Old Jun 14, 2009, 11:10 PM
tlgilbert2325 tlgilbert2325 is offline
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 7
Default Travel Agent perspective

Hello everyone,
I am a travel agent with over 25 years experience. Last Thursday I had the worst experience in those 25 years and it was United Airlines. I had called mileage plus to do an upgrade for a client. MP said no upgrades were available but the client had enough miles. At that point I put in the programmed entry on the airline's computer reservation system to request the upgrade. The night before the client's flight that upgrade cleared. The computer cancels the coach seat when this happens and the upgraded seat remains in the record.
When my client got to the counter she was told she did not have enough miles for her upgrade and that she had no coach seat because her travel agent canceled it. Further, that United agent put many comments in the record stating that the travel agent 'should have been more careful' and 'should reimburse the client' for the $350 she had to pay to buy upgrade certificates.
Naturally the client was less than pleased and called her husband who, in turn called me, fuming mad. At that point nothing I said would have sounded anything other than an excuse. I said I would find out what was going on and call him back. I spent an hour on the phone with India. Nothing was accomplished (based on what the Portland OR United agent had put in the record). I am refunding the money that they were charged as a gesture of good faith. I made every attempt to have my client upgraded for her return flight and was, again, told that the miles were available. I asked that the miles be deducted from the account and that my client be placed on a priority wait list. Today was the flight. I spent 2 hours on the phone with India, Manila, back to India and finally got Chicago. The end result? Not only did my client NOT get her upgrade, the aisle seat that I had asked for was taken away and she was placed in a middle seat.
Now, tell me why the airlines are given bail out money when this is the way they treat their clients and their distribution system. Airlines do not pay travel agents any commission for selling their product. Travel agents are forced to join ARC (Airline Reporting corporation), pay an annual fee, maintain a bond, have a contract for the computer system AND pay for the ticket stock. How do we recover our overhead for that? The airlines said "charge your customers".
If I ran my business the way the airlines run theirs perhaps the government would give me some bail out money. No, wait, I don't have lobbyists or government officials in my pocket.
Best advice? Contact your government officials and DEMAND that foreign carriers be allowed to fly routes in the USA. Make it a condition that those carriers have to maintain their reservations and staff IN the USA. Then patronize those carriers.
Not only will you receive some real service it will send a message to the American based airlines that we are sick to death of being treated like dirt. It will send the message that we are tired of their greed taking jobs away from Americans with their outsourcing to India and other countries.
I have just lost a major corporate account because of a United employee that could not perform his or her job as a professional refraining from 'placing blame'. Had I made the mistake I would have owned it and made it right. As it is I am owning United's error and paying out on a ticket that I didn't make any money on to begin with.
Old Jun 15, 2009, 4:08 AM
AADFW AADFW is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 117
Default A better solution...

Allowing foreign competition would generally be a step in the right direction but would only be a short-term fix. U.S. airline consumers tend to want the lowest price above all else, and foreign carriers competing in the U.S. would simply respond to that reality eventually. What makes foreign carriers better is regulation that results in competition based on service differentiation rather than price.

In this respect, what we really need is common sense U.S. regulation -- but not in terms of limiting the number of carriers per route or fare per route but by regulating service standards. What we need is a comprehensive passenger bill of rights (including a provision for US-only call centers as you've mentioned). This would put all U.S. carriers on even keel and, while it would raise airfares in general, it would not disallow free and open competition. Paradoxically, at the same time that we need to institute common-sense regulation in favor of CONSUMERS, we need to mitigate the overly powerful unions that protect airline EMPLOYEES who routinely abuse their passengers. It makes sense to do both.

Last edited by AADFW; Jun 15, 2009 at 4:10 AM. Reason: missing info
Old Jun 15, 2009, 4:17 AM
PHXFlyer PHXFlyer is offline
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 1,366

First, the airlines have not received any "bailout money" since post 9/11.

Second, what was the time interval since the time you first requested the upgrade until the time it cleared? Is it possible that your client used some of those miles for another ticket or upgrade in the interim and failed to tell you? If so perhaps you should have advised your client that you were waitlisting them for the upgrade and that they should maintain a sufficient balance in their mileage account to cover it should it clear.

Finally, how would opening up the US market to foreign competition have helped in this situation? According to the airline there were insufficient miles in the account to cover the upgrade. Just like if there are insufficient funds in a checking account they "bounced the check" so to speak. They simply made your client pay for the upgrade with cash instead of miles. It is commendable that you feel the need to reimburse your client but that was your choice. You also claim that this incident caused you to lose the account. May I ask why you went out on a limb for someone who basically fired you over this single snafu? Sounds like you'd be better off without this client in the long run.

Last edited by PHXFlyer; Jun 15, 2009 at 4:21 AM.
Old Jun 15, 2009, 6:15 PM
tlgilbert2325 tlgilbert2325 is offline
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 7
Default to not a sympathizer

You are technically correct in that the airlines have not received bail out money since 9-11. However, I maintain that 9-11 was a very convenient 'excuse' for the airlines to receive a lot of money when their bottom lines went red. The reality is that the airlines had been pumping enormous amounts of cash into their web presence in order to eliminate their own employees as well as what remained of the travel agent delivery system. Had that money not been spent their bottom lines would not have taken as hard a hit. I am sure you will argue that the airlines have the right to put their money where they want, and they do. I take issue with yet another huge corporation actively seeking ways to get rid of employees for the sake of profit so that the execs that thought of these schemes can get their bonus checks. Did you watch the documentary on American Airlines? Not only was the past CEO bragging about firing a night watchman and replacing him with a guard dog he then bragged about depriving that dog of food to get it snarling. At that point he had the airport personnel tape record the dog and then 'got rid of' the dog. I found that very telling.
As for the time frame. The client did know she was on a waitlist and she did not travel or redeem any miles in the 3 day time window.
Why bother with an account that can be lost over one incident? The account was a large corporate one and there is nothing more powerful than an unhappy executive's wife. There is simply no defense against that situation. There are travel agents every where just waiting to pick up an account no matter the reason the first agency lost it. In this business you are just glad to have the income, period.
Old Jun 15, 2009, 7:09 PM
mars6423 mars6423 is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: New Jersey/Singapore
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PHXFlyer is right that there has been no bailout money at least not recently

and even though the foreign airlines are much better than US based airlines there isn't enough room or sense in them doing it. They would loose alot of money and it is far away from their hubs, they go to the major airports such as JFK LAX and so on, but for them to go domestically would be out of reach for them as it would not be a good business situation for either them or the passengers as they would have higher ticket prices to cover costs. The best solution is to fix the US industry and have a better working structure that helps everyone out.

I admit it is a pain in the ass to do certain things when it comes to your ticket and the airlines agents and how things get sorted out. I dont think that outsourcing did anything positive in the industry, i understand that it is cheaper in most cases but it also has to be atleast logical and i dont believe that it is.

I was just thinking if there was anyway that if your clients were traveling internationally if you could have asked United to transfer them onto a Star Alliance member (for example Singapore Airlines JFK-Frankfurt or Lufthansa) as they are much better in every sense of the way. I have flown many times with Singapore Airlines (Kris Flyer member) and i have never had an issue with them and every request that has been made was met and sometimes they went beyond what was expected.

I feel sorry about the whole ordeal and the frustration that everyone went through, it can ruin the whole travel experience and there should be ways to help everyone in the situation. I believe that you had the right jesture in giving back the money to your clients and i hope that they accept it and understand that you did as much as you could and that they use you again if they need another flight.

good luck
Old Jun 15, 2009, 7:20 PM
tlgilbert2325 tlgilbert2325 is offline
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 7

Yes, the Star Alliance carriers are much more service oriented. Sadly, this was just a domestic to Chicago.
Thank you for your kind words!
Old Jun 15, 2009, 8:11 PM
PHXFlyer PHXFlyer is offline
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 1,366

Originally Posted by tlgilbert2325 View Post
Why bother with an account that can be lost over one incident? The account was a large corporate one and there is nothing more powerful than an unhappy executive's wife. There is simply no defense against that situation. There are travel agents every where just waiting to pick up an account no matter the reason the first agency lost it. In this business you are just glad to have the income, period.
You're kidding me, right. Actually, I know you're not.

So this was a business account you lost over the personal travel of the wife of an exec? Amazing. Did she not realize that mileage upgrades are never a guarantee? If having a good seat (which was obviously the goal since she bitched about losing the aisle seat on the return flight) was such a priority why didn't she pony up for a first-class ticket to begin with? Instead she gambled with the upgrade game and lost then blamed you for the whole thing even though you tried to make it right by reimbursing her for the paid upgrade. Then to add insult to injury her hubby decided to take the business for his company's travel needs elsewhere. Sounds to me like they are two rotten peas in a moldy old withered pod!

Perhaps you should suggest he buy a corporate jet for himself and his bitch of a spouse. I hear GM and Chrysler are selling theirs for a steal!
Old Jun 16, 2009, 12:07 AM
tlgilbert2325 tlgilbert2325 is offline
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 7

Sadly, not kidding at all. 9 years ago I lost a corporate account because another exec wife called me to say she wanted to upgrade her husband's flight to Germany. I said that I didn't have him booked anywhere in Germany, only London. She replied "Yes, London Germany". When I, quite delicately, explained that London was in England not Germany she hung up on me. The next day the secretary called and said that their account was being moved to a different agency due to a personalty conflict.
I guess it just takes all kinds!
Old Jun 16, 2009, 8:59 PM
azstar azstar is offline
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 375

It's sad that there is no accountability for airline agents behaviour. Management simply doesn't want to deal with it. I know many fine travel agents who have been blamed for the airlines bad policies and their own mistakes, yet airline managers and employees rarely have to behave responsibly and do the right thing. Often they are happy when a travel agent is involved because, right or wrong, they can pass the blame to someone else.
Old Jun 16, 2009, 9:08 PM
tlgilbert2325 tlgilbert2325 is offline
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 7

Oh yes! I have had an airline agent tell me that my travel agent did not get seat assignments and "Sorry, all I have left is a middle seat". When I reply to them "really? I am my travel agent and I had seat 10C assigned." you should see the daggers! It is very sad because there is not reason for placing blame...a simple "I'm sorry, there is a problem lets see what we can do to fix it" is really all that is needed!

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