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Industry News / Opinions Virgin Australia's Botched Handling of Error Fare Earlier This Month

Discussion in 'questions. answers. conversations.' started by citrusflyer, Nov 26, 2017.

  1. citrusflyer

    citrusflyer New Member

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    TLDR synopsis – Virgin Australia cancelled my error fare (not surprised at all), then tells me in an email that management discussed cancelling the tickets for over a week, and instead of instructing their social media team to tell customers the decision was ‘pending’, management specifically allowed them to tell passengers (including myself) that their ticket would be honored… which it was not. Their reason was “it would not be responsible”…for senior management to advise front line staff on pending decisions. (What?!?!?). Social media platforms can’t be an “official voice of the airline” if management isn’t telling them even the most basic information about the subjects they are informing passengers on, and if the information they tell customers is not adhered to.

    So… basically, I want to know if my frustration over the story below is justified… or if it is just par for the course when dealing with error fares?

    I booked an error fare from Dallas to Australia for $320 each (I know about error fares and how airlines can cancel them… so I was kind of expecting it). A few days after I booked, I noticed that Virgin Australia’s Twitter feed was handling a lot of the questions people had about the error fares so I decided to send a direct message. I sent the itinerary number and the ticketing numbers for both tickets. To my shock and excitement the Twitter team congratulated me for “being one of the lucky ones”… and confirmed that my ticket would be honored. I was thrilled.

    Then 10 days later I got an email stating that there was a human error that caused the low fare and the itinerary was cancelled. If this had happened earlier or before their Twitter team had confirmed the ticket I would have walked away because that’s how error fares go, but because of those things I decided to send a letter to their customer care department, which went unanswered for 9 days… which kind of ticked me off. I then went to the US Department of Transportation website and filed a complaint, and like magic I got my first response from Virgin Australia less than 24hrs later.

    This is where it gets interesting

    In their first letter their position was that their Limitation of Liability covers pricing errors, they were sorry that the social media team didn’t have the right information when I contacted them, and they apologized for the amount of time it took to cancel the itinerary.
    I responded by noting that Twitter and social media are the official voice of the airline and either do or do not have authority to advise passengers on the validity of their ticket, and once that decision is made the company is bound by that decision and the Limitation of Liability error clause no longer apply because the company has advised the passenger that they will honor the ticket.

    This is where it gets really interesting -

    Virgin Australia replied back and among other things said they were sorry for the miscommunication of the social media staff and… “As I'm sure you can appreciate, it would not be responsible for senior management to advise front line staff that the decision to cancel was pending and may or may not occur.” So what they are saying is – Management waited 9+ days to make the decision to cancel these itineraries, and during this time they allowed the social media team to tell passengers their tickets would be honored (‘because it would not be responsible’ for senior management to tell the social media team to change their message to “the situation is under review and we will get back to you later with a decision”), and then when the itineraries were cancelled, management circled back around and blamed the same social media team they had kept in the dark for a “miscommunication”. There was not a “miscommunication”… The social media team was not told there was any change to procedure, so they told untold numbers of passengers what amounted to a lie.

    So here are my questions…

    1) My itinerary was ticketed and confirmed by a company representative, and it was cancelled almost 10 days after I purchased it. If Virgin Australia is right, they have almost unlimited autonomy to change or cancel for any reason they choose, with absolutely no recourse by the consumer. Does a confirmation that a ticket will be honored by the company change their responsibility to honor the ticket?

    2) This is the bigger issue, in my opinion… Billions of people use social media each day, and it is becoming a preferred way for consumers to reach out to businesses and vice versa. Virgin Australia told me in an email that the “Social Media team is an official voice of the airline and has authority to respond to queries and concerns” … but its credibility is critically compromised if management purposefully lets them spread a message that is incorrect, and/or overturns information that has been given . Is an airline’s social media only a bulletin board for compliments, or can it be trusted for accurate information?

    The Twitter team knew the fare I booked was an error, but still confirmed that the ticket would be honored (because it was ticketed). The entire situation would have been different if they had said “management is reviewing these bookings and you will have an answer shortly”. But the fact that Virgin Australia believes that the ‘responsible’ way of dealing with the situation was to tell passengers their tickets would be honored when management knew that was likely not going to be the case, is absolutely outrageous.

    So, I’m pretty sure there is nothing to do about it, but …am I right? Are they a bunch of jerks, or since it was an error fare am I making too much out of something that really wasn’t there to begin with? Is there any recourse?
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  2. MidSouth Skier

    MidSouth Skier Well-Known Member

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  3. Gaurav

    Gaurav Well-Known Member

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    This would be pretty upsetting. I hope you pursue this with every possible avenue. I'd be interested in seeing someone claim non-refundable charges in these cases too although I haven't see any case so far.
     
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