The One With The Phone CallsOpinion
A few months after The One with the Broken Seat (see last issue) I forgave the airline in question and booked another ticket with them, this time to Munich. I decided to forgive the airline partly because the country manager was a friend of mine, but mostly because they were still offering the cheapest flights. On the day of my departure I found out I needed to change the date of my return flight so I went to the airline’s web site.
The first sign of things to come was that the web site told me that it was not possible to change flights online and that I needed to call the airline office in the Middle East. I could see that there were only a few seats left on the return flight I wanted so I had to act quickly. This was the last thing I needed on the day of departure but it had to be done, so I picked up the phone.
To save time and money (and in view of the fact that it was the middle of the night in the Middle East) I decided to call the local office in Jakarta. This proved to be impossible. Even though the web site stated that the Jakarta office opened at 8am I could get no answer (not even a machine) until 8.05am. At 8.05am a machine answered and told me that the system had recently been upgraded so service “may take longer than usual”. Upgraded to be slower. Ok. After the message finished it started again.
“Ok, they’re making it clear” I thought, “but I’d like to speak to someone now.” No such luck. The message just repeated over and over and the only way to stop it was to hang up. I called back several times and got the same thing again and again. Eventually I tried pressing random numbers in the hope I would get through to an operator or someone on an extension. No joy. I gave up and called the Middle East number. I was getting very anxious that there would be no seats left on the return flight I wanted.
Luckily I used Skype to call the Middle East because I spent more than an hour in total on the line and endured much incompetence and confusion. The confusion was compounded by the line dropping out after 30 minutes while I was waiting for confirmation that the new flight had been booked. I called back multiple times but I could only get a machine which repeatedly put me on hold. I could not get hold of a person in the Middle East to confirm anything so in desperation I called the Jakarta office again. The clock was ticking.
This time I got through, and a very pleasant girl took the details and told me that my flight had already been rebooked but not yet ticketed. She asked for my mobile number and promised to call me back in a few minutes. I told her what had happened to me previously and emphasised the urgency of the matter with seats disappearing fast and my need to leave for the airport.
She said the booking meant the seat was safe and she would check why the ticket had not been issued. She promised she would call me back in a few minutes after she checked the status. After 45 minutes with no call back I called the reservations number and went back into the loop described above – the machine telling me the system has just been upgraded and may take longer than usual, repeating over and over without ever answering.
Resisting the temptation to call the country manager, I called the sales and marketing office listed on the web site and demanded that the person who answered go and get somebody from reservations to talk to me. She did, but the person who came to the phone said she could not do anything because she could not access the reservations computer from the sales and marketing office. I took her name and she promised on pain of death to call me back from the reservations office within five minutes, but of course she did not.
After another round of calling and being put on hold I got through to reservations and asked to speak to the girl I had spoken to before by name. She was on another call. I asked if anyone else could help but now nobody wanted to take my case, probably because I sounded so angry. I am sorry to say I started shouting. My exact words are unprintable but I expect you can imagine the dialogue. Eventually, just as I was about to give up because I had no time left before I had to leave for the airport, I got the flight confirmed and ticketed by email. I put the phone down, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through my teeth. Surely now the worst was behind me. But it wasn’t. More next issue.