customer service does matter. And I had a lot of shitty customer service in the past couple weeks. But not enough to say “never again” to the vendors involved. I know better.