(Follow the whole story at http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/tag/trapped-in-georgia/.)
As expected, US Airways refused to refund the $500 we paid to get my wife home after her illness, and instead offered me five $150 travel vouchers, one for each ticket. I told the customer relations rep that she could send the vouchers if she wanted to, but as she well knew, it was extremely unlikely that I would ever use them. The rep proved herself to be both clueless and willing to lie to my face.
We got a voicemail message at 3:42pm yesterday (names and phone numbers changed because I don’t want to be rude):
Hi, Mr. Kamens. This is Jane Doe at Customer Relations, US Airways. Just responding to your letter and we’d like to have a full conversation about your ongoing concerns regarding the reissue fee and ad collect to reissue your tickets when your family was ill, and we wish them good health and godspeed and a speedy recovery. If you could call me — I work from 7 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon Monday through Friday. I can be reached at 123-456-7890 and I’d be more than glad to speak with you. Have a great day sir.
A couple of minutes later we got a second message:
Hi Mr. Kamens. This is Jane Doe calling from US Airways. Wanted to specify the time of the timezones that I work in. It’s mountain standard time. Right now this call is going out at 12:44. That would make your time 2:44. I believe we do currently have a 2-hour difference. So, that information I hope it’s helpful in connecting with us, and we’d be more than glad, again, to speak with you. Have a great day sir.
Apparently, no one told Jane that DST started on March 8, and that since Arizona doesn’t observe DST, the time difference between Arizona and Massachusetts is currently three hours, not two.
I called the given number and reached her directly on the first try (wow!). I’m not going to transcribe the whole call, but I’ll share some interesting tidbits:
Jane: I want to make sure that we’ve addressed everything that we can, find a way to bring closure to your situation, and I was just wondering how can we do that? How can we help make this better?
Me: Well, I mean I think I’ve said pretty much everything I have to say in my letter about what I thought went wrong, so I think the ball’s in your court. Why don’t you tell me what you think you can do to make this better.
Jane: What would bring closure in your mind’s eye?
Me: Well, I mean, I think… (pause for thought)
Jane: I understand the severity of your wife’s situation. and I understand that she had the flu and she was sick and it was going to make it difficult to fly. Across the board, every airline has reissue fees and they have to reprice the ticket when you make changes, and that’s just to make changes…
Me: OK, so that’s not true. Southwest Airlines has no reissue fee, they charge zero dollars…
Jane: It’s the only airline, you’re correct, Southwest is the only airline that does not. [caught in a lie!]
Jane: [claims that US Airways had no choice but to charge the difference in price of the two tickets]
Me: If the CEO of your company wanted to give someone a free ticket to fly on his airline, would he be allowed to do that, legally?
Me: He wouldn’t be allowed, you never give away free travel on your airline, you’ve never given anyone a free trip anywhere?
Jane: You said on another airline. [no I didn’t!]
Me: No, I mean on US Airways. If your CEO wanted to give someone a free ticket on US Airways and not charge for it, would he be legally allowed to do that?
Me: How would that be different from saying to my wife, “You know, we understand that you were sick, and we’re not going to charge you for these tickets on the next day’s flight because we understand that you were unable to fly because you were sick. So it’s just erroneous to say that you would be unable to give my wife new tickets without charging her. It’s a decision that the airline makes to do that.”
Jane: [claimed that every other airline except Southwest would have charged us to reissue the tickets for my wife]
Me: And what are their policies about people who can’t fly because they are ill?
Jane: That’s up to their way of doing business and what their business model is. I do know that they have reissue fees, they do have ad collects. [In other words, either she knows zip about what the other airlines would have done about our situation and was lying again, or she knows that some of them would have waived the difference in cost and didn’t want to admit it.]
Me: What if my wife had shown up at the airport and she was visibly too sick to fly. What would the gate staff have done?
Jane: If an individual is too sick to fly, they don’t fly.
Me: And then does the airline reissue their tickets?
Me: If the gate staff makes a decision that that person is a danger to other passengers and they have to be taken off that flight, do they give them new tickets for the next day’s flight?
Me: My impression is that they would have to reissue their tickets and they wouldn’t charge for it. So the only difference here between that situation and this one is that I called up and said, ‘My wife has been spending all night on the floor of the bathroom throwing up and having diarrhea and can’t fly and if she shows up at the airport, that’s going to be visibly obvious, and I want to make arrangements.’ That’s the only difference. And I had a letter from the nurse who took care of her and diagnosed her, verifying that that was the case.
Jane: You and I both know all these facts. We have communicated all of your concerns to the various divisions that need to know about your concerns with the reissue fee. But right now we’re trying to bring closure to your situation [there’s that word again!] and how can we do that?
Me: In terms of closure to my situation, the only form of closure that would be in any way a form of closure would be to give me back the $500 that I had to pay for my wife to fly home the next day.
Jane: I can’t refund the reissue fees. What I can do is send you out five electronic vouchers in the amount of $150 per voucher… issued in the names of the passengers who flew.
Me: So, I mean, if you want to issue vouchers to me, that’s fine, but the odds are that I will not use them, because I have no desire to ever fly on your airline again, so that’s not really bringing me any closure.
There was a bit more back-and-forth after that, but that was pretty much the end of the conversation.
Leaving aside the question of whether we should have been charged to change my wife’s tickets, at no time during this conversation did Jane ever admit that US Airways had done anything wrong with regard to any of the terrible experiences my wife and I had dealing with the airline throughout the day.
At no time during this conversation did Jane ever apologize in any way for any of what we experienced.
And this is one of the people that US Airways employs to placate angry customers! Astounding!
Interestingly, it’s now over an hour after our conversation ended, and the travel vouchers still haven’t arrived. I wonder if they ever will.
UPDATE: The vouchers did arrive later in the day, with the following introduction:
Dear Mr. Kamens,
On behalf of US Airways and the entire Customer Relations team, please accept our sincere apology for the travel difficulties you experienced. Your concerns have been thoroughly documented and your comments have been shared with the appropriate management teams to help us improve our service.
We are so sorry for the difficulties that you experienced re-booking your flights. We have shared your experience with the manager of the reservation center.
We have authorized five Electronic Travel with Us Voucher (E-TUV) in the amount of $150.00 as a gesture of goodwill.
Wow, look at that, an apology! What a shame that it came so late and with such a useless “gesture of goodwill” attached to it.