Due to a schedule change by Korean Air, our flight path changed and so did our experience. Our great deal in business class was apparently too good and a one vigilante lounge agent personally tried to stop us from flying the ticket. I’ve never been so disrespected in my life.
We Got A Great Deal, But Not A Mistake Fare
I have written plenty about mistake fares. I typically know a mistake fare before I book it, very few are genuinely ambiguous to me, though affordability and competitiveness of the carriers have made it less clear.
Hotwire (owned by Expedia) ran a promotion last June on flights from New York City and Washington DC to Bali with Korean Airlines. In coach, roundtrip flights were under $1,000 – fairly standard for the route, but fares in business class started at just $1870. While the price is excellent for a paid business class fare, it’s certainly not a mistake fare and there were a few reasons why this was clear:
- Trans-Pacific business class fares can be as low as $1400. In fact, I have booked several fares out of Washington DC in paid business class to Hong Kong for between $1800-2200 without a special promotion.
- The deal was only available through Hotwire and not on any other OTA, including Expedia-owned entities or through the GDS.
- The deal lasted for several days, uncommon for many (though not all) mistake fares.
- There was never any statement acknowledging a mistake occurred (because it was a promotion), no cancellation, alteration or voiding of my ticket of any kind (not any others that I have seen.
It was not a mistake, it was a promotion and while it was a good fare it wasn’t unbelievable.
Korean Schedule Change
My itinerary, DCA-ATL-ICN-DPS, and DPS-ICN-JFK-DCA were fine until just four days prior to departure. A schedule change shortened our connection in Seoul from 45 minutes (already the minimum legal connection) to just 25 minutes. While I was excited to try Korean’s 747-800 for the first time (and fly upstairs with Carly and Lucy on the Queen of the Skies), Korean’s single daily flight to Bali meant we would have certainly misconnected and spent an unplanned full day in Seoul.
Hotwire alerted us to the schedule change four days prior to departure and we acted quickly, contacting them by phone. I used my Expert Flyer membership to find other Korean flights with at least three seats in “C” inventory for sale. The JFK flight showed nine seats available (the maximum, there could have been more) in the fare bucket.
We called Hotwire and they offered to book us on the next day with a layover in Seoul at our own cost, predictably. I’d rather make the original connection or misconnect and have Korean Air handle my layover than willingly agree to drop a day of vacation in Bali and a couple of hundred dollars because Korean decided to change the flight times.
I outlined in another post the tremendous issues we had reissuing our tickets. However, after multiple calls, checking online, making corrections we had three final confirmations that all was right in the world. I received an email confirmation from Korean at their behest which clearly outlined everything as it should be.
The ticketing and re-ticketing took a lot of effort. The switch from Atlanta to Seoul to New York’s JFK to Seoul was something any airline would have allowed, Korean was no different, but along with several other anomalies as a result of doing business with a third-party travel agency complicated matters.
Nonetheless, on the day of travel, Delta still hadn’t sorted it out properly and gave us pause as we checked in. However, we pulled up the reservation following our checkin encounter and found that our tickets were exactly as they should have been. We had coach seats domestically to and from JFK and DCA on Delta, and the rest was ticketed as “C” space as it should be, key for our mileage and status earning as well as the seat we booked.
Vigilantes In The Lounge
We arrived at the Korean Airlines lounge at New York’s JFK just before they opened, and were the first guests as they opened the door. The first of two lounge attendants clarified that it was only for business class passengers (obviously). Despite wearing business casual attire, Moral Code luggage, and a Rimowa Topas carry-on it was incredulous to her that we qualified. She asked to see the tickets before allowing us further to checkin, then sweetened once we revealed them.
We submitted our boarding passes at the desk and were told we were not permitted entry because we had economy tickets by the second of two lounge attendants. Perplexed that agents hadn’t seen a mixed-cabin ticket before (two domestic segments in coach, four long haul segments in business class) we redirected to our boarding passes which plainly showed our seat assignments in Prestige Class and pushed back.
“No, Delta must have upgraded you. We have seen this before. It’s not your mistake, it’s their mistake, but this is not a business class ticket.” Said the second, older lounge attendant.
“It is. We’ve booked it business class, it has always been business class. The ticket in front of you shows business class and I can produce my receipt.” I said back, my wife was becoming upset and she is not one to lose her temperament in situations like this.
“Please.” the second seated agent shot back indignantly. She crossed her arms and sat behind the desk waiting for us to see our error or retreat.
With pleasure, we retrieved the receipts from Korean, then logged into Hotwire from their desk and confirmed our claims again. This was unsatisfactory to both of the agents, each terse. Their response was surprising considering my other experiences on Korean have been of the very politest in the business – they called the station manager and said we could sit and wait until he got there. We welcomed the move as we had shown three pieces of evidence that we had business class tickets, plus their own system which reflected “C” fare seats.
My mind was absolutely blown at this point. I had an original ticket receipt from June showing C class inventory, I had three calls direct to Korean, four to Hotwire, a checkin at Delta, and a live look at the Korean website all showing the correct seat with receipt. Over the course of the next two hours, I was asked to sit, then to come back up to the front to speak to Hotwire reps the agent had called to try and prove me wrong, only to be told that my tickets were, in fact, correct. She remained doubtful and the Hotwire rep offered to transfer to Korean directly, which she did who confirmed to myself and the agent the same thing.
As I stood at the desk as a second-class citizen, laptop opened but certainly unworthy to be there, it dawned on me that there was nothing wrong with the ticket. Over the course of the morning, one rep had suggested that the reason there was an error with our ticket was that “maybe someone else had been assigned our seats.” That obviously was not the case either.
I asked one of the agents to print my boarding passes as it shows in the system, they had since backed down from their answer that the seats were misassigned and had stated that the ticket was mispriced. They refused to print me a copy of my itinerary which would have shown the full itinerary as I outlined because they doubted its veracity. I asked then for them to print the boarding passes as they were in the system. They stated this could not be done which was an outright lie (later proven to be a lie as I watched it happen.)
Finally, a Korean call had gone on for more than 30 minutes while the older lounge agent pursued her vigilante course and I was asked to go sit inside the lounge. I indicated that the agent had asked me to call them on my phone and I wasn’t leaving it there. I was told that I should just hang up the call while they wait for an answer.
“I paid for business class, I have shown you receipts for business class, I am not flying in coach. You have business class boarding passes with our names on them in your hand.” I was steadying my voice but had become upset, boarding was set for an hour twenty minutes from then, the ordeal had gone on for 90 minutes to that point.
“You bought an economy ticket. This isn’t business class. Maybe there was some mistake, but this is not a business class ticket. This isn’t enough money.” She said back to me making it very clear what the problem had been all along.
“Now, you’re being disrespectful.” She had suggested that we had not paid enough money for our ticket, that we were too stupid to understand how much business class costs, that we were somehow tricking them. Little did she know that I have written tomes about mistake fares so (and quoted occasionally) even if that were the case, I am rather confident she would lose that battle. She finally asked for me to print off copies outlining the promotion from the web. I did so, including this piece from GSTP and my own on the matter.
Then my phone rang
“We must have gotten disconnected.” The agent from Korean Air called me back. She explained that she had fully researched the ticket, that there was no issue and that I was flying business class as purchased. I kindly asked if she would instruct the agent in front of me and she obliged.
“But this is economy fare. So I just leave it as it is? I don’t do anything, just check him in?” The vigilante turned toward the wall to clarify the situation, embarassed. She didn’t realize I had put it on speaker phone for her convenience.
I had the phone back in my hand shortly thereafter and tickets printed moments later. Nothing from our original seats assignments had changed. There was a non-apology “I’m sorry, I don’t want you to have trouble because this is economy fare” never letting go of her misconception.
On the way out the door, no eye contact was made with the younger of the two agents, the one that first assumed we didn’t have business class tickets because of our daughter in a stroller. But then, through the airport we found Madam “economy fare” and she refused to look at us or acknowledge us despite me being pleasant and wishing her a good day. She acted as though she could not see or hear me despite being directly in front of her and speaking to her.
We have booked plenty of mistake fares before. In fact, my very first blog post six years ago was the first time my wife and I flew business class together, it happened to be on Korean Air. But this ticket was no mistake and I had exhibited such to her nine different times using several different pieces of evidence, many at her own request.
The fact of the matter is this “former ticketing agent” had seen the price we paid, decided that we had not paid enough and we should not be allowed to fly in business. All of the facts, evidence, and receipts were just a case of our confusion, not hers. She was rude and disrespectful to myself and my family when we had done nothing wrong. She was a poor representation of her company.
A genuine apology would have been nice, even the station manager failed to reappear and was sheepish when we saw him at the gate. How expensive are apologies at Korean Air?
Have you had something like this happen to you before? Have you ever had to prove that you are in the cabin you have purchased? What would you have done if you were in my position? What could I have done differently?