One of the cardinal rules of getting better customer service is keeping meticulous records. When you’re booking online, a screen shot of the purchase is your trump card.
Paul Towse thought he had that trump card when his Expedia UK reservation didn’t turn out as expected. Back in January, he booked a flight between San Francisco and Las Vegas on flights offered by US Airways and operated by United Airlines.
Expedia’s records show that he selected an 8:45 p.m. flight, but that shortly after that, the airline notified him his departure time had shifted to 8:23 p.m.
But that’s not how Towse remembers it. Or what his records show.
I booked a flight that showed on the Expedia website as leaving San Francisco at 1:05 p.m. on the 4th of May and returning on the 7th of May at 1.05 p.m.
When I checked my confirmation that I saw the outward flight was actually confirmed as 8.43 p.m. — clearly not what it said while was booking.
My friend had emailed me the details to make the booking so he too had been onto the website and found the 1:05 p.m. flight (flight number 6728) and he had also taken two screenshots, one showing the date selector field and one showing the flight path selector. They had to be on separate shots because of the way the website scrolls down.
That was upsetting to Towse and his party, because it was a long weekend in Las Vegas. Every minute counted; starting it at 8:43 p.m. instead of 1:05 p.m. made a big difference to them.
Towse asked Expedia to fix his ticket, but it refused.
I reviewed his correspondence, and saw he had the screen shots that seemed to prove he’d made a reservation at 1:05 p.m. Either Towse had misinterpreted the confirmation, or Expedia suffered a computer hiccup.
Which was it?
Here’s Expedia’s answer:
Expedia representatives have thoroughly reviewed the history of Mr. Towse’s reservation, and although Expedia understands that Mr. Towse intended to book a flight that departed around 1 p.m. on May 4, this departure time was not provided at the time of booking.
According to the history of Mr. Towse’s flight reservations, Expedia did not experience any errors during the booking and ticketing process and Expedia can confirm that the flights that were ticketed for Mr. Towse’s reservation are the flights that were selected at the time of booking.
As Expedia has previously confirmed, Mr. Towse is responsible for any airline change fee and any increase in fare will need to be paid in order to modify the flights for an earlier departure.
That’s more or less the same answer they’d given Towse, minus a few details. What is this passenger entitled to when there’s a misunderstanding about the reservation?
“The part that frustrates me is we clearly have a screenshot showing a 1:05 departure,” says Towse. “They tell me that flight never existed but also tell me the website is not at fault in any way. Well, I can prove it was.”
Towse took the erroneous flight with his friends and is suing Expedia in small claims court. But his experience leaves me with a few unanswered questions:
1) Why do misunderstanding like this continue to happen? How hard can it be to verify that the flight choices you’ve shown the customer are the flights he or she booked?
2) If an online travel agency’s confirmation doesn’t line up with an airline’s schedule, who’s responsible for any resulting confusion?
3) Even when booking through an online travel agency (or a “vending machine” as human agents like to call it) why can’t the agency offer a human touch — a little empathy, a form apology for the misunderstanding, or funny money or to help negotiate a lower change fee with the airline?
And finally, if screen shots aren’t good enough proof of a transaction, then what is?