19 October 2010

Which Is The Meanest Airline…

At WIT today in Singapore – the theme today was LOVE. And you could feel it. A group of people who were really enjoying themselves. Travel is a very aspirational subject. But over the last few weeks I have experienced probably what to me is the world’s meanest airline. I don’t use this word lightly.

And no its not Ryanair… its not even a LCC, it is indeed a full service carrier. So I flew this airline several times over the past week. I would have flown them more but .. well they wouldn’t let me.

For many people when they have a dispute with an airline they bitch and moan and write letters but it’s a fruitless task. Chris Elliott writes about this a lot on his Blog and News letters. In my view there are emotional parts of this and then there are hard issues. Individually these things would be an annoyance. Collectively they are bad. However to discover that it is systematic – is actually scary.

I am an advocate of airlines ancillaries as a way to make money. Let me state categorically – I hate it – personally, when the fees are imposed on the user, but I understand it. Peter Harbison who is Executive Chairman and Founder of CAPA (a panelist at my session on airlines at WIT) quoted a recent statistic that showed the airlines make MORE money out of change fees than they do out of bags and seats.

It is not just about setting fees… many airlines have fees and most of them are pretty silly and its somewhat of a hidden rule that airlines will waive the fees in most cases if its reasonable. And airline staff – because they are indeed human – are actually a pretty nice lot.

However this airline in question forces behavior that takes away this ability to make a decision with that degree of flexibility. How do they do that?

Firstly they have the longest list of fees I have seen from a full service airline.

Secondly they make communicating with them almost impossible. You can only look at the reservation with your PNR RLOC. Every other airline on the planet allows you to do it with different information – Nope not these guys. So if you book an alliance ticket under a JV even you basically cannot speak to them. Oh yes and there is almost no way to speak to them without costing yourself some money.

Now if you have ANY ticket (other than Full fare First class) explicitly requires a change of the ticket. That is the rule. That means the airport staff can’t make optional changes only flight interruption type changes. Every ticketing change extracts a ticket exchange fee. Even if the fare allows changes. Most changes cannot be accommodated online so the automatic fee for speaking to a human automatically applies.

In my specific case I bought a round the world business class fare. It’s a regular fare and its been in the market for probably about 10 years or more. Its one of the best deals out there…

The fare allowed 2 stops in Australia and a limited number worldwide. So I changed a leg and saved myself some money by throwing away a coupon. The itinerary portion was: LHR-SEA (arnk) LAX-MEL-BNE-SYD-SIN-BOM-LHR. Arriving in MEL I asked to move to a different flight and get off in SYD. Sure said the guy $175 dollars. Well I tell you what I will waive that if you pay a $90 change fee. But I can waive it because its within the same day… So now I should be in BNE but actually I went to SYD. I bought a new ticket to BNE on a cheaper airline (Jetstar). Once in BNE I asked to change my flight and take a different one back to SYD.
“no sir your ticket does not allow a stop in Australia”
Huh? But I am in Australia.
“sorry sir you are not supposed to be here according to us”
OK so can I get back to SYD
“no sir you cannot do that because it is against the fare rules of the ticket. And it doesn’t matter that you are a mega flier”

So I contacted the agent and he confirmed that the rules require a change but he didn’t understand the “not allowed to stop in Australia” question since the ticket was written that way and it is actually the home of that airline. (oops that was a bit of a give away).

So I bought a new airline ticket from BNE to SYD (on Virgin Blue).

Once back in SYD I called the airline again.

Hello Qantas – yes I found my RLOC – can you just cancel the segment from BNE to SYD – but keep my already booked flight up to SIN?
“Sorry sir you are not allowed to stop in Australia on this ticket – I just checked (10 mins) with the fare desk and that is the ruling.”
Huh? Can you look at the history of my original ticket – it shows a legally issued ticket and it showed 2 stops – Ask them again?

“Sir the fare people have ruled there is no point in discussing this you are not allowed to stop in Australia on this fare”
At least look at the history of the reservation. Do you see that it originally had 2 stops in Australia in it?
“Oh yes sir – I see that – let me call the fare desk again – please hold…. (20 mins later) .. yes sir I can see that you did book this. Our fare desk now agrees (as do I by the way and I always thought they were being a bit harsh). So because we seem to have interpreted it badly so we will in this case waive the $175 fee and the $80 change fee and the $10 telephone fee”

Hello Qantas Club – can you print me a copy of the reservation with all the remarks? No sire we are not allowed to do that.

And there you have it… I have asked for a refund… but do I think I will get one?

So my nomination for meanest airline of the year – yes Mr Joyce’s Qantas. I do want to say that their customer service people are not necessarily a reflection of this attitude but it wont be long before it happens. Check out the fee list… find it here: http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/schedule-of-fees/au/en and its very complicated and QF clearly spent quite some time enhancing this set of pages.

This is not your father’s Qantas – not even John Travolta’s V-Jet Qantas. This is the “hard nose profit and let’s screw the customer so he doesn’t realize it” airline. I don’t think I will be finding excuses to fly them again. I admire their business acumen - its just sad to see the brand take this turn. I always have hope about people’s behavior changing but I really hope they don’t carry on doing this.


1 comment:

Professor Sabena said...

And for America's meanest Airlines - go here:


Watch out for my follow up...