I gifted a domestic first class award. It was for a fairly well-known personality who offered to speak at an event for a non-profit I’m involved with. A non-stop first class flight was a requirement, and he was doing us a favor after all. Neither we nor I was going to come out of pocket for it (it was basically a transcon and pricey, no discounted first class available) so I offered to burn some miles.
I needed to book a one-way flight, since there was saver availability on US Airways for the outbound and saver availabiltiy on United for the return. So I used American miles for the US Airways flight. (US Airways does not offer one-ways at half the price of roundtrip.)
A couple of months pass, and I receive an e-mail e-ticket update from American. The US Airways non-stop flight was now an American connecting itinerary through Dallas. Hmm… that’s strange.
I look up the original flight and two things had happened:
- There was a 10 minute schedule change
- The flight number had changed.
Since ‘my flight’ was no longer available after this change, American’s systems rebooked the passenger in first class on their own flights.
That wasn’t going to be ok, since the agreement was that we provide a first class ticket. So I rang up American.
The first agent I spoke to was unhelpful and as unpleasant as can be. She wouldn’t let me finish the story. She was lecturing me.
- This was originally an American Airlines flight, not a US Airways flight
- American no longer operates the route.
- American and US Airways are still separate airlines, she can’t just change airlines for me and put the passenger on US Airways.
- But she would check if there’s availability on US Airways.
Now, I think I know the difference between an American flight and a US Airways one. It was a flight between a US Airways hub and a city that’s a hub for neither carrier. It was definitely a US Airways-operated flight.
And all that happened was a schedule change of a few minutes and a flight number change.
There’s no first class award space on the US Airways flight now. I already checked that. But I waited patiently because the agent wasn’t one that was going to appreciate any knowledge that contradicted her own, or that I had done my own research. I tried to stay sweet and pleasant while she lectured me about how I didn’t know what flight I had originally booked, and seemed to imply I was trying to put something over on her.
She came back and informed me that there was no award space on the flight I wanted, that the itinerary would either stay the way it is or I could cancel the ticket and have a refund of the miles.
I was frustrated and should have just hung up and called back. In fact that’s what I was going to do, but I let my frustration show. So I politely thanked her and told her I was going to call back and speak to someone else.
I know better than to do that. It challenges the agent, suggests they’re unhelpful (which they are) and unknowledgable (which they are).
She replied, “You’re welcome. I’m going to document your reservation so future agents know what I’ve already found out for you.”
Aargh. That’s the most dreaded thing, because future agents are rarely willing to override one of their colleagues that has written comments in a reservation.
- They will tend to side with their colleague
- They don’t want to get in trouble and do something that might be wrong
- If another agent goes so far as to document something, they’ll assume that agent must be right. Why take a risk by overruling them?
So I called back. And spoke to a very helpful agent. I assumed that I was going to need a supervisor, but the frontline agent I spoke to insisted on hearing the story before escalating. She agreed with me that I should have the passenger booked on the non-stop flight, since that what was originally booked and all that had changed was a flight number.
She documented the reservation herself, although it took some time because the previous agent was still in the record writing up her nastygram. Then she queued it for a liason to look at and let me know to expect it to take three days.
Three days later I received an updated e-ticket email — with the non-stop flight I was looking for.
It all worked out and fairly straightforwardly too. But it could have been much worse. Once a record has been document, it’s often necessary to cancel and start over with a rebooking. That would have been a problem here because there wasn’t the award space I needed available. The only leg I had to stand on the get what I needed was the original reservation showing that I had had the non-stop booked to start with. So I didn’t want to cancel.
- Never be snarky
- Never try to educate an agent
- Never tell the agent they’re unhelpful
- Never tell the agent you’re going to find someone else to do what they’re unwilling to do.
Don’t challenge their authoritah — because an agent can document your record.
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