Monday, October 01, 2007

After Dealing with ATA, You'll NEED a Vacation

It's Monday, it's dreary out, it's already October 1st (!) - what else is there for me to be bitter about? How about yet another bad customer service experience - this time with ATA Airlines.

The saddest thing about the story I'm about to relay is that I used to love ATA. Their web site is easy to use, they always have good fares, and I've never been delayed on any of their flights. So I truly was not expecting to loathe them after one bad phone call, but that's what happened.

Nearly a month ago, I booked flights for my husband and I to go visit my brother in DC. The total for those two flights (with taxes and all the other random fees) was $357.60. However, this past Friday, an email came through touting a sale on flights between Chicago and DC (and a few other cities) for four days only. I figured there would be some catch to the sale that wouldn't have covered the flights I had already bought, but there wasn't. You needed to buy the flights in the next four days and travel before mid-November, and that was it.

So I went through the reservation process to see if the exact same flights I had purchased a month ago were cheaper. They were - but only by a total of $40. But hey, $40 is $40, and I figured that since ATA had always been so easy to deal with otherwise, I could call and get a credit applied to a future flight at the very least. The reason why I thought I could do this is because every other major airline does this - it's a little-known fact. If you ever buy a ticket from an airline directly and then its price lowers, they will give you the difference in a voucher you can apply to a future flight - I've done this on both American and Northwest.

So if THOSE behemoth airlines had that practice, I figured that ATA most certainly would. I called their service line and got connected to a young-sounding woman with an Indian accent. But in addition to sounding young, she also sounded like she had just awakened from a coma - I wanted to leap through the phone and check her pulse! But since I couldn't do that, I explained to her the situation with the price change, and she took my reservation number, put me on hold, and then came back shortly saying that there was nothing she could do because my flight had already been ticketed. I then told her that I knew they probably couldn't give me a refund for the flight I had already booked, but that it was the practice of most airlines to give a credit voucher that the customer could apply to a future flight. She stood firm - she couldn't do that.

Me: So, let me get this straight. You would like to penalize your best customers then.
Girl: I do not understand what you are saying.
Me: Well, see, I booked this flight over a month ago. That's money in your company's pocket because I chose to go through ATA as soon as I knew I was going on a trip. And your company can plan around the fact that I bought that ticket - they know a seat is now used. But since the price then dropped and you're not giving me a credit for it, I am essentially getting punished for being a good customer and being loyal to ATA and booking early.
Girl: I do not understand what you are saying.

She truly sounded confused and at a loss for words. I hadn't even thought about this until a friend brought it up later, but the customer service rep may have actually be in a call center in India and honestly didn't understand what I was getting at with my argument. Which I'll vent about in another minute. But at this point in time during the phone call, I just thought the woman was really dumb. I mean, how could someone "not understand" what I was saying? I thought it was pretty cut and dry. So I asked her to please escalate the call because, as I put it, "it was crazy" that they were essentially trying to dissuade clients from booking early.

I was on hold for nearly ten minutes, I kid you not. That length of time only served to raise my hopes that she was finding a solution. Finally she came back and said, "The only thing you can do is cancel the flights and then re-book them at the lower price, but then you will be charged a $60 cancellation fee per flight."

You've got to be kidding me.

I pretty much went off at that point, but I will spare you my tirade. The girl still "did not understand." I ended with, "You just lost a good customer," and hung up.

I try not to let these things upset me too much because life's too short to constantly be steaming over the endless displays of bad service and incompetency that one comes across on nearly a daily basis. And it's certainly NOT the $40 price differential that got me so worked up on the phone, it was the principal of their "no credits" policy on top of the service rep's utter lack of ability to help me in any way. So I looked around on ATA's web site and found something pretty ironic. They have a "Customer Service Plan" that they make a big deal about online, and it is comprised of 12 initiatives. Initiative #1 is to always offer the customer the lowest price. Initiative #12 is to be more responsive to customer complaints. Hmmmmmm.

So, I'm going to submit my gripe on their "customer inquiry form" and see what happens. I also took a screenshot of the lower fare for proof, just in case. I remain truly befuddled as to why the woman didn't understand what I was saying. Repeating that over and over to me was what frustrated me so much - because I knew I was making sense. Had she just said, "I totally understand what you're saying, but unfortunately this is our policy and there's nothing I can do about it," it might have been the teeniest bit better. But to essentially tell me that I'm not being clear was infuriating. And if my friend was right and if ATA is using an outsourced call center, then they really need to train people a lot better and get representatives who know how to hold conversations rather than just reading from a script.

I'm about to go submit the form. Maybe it will give me an estimated response time after I submit it, but on the form itself there is no indication of when or IF they will even ever respond. If they do, my dear readers, you'll be the first to hear about it!

- e

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

e - I too used to love ATA! But a REALLY bad experience a year or two back left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It was the horrible service at Midway that put me over the edge (too long to detail here). BUT, I did complain with a nicely crafted letter and a few short weeks later I got a $50 flight voucher in the mail with an apology! So it's worth filing the complaint. Good luck!