Will you pay for other people’s mistake?

You get to the airport ON TIME (not in time), but your flight leaves 20 minutes before your reservation schedule (without notification) and you have to miss it even though there is still 40 minutes before the take-off. Of course, you miss all the other flights following this one.

Whose fault?

Is it your fault? Well…if you came 10 minutes earlier (according to the check-in lady), you wouldn’t miss the rescheduled (without notification) airline. Yet… if the schedule wasn’t changed, you wouldn’t miss it either, though you may have to run in panic to go through the securities. And if you, the passenger, didn’t call to confirm the schedule, it would be your fault. But you called and was confirmed of the original schedule…

Any way, you are given a stand-by for the first missed flight. But you still cannot catch up with the next flight. What’s worse, you are told you need to pay $200 penalty for a ticket change plus an extra $60 luggage fee due to the first flight change. And they tell you both fees could be much higher. What a favor they offer you!

So what do you do? Are you going to pay for other people’s mistake or malpractice?

In July, I booked a ticket to fly to Guangzhou, China on Nov. 8, 2011 via Dapai, a travel agency. I was scheduled to fly from Denver at 8:40 a.m. to Los Angeles via United Airlines. From Los Angeles, at 11:50 a.m. I would fly to Beijing via Air China. From Beijing, Air China would take me to Guangzhou.

Three days before my departure, I called Dapai to double check the schedule. Nobody picked up the phone despite three tries. So I called Air China, since it was Air China who ticketed me, not United Airlines nor Dapai – according to Dapai. A gentleman at Air China confirmed me of my original schedule.

So with great ease, I went to check in at Unite Airlines.

“Where are you going?” A United Airlines gentleman asked.

“I am going to China, but my first flight is to Los Angels, at 8:40 a.m.”

“It is 8:20.”

“No, my flight is 8:40.”

“I couldn’t check you in.” He said and he sent me over to their Additional Services.

Nor could the ladies at Additional Services Desk check me in. “The schedule was changed to 8:20 in August,” one told me.

“How can that be? I called three days ago and was confirmed of my schedule!”

They said they could give me a standby (God knows when you could get a seat.), but I would still miss the flight from Los Angeles to Beijing. They suggested I call Air China to reschedule the flight from Los Angeles Beijing.

I did. The first lady I talked to told me that I needed a statement from United Airlines about the schedule change so I could get another standby in LA, then another one in Beijing to Guangzhou. Free of charge. (Later, when I talked to Michael Mao of Air China in North America, he insisted that Air China never provided standbys.)

United Airlines refused to issue such a statement because they said they didn’t have the responsibility to notify me of the schedule change as I didn’t book the ticket through them. Did they imply that I was not their customer? Was United Airlines so kind to help Air China for free?

I called Air China again and asked if they could talk to the United Airlines people and explain to them what I needed so I could get standbys. One of the ladies said they were not allowed to use a cell phone, but she did speak out loud to my cell phone held by my hand. Yet before she finished her second sentence, the call was disconnected mysteriously.

So I called Air China again and again and again…I called 10 times in total. Each time, their attitude got worse. All they cared was to explain in vain why they were not to be blamed.

When I got to LA, I called Air China again. A lady named Kelly Ye continued to find excuses that it was not their fault.

“This is not the time to decide whose fault it is. It is time to find out a solution to the problem.” I suggested, disgusted by their efforts to excuse themselves from any responsibilities and to blame others, both United Airlines and the Dapai for the failure to notify me of the schedule change.

The solution she suggested was I paid a $200 penalty fee to get on their next flight to Beijing.

“Are you saying I have to pay a penalty fee for other people’s mistake?” I couldn’t be more angry.

“My supervisor said this is the only way. You have to pay a penalty fee to change your ticket.”

“By the way, I didn’t want to change the ticket. It was your company and your business partner (United Airlines) who made the schedule change.”

“It was United Airlines, not us.” She said.

“But United Airlines is your business partner for this service. You are my major service provider. (And according to Dapai, it was Air China who ticketed me and made money from my flight.) I don’t care how Air China and United Airlines cooperate in details, but I, as a passenger, only want to have the service I paid for. It is ridiculous that I have to pay for other people’s mistake. It is NOT my mistake.” I emphasized.

“Can you hold a moment?” she said in an unsure voice, possibly intimidated by my rage. I guess she went to her supervisor for further advice on how to deal with such an angry customer.

Five minutes later, she got back to the phone and said, “I am sorry, you do have to pay a $200 penalty fee.”

I fell silent for a moment, then I said, “excuse me, can you say that again?”

“I am sorry, you need to pay the penalty fee…” her voice sounded weak.

“For other people’s mistake? Did you know how much I have lost because of this unnoticed schedule change? My time and money and energy?” I could hear my voice was very loud.

“I apologize.” She said.

“I don’t need an apology, but I need the right service. Can I talk to your supervisor?”

“He is on the phone right now. Can you leave your number and I will ask him to call you back.”

“I did leave my phone to you earlier, but he didn’t call me back. This is the 6th time I call Air China today. I’d rather wait”

“Sorry, we don’t have holding.”

“Oh, wow, I thought our technology was quite advanced. ” I couldn’t help being sarcastic, because this was obviously a lie as I had been put on hold several times while calling Air China.

“I will ask him to call you back.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. It is his business whether to call you or not.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“…”

“Ok, I will wait 30 minutes. If he doesn’t call me. I will call again.” And I hung up.

After several more calls, I finally got to talk to Michael Mao, Kelly Ye’s supervisor, who continued to cover Air China’s ass while talking to me on the phone. We argued back and forth meaninglessly and his attitude just irritated me. He suggested I was misled by United Airlines and that Air China shouldn’t be responsible for the schedule change by another airline.

“If so, then Air China staff shouldn’t have confirmed me of the United Airline schedule when I called three days earlier. Instead of confirming my itinerary, he should have told me he didn’t know United Airlines schedule. This way, I would have called United Airlines to double check the schedule. So Air China misled me. ” I said. I reminded him several times of this fact, which he chose to ignore.

“We don’t see any record that you called.” He said.

“Are you saying I am lying? I did call and I asked about the time of each flight and about the luggage weight limit.”

“We don’t see any 303 number calling in in the last three days.” He immediately said.

“I used my gmail number to call, not my cell phone.”

I gave him the gmail number I used to call Air China for confirmation.

“It will take me at least 35 minutes to 45 minutes to check the phone records and listen to the recording.” He said and promised to call back in about 35 to 45 minutes. I didn’t remind him of the fact how quickly he reacted and asserted that they didn’t have a record of my calling with my cell phone number when I reminded him I did call Air China for confirmation.

While waiting or Air China to get back to me, I called Dapai, hoping they would give some support if Air China wouldn’t give in. Yiran Zuo of Dapai showed her sympathy by blaming both United Airlines and Air China for their bad services. She also blamed me for not getting to the airport three hours ahead of take-off time.

“But if they hadn’t changed their schedule, I wouldn’t have missed my flight.”

“That’s true.” She said and continued to blame Air China and United Airlines for their bad services. Then she suggested, “I will call them tomorrow.”

“Can’t you call them today?”

“It will be five Los Angeles time and seven New York time.” She said.

I was confused, because it was only 2:08 p.m. Los Angeles time, hours before the end of workday. But I didn’t question her, and she continued, “I tell you. You must insist it was not your fault. However, if that didn’t work out, you’d better pay the penalty fee and get on the next flight so you get home early. You can contact me after you get to China with you new ticket number and I’ll try to make them pay back the fee. Next time I will give you the best price I could find.”

Wait… Wasn’t it her job to give us customers the best prices she could find as a travel agent? Was she implying that the prices we get from her agency were not the best prices? I wonder how much they make from each ticket.

Finally Michael Mao called me back. He said he couldn’t find the recording, but Air China decided to end the hassle and let me get on the next flight without a penalty fee. At the same time, he still insisted that it was not Air China’s fault, they gave in only because they wanted the best for their customers.

By this time, I was too tired to point out his lies and fake kindness. I accepted the offer, hoping there wouldn’t be another disastrous change.

This is a semi-victory. I am proud of myself for not being complacent.

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