Saturday, June 09, 2018

Why I am not likely to fly Qatar Airways again

There are mistakes. And there are expensive mistakes. 

The shortest life span of a US-India airplane ticket I bought was 4 hours. Things in my life changed in those 4 hours. I had to cancel my ticket.

Flights from the US usually come with a free cancellation clause for up to 24 hours of initial purchase. I have done that with Emirates and United. You just cancel your ticket online and get a full refund in a few days. No questions asked. This is the first time I was flying Qatar.

Apparently, Qatar Airways works on a different model. There is a button "Hold Ticket for 24 Hours" that I never saw. It could be that I was distracted, stressed, or maybe it was written strategically so that a first-timer who does not know will not notice it. Large business, after all, care about making money. They do not care about customers. Perhaps they design their websites accordingly.

When I cancelled the ticket after 4 hours, the system said that it will refund me the price of the ticket minus $305.00. It seemed odd. I called customer service. Apparently, Qatar Airways does not have a 24-hour customer service either. If you do not call within normal business hours for eastern time zone, congratulations, you have just been screwed. Again, the customer service is not really meant for serving the customer. 

By the time I could have talked to a human the next day, I might have crossed the 24-hour mark. I had to decide quickly. Note that I still had not realized that I have overlooked the "Hold Ticket for 24 Hours" button. How would I? When I had bought that ticket 4 hours ago, I had every intention of making that trip. I was doomed the moment I bought the ticket. Whether I was stuck to the plan or not, my money was stuck there.

If you watch air crash documentaries, it is never one thing gone wrong that brings down an airplane. It is usually a combination of different things, a chain of events gone wrong, often combined with human error. My situation was something like that. 

It took a couple of email exchanges and phone calls the next day to even understand what had happened. I admitted my mistake, told them that I am a first-timer with Qatar, it was a weekend and I could not talk to a customer service agent to understand what was going on. They train their staff well to maintain a robotic voice and keep apologizing for my inconvenience when they are far from being apologetic. For every line I said, they kept apologizing for any inconvenience. 

I wrote to the E-commerce support. I explained what had happened and said that it was my fault. I wrote about four emails in a week. In every email, I admitted to my mistake for not noticing that “Hold Ticket” button. Yet, after a week, I got a vague, impersonal, copy-paste email with words like “we regret to inform you,” “as per policy,” and “we look forward to welcoming you on-board on one of our flights soon.” I wonder if policy is meant for people, or people are meant for policy.

My final reply to them was short. I wrote that I hope this profit of $305.00 will supersede the loss of a customer, and hopefully, they never have to welcome me on-board.

Here was an opportunity for the airline to rise above their policies and make a lasting impression. I even told them that I was willing to buy a new ticket with the correct dates right away, a ticket that would cost me 5-6 times this $305.00 penalty. The math was simple. The intention to help was never there in the first place.

Sheryl Sandberg, in her convocation speech at MIT this year, said something that hit home. To quote her:
They [the community leaders] understood that the most difficult problems and the greatest opportunities we have are not technical. They are human. In other words, it's not just about technology. It's about people.” [Link]

It’s about people only when the intention is to serve people. Technology forgets. Human beings don’t. My first impression of Qatar Airways will always be my lasting impression.


No comments: