Would you care to hold that plane?

Maxim/Shutterstock
Maxim/Shutterstock
Holding a plane for a passenger is an iconic customer service gesture.

In a different era of commercial aviation, before on-time arrivals became so important that aircraft doors closed 15 minutes before departure, planes were almost routinely kept at the gate for passengers who were trying to make a connection or who were just late.

Which made the story of Kerry Drake, a grief-stricken United Airlines passenger who was trying to catch a flight from San Francisco to Lubbock, Tex., so that he could say goodbye to his dying mother, so remarkable — and heartwarming.
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The smarter consumer: How to avoid being put on “hold” forever

Tonya Davis of Rainham, England, was just trying to unfreeze her Internet connection when she phoned Virgin Media at 11 p.m. one evening.

Her call was routed to an overseas call center and disconnected several times. She went to sleep listening to “hold” music. When she woke up, the music was still playing, much to her amazement. She says Virgin answered the phone at 11 a.m. the next morning.

When she told a supervisor about her lengthy hold time, he responded, “Oh my God, seriously?”
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Southwest Airlines pilot holds plane for murder victim’s family

It’s easy to be an airline industry critic in an era of “no waivers, no favors” and fees on top of fees. It’s easy to paint airlines as heartless corporations that treat us like self-loading cargo.

But every now and then, you hear a story that turns you into an adoring fan. Like Nancy’s story.

Before I continue, I should mention a few things: Nancy is a faithful reader of this site, and I agreed to use only her first name because of the brutal nature of the crime and the age of the victim. Second, I’m not an emotional, John Boehner-type, but I can’t read her story without getting a little teary.

So you’ve been warned: Grab a tissue.
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But I asked them to hold my ticket!

Question: Two years ago, when I was stationed in Hawaii, I called Expedia to get a price quote for an airline ticket to California. I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with my fiancee.

The agent could barely speak English, and insisted that I give him a credit card number in order to reserve a ticket for 24 hours.

The next day I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, and I never called Expedia back to buy the ticket. I was in the intensive care unit for five weeks, and when I came out, I learned that Expedia had bought the ticket.

I’ve been trying to get my $500 back since then. Northwest Airlines has denied my claim, even after providing it with proof of my hospital stay. And I continuously reminded them that I did not purchase the ticket — I just reserved it. Is there anything that you can do about this? — Lizelle Figueroa, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Answer: It sounds as if you weren’t speaking the same language as Expedia. Maybe the agent wasn’t American, but by referring to your purchase as a “reservation” and offering your credit card company, you appear to have inadvertently booked a plane ticket to California.
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Airline redefines “day” and refuses to honor fare, until …

One of the secret loopholes that most air travelers don’t know about is the 24-hour grace period. Airlines like United will allow you to cancel your itinerary for a full refund if you find a lower fare within a day. But how do airlines define “day”?

We’ve seen some pretty interesting airline definitions of time in the past. So Vivien Hui’s story of reserving a United Airlines ticket will probably come as no surprise.

The ending, however, might.

I bought a roundtrip plane ticket from Denver to Frankfurt for for April 1 to 12 for $616. I wanted to change the ticket but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to change it to so I was able to put two reservations on hold — for seat and for fare — last night on United’s site.

Both was for Denver to Orlando; one was for April 9 to 12 and the other was April 10 to 12, $416 and $259 respectively. I subsequently received two separate e-mails from United.com confirming that the reservation was held until tonight at 11:59 p.m..

So today I called United’s reservation line today to change my original itinerary to the held April 10 to 12 Orlando itinerary along with a $250 change fee. I should still have a credit and I assumed they would then mail me a voucher. But when I called, United told me that the held itinerary was canceled automatically because the computer scanned and figured out that I would physically be in Frankfurt at that time. I never received an e-mail notifying me of this cancellation and I was able to put the fares on hold and received a confirmation e-mail.

Today the fare for the same route is $469.

I called and told reservations and customer relations my situation and neither of them would honor my held fare.

Very interesting. So United’s computers figure Hui is in Frankfurt, so for her the deadline has already passed. But she’s actually still in Denver, leaving her plenty of time to pay for the reservations. What a fascinating glitch.

I suggested Hui contact someone at a higher level at United. She did, but a day later still hadn’t heard from the airline. She was about to make another reservation, when …

I just got an e-mail confirmation from United confirming my held reservation fare! I was on the last page on Travelocity’s site doing a flight/hotel combo when the e-mail came through. You have no idea how happy I am!

Lesson learned: Be extra careful when a fare is on “hold” and be sure that you pay attention not only to the amount of time you have, but also the time zone.

United did the right thing by honoring its reservations.

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