Ray Sandoval paid $650 for his wife and two young daughters to fly from Sacramento to New York on Southwest Airlines.
No, that’s not a typo. For just $150 per person, plus a $50 service fee, the Sandovals made it all the way to Baltimore before Southwest stopped them.
Turns out their fare was too good to be true. They were using a Buddy Pass they’d bought from a Southwest employee, which was technically a no-no. But Sandoval had no way of knowing that.
Southwest offered to fly the family back to California for a discounted fare of $1,016, even as two representatives assured him he’d done “nothing wrong.” Is that enough compensation?
You might be wondering how the Sandovals got caught. Well, Buddy Passes allow you to fly on a standby basis, and technically you’re considered a “nonrevenue” passenger.
When the Sandovals kept getting bumped from their flights, they had an angry confrontation with a Southwest agent in which she insisted they get out of her way so she could take care of “paying customers” and they insisted on being treated with courtesy, because they were paying customers. When the agent saw the Buddy Passes, she suspected foul play.
“I am confiscating these four tickets,” he was told.
The agent added,
You will have to buy new tickets to the West Coast if you want to get home. I will hold four seats, at a purchase price of $254 each, a real deal, on a plane which leaves tomorrow morning.
You have until midnight tonight to decide what you want to do. That’s all I can do for you. But, let me reassure you, once again, you have done absolutely nothing wrong, Mr. and Mrs. Sandoval. This is not your fault.
She told the family they were victims of a larger scheme among some Southwest employees.
We have the name of the employee who sold these to you right on the ticket. Someone will probably lose their job. This is a rampant problem here at Southwest. You are not the first to be victimized by a Southwest employee selling these Standby/Buddy Pass tickets. It is a huge problem here.
Sandoval sees things differently. In his view, he had been dealing with Southwest all along, even when he bought the Buddy Pass from a rogue employee. Southwest had taken his money, then confiscated his ticket and charged him again for the same flight.
A Southwest employee assured him the airline was bending over to accommodate him by offering a lower fare for his return flight, and urged him to “let it go.”
But he can’t.
“How can an airline like Southwest treat its customers so unprofessionally?” he asks. “How can Southwest confiscate tickets purchased by a customer?”
I suggested Sandoval send a brief, polite email to a manager at Southwest, explaining his position.
Here’s how it replied:
Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you recently by telephone about your travel using Southwest Airlines Buddy Passes.
While we can certainly understand your frustration regarding the situation, as I explained to you on the telephone, it is a violation of Company policy for an Employee to sell their Buddy Passes.