Got a nasty surprise from Qatar Airways on my last long-haul trip home from Rome.
Arrived at the check-in counter at 2pm for our 4.40pm flight to be told we had missed our flight earlier that day. The one that left at 8.20am.
I couldn’t understand it. I am obsessive about travel itineraries from years of running a tour business. How could I have got this so wrong?
That’s no time for a forensic investigation. The primary objective at that moment is “How do we fix this?”
Simple, according to the young lady behind the counter. “We’ll put you on the next flight, the one leaving at 4.40pm”.
That’s the one I assumed we were booked on.
No problemo, thinks I. Well, no problem if you overlook the not-so-small detail of a €900 no-show penalty!
Once home the forensic investigation started. First, the itinerary I prepared for myself which clearly stated I was on a flight at 1640 hrs.
A search of emails twixt me and the travel consultant at Helloworld Royal Oak, Auckland, revealed the truth.
She had originally booked us on the 0820 departure, but I emailed saying that this was an awful flight. Over 42 hours long and we would have to be up at about four in the morning to be at the airport by 0620. I pointed out there was a much better flight at 1640 and only 27 hours long. She agreed and emailed back saying that she had booked it and gave me the airline’s six character PNR SFXLFN – which convinced me the flight was secure.
I even got a provisional itinerary from her with that flight correctly recorded.
On that basis I prepared my own itinerary which not only included flight information but also accommodation, rental car bookings etc. I later relied upon it utterly because I knew it to be true, having checked it again and again.
It was only when I went to collect the flight and cruise documents that things starting going astray – and here is the lesson for the day, parishioners. The consultant carefully went over all of the arrangements, highlighting each one with a yellow highlighter pen. Including the one that said “Thursday May 17 0820 Depart Fiumicino on Qatar Airways flight QR116”
And that is where I made my big and costly mistake.
I listened but didn’t hear or see that one detail was wrong.
Thursday 17 May – correct
Depart Fiumicino – correct
Qatar Airways – check.
QR116 – sounds about right.
Didn’t get the bit about 0820.
It transpires that there were duplicate bookings in the system so she cancelled one. The wrong one.
I did also receive, at some stage prior to departure, an email from Qatar Airways saying that there had been a change to my flight arrangements – but I assumed (Rule 1: NEVER ASSUME!) – that it referred merely to seat changes I had made.
I tackled the agency about it and they took some responsibility but because I had accepted the itinerary as carefully explained to me line by line I really didn’t have a case to argue from a position of strength.
I accepted the offer of a $NZ200 refund.
I pleaded with Qatar Airways to perhaps, maybe, possibly – out of the goodness of their corporate hearts – on my next flight, in the light of a $NZ1700 “penalty”, to get a free ticket one way, or at least an upgrade. Huh, some fat chance. Those corporate hearts are hard as stone. Cold as the desert sands in the middle of the Arabian nights.
Pity really – the Qatar experience was OK, sufficiently so that I would happily fly with them, again. But now, maybe not. Just out of spite.
So here’s what you need to take from this tale of woe and fiscal misery: Check every detail little bit by little bit. Then check it again. Then a bit later do a recheck. Accept nothing as a given.
Rule 2: TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED.