How far would airlines go to collect a few more bucks from you? If nothing would surprise you anymore, then you should hear Hesha Duggirala’s story.
Earlier this year, she booked a summer vacation to Europe for her family of four on United Airlines using frequent flier miles. As a reminder, having lots of frequent flier miles suggests you’re a loyal, and valued, customer.
“The representative who helped us told us that since our youngest child would be under two years when we began the trip he could be ticketed as a lap child,” she says. Duggirala gave the agent her son’s birthdate to verify that he was, indeed, a lap child.
The United agent issued the tickets and the Duggirala family prepared for their European vacation. But only 10 days before their trip, they received a surprise phone call from United.
“An agent told me my son can only be a lap child for the flight to Europe and not on the way back,” she says. “I told them what the representative had originally told us. They said we were given the wrong information and would need to pay the current rate for a child one-way ticket — a whopping $2,800.”
Obviously, the United agent who had booked her award tickets either gave her inaccurate information or didn’t adequately communicate the airline’s policies. They are clearly stated on United’s website. What bothers Duggirala, and me, is that instead of taking responsibility for the error — which could have easily been verified by reviewing the call recordings — United chose to stick it to her.
“The thing that really set me off was the callousness of one of the representatives,” she told me. “She was actually a supervisor that I asked to speak with after a customer rep could not help me. This supervisor very rudely said that my son would not be allowed to board the plane in Stuttgart, Germany. However unlikely or absurd that may sound, it’s simply something you do not say to a mother. I couldn’t shake the image of my precious boy wandering around by himself at Stuttgart airport.”
As a father of three young children, the thought of one of my kids being left behind makes my heart skip a beat.
That nasty supervisor who told Duggirala to take it or leave it was actually just following orders. United’s CEO, Jeff Smisek, has publicly stated he wants to increase “ancillary” revenues by 9 percent in 2013. Apparently, the $5.3 billion in fees United collected from passengers last year just wasn’t enough.
I wish I could say this problem was isolated, but a few months ago, it happened to another reader on a United flight. I’m starting to think this isn’t a misunderstanding as much as it is a money grab.
The problem of cashing in on your kids extends beyond lap children. Most major airlines now charge for seat reservations, even in economy class. So when a family wants to sit together, they’re asked to pay even more for the privilege. The art of monetizing children in that way appears to have been pioneered by US Airways several years ago.