Monday, July 7, 2008

Caution: Pan Asia-Pacific Airline Ticket Troubles Humble Veteran Traveler

I just purchased my first pan-Asia airline ticket since 9-11. Things have changed. And not just the price. My itinerary: San Diego, LAX, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland back to the US. Another difference this time – I had to do the booking myself, without the services of a travel agent. As a legacy flyer (over 1-million miles) on a legacy airline (United), I tried to book my itinerary on United and its partner airlines, figuring if I ran into trouble, they’d be more likely to help. Here are the road-blocks, obstacles and surprises I ran into:
1) Couldn’t book it on-line. It was all going smoothly on line, until I tried booking the segment from Sydney to Melbourne. This should have been easy, because there are over a dozen daily flights. United kept wanting to send me back to Singapore, to fly from Sydney to Melbourne. (At this point, I called United ticketing).
2) Through Singapore Airlines, United offered a flight leaving KL with a change of planes in Singapore for Sydney. Issue: sold out in economy class. When I asked how much that segment cost flying business, I was told that I would be required to book the whole itinerary in business (which was out of the question). I asked about direct flights on Malaysia airlines – perfect, a direct flight, less hassle, gets me to Sydney early in the morning for a full day of work. Booked it.
3) United no longer has a partner airline in Australia, so the United agent suggested I take Virgin airlines. “I often book people on Virgin,” she said – recommending the airline. OK, book me.
4) The agent quoted a price of $4,500 before taxes. I said that was fine. She said she needed to send it to the rate desk for final pricing. This was on Tuesday. I was given a deadline of issuing the ticket Sunday midnight.
5) By close of business on Friday, I hadn’t heard from the rate desk. I called United to purchase the ticket. They said it’s still at the rate desk. They say they’ll call back. I give them my mobile.
6) They call on Saturday. The price, $7,500. At this point, I’m stuck, because the consolidators I know aren’t working Saturday afternoon …
7) On Sunday (a week ago) – I purchase the ticket. In fact, they do it as 3 tickets. 2 United tickets (one covering the domestic flights, the other the international flights) and the Malaysian air flight. The United tickets are e-tickets. They will issue a “paper ticket” for Malaysia airlines. They tell me they will Fed Ex it, and it will arrive Tuesday, July 1st. Fine.
8) On Weds. Morning the ticket has not arrived so I call. “Do you have a tracking number?” I asked. “We mailed it.” Hmmm, I’m skeptical it will arrive in time. “Don’t worry … just go to the airport three hours before departure, and you can file a “lost ticket” claim and have the ticket reissued. (By the way, when I reviewed my Amex bill, I saw three charges of $25/each for “mail ticket.”)
9) Saturday afternoon, check the mail box. No ticket.
10) San Diego commuter airport, Sunday morning. “We can’t issue the ticket – but you can do it in Los Angeles when you get there.”
11) When I arrive in LAX, I go to customer service, wait ½ hour in line. “We can’t issue it here … you need to go to ticketing outside security, but you don’t have time. When you arrive in Hong Kong, go to the ticketing desk there and get it done” – don’t these people realize business travelers have appointments to dash to when arriving?
12) Captain can’t make the flight; a 2.5 hour delay is announced, so another captain can be brought in. Alright, enough time to get the ticket (I assume). I go to the Red Carpet Club to see if anyone there has the “magic powers” to do this ticket. (At United 10-years ago, the people in the 100K flyer lounge had the magic powers at LAX.) No, but he recommends I go to terminal 6 – one terminal over, because they have a 100K line, and I’ll get better service there.
13) Arrive at the 100K desk. They are polite, but can’t do a thing. I need to go back to terminal 7 and find “Line 7” which is for “paper ticketing” and lost tickets. They tell me there’s a person there who can help me. This is a slow moving line. Fortunately, I have a thick book: Texas by James Michener, and I have nothing better to do than read while waiting 45 minutes in line. As advertised, this is “the man” (actually a woman). And, the ticket is issued in about 10 minutes as she does research, makes phone calls and punches keys. I give her a United “attaboy” coupon for excellent service. “By the way, how about that ticket from Sydney to Melbourne?” I ask. “Is that a paper ticket also?” She responds, “There is no ticket. You have to go and buy that yourself.” And, in one of the positive changes the last 10 years, I pull out my computer, log into the wireless network, go to Yahoo travel, and book an e-ticket on QANTAS (adding another $210 to the total cost of air travel).
14) In summary, the people who did the original ticketing at United’s international desk:
a. Didn’t say the Malaysian airlines ticket needed to be purchased separately.
b. On two occasions, never mentioned that the ticket in Australia needed to be purchased separately.
c) Sent part of the ticket via "snail mail" instead of FedEx, which didn't arrive before my departure.

Travelers beware!

1 comment:

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