My upcoming trip to Australia in business class on ANA has suffered an unfortunate setback…a significant equipment downgrade. Thus far, ANA refuses to re-accomodate or refund (without fee). Should they?
First, I give ANA tremendous credit for honoring this fare. I commend that it quickly made a decision and even offered to ticket reservations the following day for a handful of passengers who encountered a schedule change that prohibited the reservation from initially ticketing properly.
The Problem: 787 Equipment Swap
Here’s the problem: the Vancouver ⇄ Tokyo flight was swapped from a 787-9 with these seats in business class:
to a 788-8 with these seats:
This aircraft will be used on flights between Vancouver (YVR) and Tokyo Haneda (HND) through March 2018.
I received the following email from ANA:
Thank you so much for flying with ANA.The aircraft for your reserved flight has been changed.We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Such an equipment swap on a transpacific flight represents a substantial change. The trip to Australia was not necessary for me—I booked because of the cheap fare despite the additional costs to position to Vancouver and the inconvenience of flying via Tokyo.
But the equipment change fundamentally changed the value proposition for me. We’re not even talking about angled lie-flat seats. Nope, we are talking about “cradle” seats that are typically used on short regional flights. While certainly a first world problem, the seat is simply unacceptable for such a long flight and would have left me exhausted.
I Propose Three Solutions
I called up ANA and proposed the following three solutions:
- Rebook the identical itinerary in March when the 787 aircraft returns to a lie-flat configuration.
- Re-route from another ANA gateway that has lie-flat seats, even if it involves an airport change from Tokyo Narita to Haneda.
- Refund the ticket without fee.
While the ANA agent was incredibly kind, she insisted that the equipment change did not “qualify” for any of the options above. I was curious if this was a stubborn agent or a strict policy. Indeed, the ANA conditions of carriage does not specifically address what happens in the case of an equipment swap to an inferior product (unless it is an actual cabin downgrade).
The COC mentions that a passenger may be entitled to a refund if ANA “is unable to provide a Passenger with his/her reserved seat” but this is interpreted by ANA to mean a seat on the flight, not a specific seat assignment.
ANA essentially argues that the guarantee was for a 1.) seat in 2.) business class between 3.) origin and destination. But what it defines as business class is key. I booked directly with ANA: pictures of the lie-flat business class seat were shown during booking.
Is ANA really going to argue that a regional business class seat constitutes the same value proposition as a lie-flat bed? I can assure you that I would never have even taken advantage of this sale fare had I known the seat would not be lie-flat. Should that matter? Isn’t that a material change?
Such argument fell upon deaf ears.
I don’t raise my voice. Nor did I get angry. I merely verified once more that ANA would not refund the ticket and then asked my reservation be cancelled (without initiating the ticket cancellation/refund process). In an attempt to resolve the situation on-the-spot, I asked to speak to a supervisor.
ANA Supervisor Surprises Me
The supervisor then surprised me. She essentially repeated the same thing as the previous agent. I asked if there was a best e-mail address to contact customer service.
She stated, “Sir, let me share something with you because you seem quite understanding. We receive calls every day about this equipment change. It has been communicated to us by management in Tokyo that we cannot budge on this equipment change. Please do reach out to them. We would like to be able to help.”
And that is exactly what I will do.
I actually think ANA may once again do the honorable thing and allow penalty-free refund of this ticket (or even better, re-accomodation on another routing). We will find out.
If you are tempted to argue that passengers should just accept the significant equipment downgrade, I urge you to rethink that position. ANA said it would honor the fare like any other fare. What does “sincerely apologize” mean if ANA is not willing to address it? I proposed three reasonable solutions. I believe that ANA’s generous decision to honor what they claim was an error fare does not absolve them of their duty to address a significant equipment change.