Is this too much compensation? “This was some of worst service I’ve received in years”

By | July 19th, 2011

Nathan Segal was certain his Alaska Airlines flight from San Jose del Cabo to Victoria, B.C., Canada, didn’t make a stop. He’d double-checked the itinerary when he booked it. The email said it was a “direct” flight.

He was wrong.

“It wasn’t until a few days later, when I went to upgrade my seat that I found out that my flight wasn’t direct after all, that it contained a stop in San Diego on the way to Seattle,” he says. “I was furious because I carefully checked the Alaska site to make sure that wasn’t the case.”

(For the record, there’s a difference between a “direct” and a “non-stop” flight. A direct flight is any flight between two points by an airline with no change in flight numbers, and it may include a stop. A non-stop flights is a direct flight without landing. Pretty tricky, huh?)

Segal feels duped by Alaska Airlines.

“The information about the stop was on the page that I was looking at, but it was hidden from plain view and you had to know where to look for it,” he says. “Worse, there was no obvious indicator that the information was there.”

And that’s not all. A reservation agent assured Segal the single stop would be brief. It wasn’t.

The flight stopped in San Diego. We had to disembark and go through customs, claim our baggage, then recheck it in the same terminal. Then we had to leave terminal two and walk all the way over to terminal one, walk all the way through the airport, go through security all over again (during which time I nearly lost my iphone in the confusion), and enter a new waiting area to reboard our flight which, coincidentally, had the same flight number as the aircraft we had just left, but was a different jet in a different airport.

Segal had phoned Alaska and spoken with a supervisor before the flight, and had been upgraded on the flight as a courtesy. But he was still upset. It wasn’t the flight he though he’d purchased.

This was some of worst service I’ve received in years. There wasn’t a single thing about this flight that was direct, with the exception of the name. This was flat-out deception, misrepresentation and fraud. It’s very clear that I didn’t get what I paid for and I was subjected to a lot of unnecessary stress.

He contacted me to find out if I could help with is grievance. I passed along the names of some supervisors at Alaska Air, and suggested he send a brief, polite email, describing what happened. The least Alaska should do, I felt, was apologize for the direct/non-stop confusion.

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As a sidenote, I think the “direct” euphemism needs to be scrapped by the airline industry. Segal isn’t the first person who’s been fooled by the description, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.

Alaska responded with an email that explained the difference between “direct” and “non-stop” and claimed it has received few complaints about the issue. It added,

I am truly sorry to hear that our reservations agents provided conflicting information regarding the customs process for this flight.

Flight 233 stops in San Diego after coming from a foreign country, as such, we are required to have our customers go through customs prior to continuing on to Seattle. This requires customers to deplane, go through customs, and then route to our domestic terminal to re-board the same aircraft that has been moved from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. I have forwarded your letter to our reservations Training Manager so that she can review the information that we have available to our agents regarding situations such as these.

Mr. Segal, I apologize for any inconvenience you experienced and that you felt the information available on our website was not clear. As a customer service gesture, I am including a Discount Code in the amount of $50.

Segal was unhappy with that response and asked me what to do next.

I felt that Alaska’s efforts to fix this had been reasonably sincere. An upgrade, an apology and a $50 voucher suggested to me that they took his grievance seriously.

Segal asked if I thought he should dispute the flight on his credit card. I wasn’t sure that would be successful, since it had in fact flown him between San Jose del Cabo to Victoria. I told him I didn’t think a dispute was the best way forward.

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He disputed part of his plane tickets. And he won.

Because of my approach (good documentation) and also asking for a portion of the funds back, rather than the whole thing, I’m quite likely to succeed. That and the misrepresentation. The agent told me that it’s highly unlikely that the airline will dispute it, given that they were in the wrong to begin with and also pooh-poohed what I’d written with an unacceptable offer.

The agent told me that if need be, the bank will use their influence to stop Alaska from coming back at me for the chargeback.

A key to the whole thing is that I didn’t try to get the entire fare back, but only a portion, roughly 60 percent of the flight. Because of that approach, according to the agent, I gave them more leverage.

He also told me that few people were as thorough as me, all of which is in my favor. He also told me that the chargeback cycle is based on two billing periods, so I caught that in time. Also, when I sent in my complaint, I wrote to customer service and the executive as well, mostly because I was aware of that billing cycle and I didn’t want to take the chance of getting stuck.

That’s an interesting resolution. While I agree that Alaska shouldn’t have offered a flight that appeared to make no stops, I’m not entirely sure if the punishment fits the crime.

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