Posted by: jeanne | July 13, 2010

a cancelled ticket

airline does right by its customers – yay

you may remember, back around easter of this year, that my friend marie passed away suddenly.  i flew into a panic, and spent most of a day trying to arrange for a flight so i could go to the funeral.  marie had been my friend for 25 years, our oldest kids were the same age, and i had missed seeing her the last time i was there.  so in between tears and heavy sighs, i called delta, my local puddle jumper, who i thought might give me a bereavement fee (because last minute flights were running at $1600), but they couldn’t do anything for me.

a little daunted, because we didn’t have a thousand dollars we could get our hands on, i checked on the various other airlines, and was very surprised to see a roughly $800 ticket being offered by usair.  so i sent jim down to the bank with cash to cover it, and bought the ticket online.

and then i started packing, because the flight was the very next day, and it takes me a week to organize for a trip – what kind of clothes do i have for a funeral?  my stomach churned as i tried to sleep, and i grew feverish trying to remember everything i needed to do before leaving for the airport.

that night, both jim and i got sick.  jim has a sort-of heart condition, and faints from time to time.  when he does this, he usually falls and hits his head, and we’ve had him in the hospital several times with the results of that.  so when i got up to puke in the middle of the night, and he said he felt a little dizzy, i checked and found he was running a fever, and i knew we were in trouble.

i can’t go anywhere when jim is sick.  if he falls down and doesn’t land flat, he might asphyxiate and not get up anymore.  tho i was sick myself,  i kept him in bed so that if he was going to faint he would do it right there, got him a bowl to get sick into, and called the airline to cancel my trip.

the agent cancelled my reservation, sympathizing with both my loss and my new problem, advised me there’d be a hefty change fee, but said i had a year to use what was left of the ticket.  i felt lucky; relieved but ill.  then i promptly  threw up again and put myself back to bed next to jim.  we stayed in bed for two days, and were okay after that.  i made a tired joke about swine flu.

(it turned out to be a very expensive week, because while we were taking a slow walk around the block a few days later we witnessed a very large and unruly stray dog chasing and catching our old cat.  i caught the dog and called animal control, and jim took the poor cat to the vet, spent a thousand dollars running tests and salving her pain, and ended up having to put the poor creature down.  so, two thousand dollars spent on nothing, just like that.)

* * *

months later, i’m speaking with my sister about our brave sister in law, who’s getting ready to have triplets.  we figure we’ll wait until the babies get home and they’ve had a chance to adjust, and then we’ll descend on them for xmas.  so i get out the original ticket that i canceled at easter, and email us airways to find out if i can make that original international ticket stretch to two domestic tickets so that both jim and i can go visit.

the answer comes back:

When passengers do not fly on their scheduled itinerary, they must cancel their reservation on or before the day of departure to retain the value of their ticket for future use. If a reservation is not canceled, then the passenger will be unable to use the ticket for future travel. Your ticket has No Value.

that’s interesting they remind me of this irrelevant point, i think.  i did cancel.  what does it mean that my ticket has No Value?

so i call the contact number, choose to talk to an agent about changing my reservation, and ask if i can use my ex ticket to buy both jim and myself a new ticket, or is the ticket good only for the original purchaser.

and she informs me that i don’t have a valid ticket.  it was listed as a no-show at the time, and i can’t change it because it isn’t any good.  this takes me some time to digest, and she is patient with me.

but i called and canceled, i whine.  well, it’s listed as no-show on the computer, she says.  what can i do about that, i cry.  not a lot, the agent admits.  there’s nothing they can do about it in their department, and i would have to write to customer service if i want to take it further.  my heart sinks, because i realize that other than a phone call while i was having a fever and throwing up, i have no cancellation code, no email confirming i’d canceled, no proof at all.  a thousand dollars – poof.

it’s not like this is a tiny bubble.  a thousand dollars is more than what jim pulls in from social security in a month, and i don’t make any money at all since i got cancer.  so we live like poor old people, never eating out, never buying goodies, never going to movies (we get all our movies from the library for free).  it’s a major investment to buy a plane ticket, and takes many months of putting money aside.  losing two thousand dollars meant we couldn’t get jim’s teeth fixed until next year.  being told that my ticket’s value dribbled away as i lay there being sick that day was like moving the bowl as i was throwing up.

with a sinking heart, i emailed customer service.  the agent was specific about that.  they don’t answer the phone, she said, and i had to write to them.  whether or not i got my ticket back was up to them, and them alone, and she wished me luck.  i thanked her for her help and wrote a pitiful note to customer service at usair, telling them my woes and asking for my ticket back.

and lo and behold, in less time than they allow for a response, i had a note in my inbox from customer relations at us airways.  which opened saying they were “happy to be of service”.  i can’t imagine a more hopeful beginning to a letter.

it went on to say this:

As a one-time goodwill gesture, I have restored the value of your unused ticket…
thank you for giving us the opportunity to address your concerns.

when i first opened the email, i was expecting it to use legalese to say ‘tough shit, bitch.’  it might have run me around, chastising me for not following procedures while letting me hope i could somehow salvage the loss but then slamming my fingers in the door in the end.  i had visions of being in the hands of someone like bp, whittling my claim down to nothing and then charging me for trying to extort money from them.  i had already kissed that money goodbye, and with it any hope of traveling for all of next year.  i had little hope when i opened the email.

but there’s the good fairy of fliers, sitting at a computer at usair, working to restore my hope for corporate humanity with one sentence.  no argument about procedure, no warning me that i didn’t really cancel my ticket and it’s only because they’re being nice that i can have the value back.

i got a customer service agent who joyously gave me my ticket back and thanked me for being a good customer.  you can’t get much better than that these days.

so i said i would write a blog entry about how nice they were, and how unusual it is to find a problem that gets so easily resolved.  i was so nervous that they’d just pull the old teflon corporation act and penalize me for something i hadn’t known was wrong, just because they could.  but the moment i got above the ticket agent without the power to help, i got exactly what i asked for.

and since i’m not the kind of person to ask for a waiver of the change fee and a comp to first class for my inconvenience (my daughter is, however, so i guess they’re lucky, too), i consider myself lucky to still have most of a ticket to use later.  because now i can go visit my little nieces during the holidays.

so, thanks usair, for being an honorable company, and preferring to help out your customers when you could have just made me go away.  like the way a cellphone company treats its customers.  but then, i gave my cellphone up when i realized i was at the mercy of the phone company, and i never want to give up flying.

and thanks, rs, and i hope you get recommended for a bonus at your next performance review.

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