In the Trenches: Taking Responsibility
When we book flights, we specialize in being able to decipher all of the complex airline rules in order to make travel easier for our clients. But we occasionally get things wrong. In fact, I made a mistake last week that resulted in some pretty hefty consequences.
Here’s what happened: Three clients purchased business class tickets to Europe last January. Back in February, I made a complicated change to their itinerary. When summer rolled around, they could no longer take the trip, and their tickets were non-refundable. After researching the rules, I determined that they could use their credit with the airline after paying the change fee as long as they rebooked by January, within a year of their purchase of the original tickets.
As the deadline approached, I received an email from the clients asking exactly how long they had to rebook. I reminded them of the date, which was fast approaching, and I decided to reconfirm everything with the airline, because there were a lot of seemingly conflicting details in the rules. That’s when the snag appeared.
Buried several paragraphs into the rules of one of the tickets’ fares was a little clause stating that the ticket had to be reissued at the time of the change. What that means is that you can’t hold a credit. And that means that the tickets had absolutely no value at all. Oh, crap.
Although this snag doesn’t change the fact that our clients canceled their previous trip, it does mean that they could have paid the change fee and held the credit by booking “placeholder” flights. Because of my error, they lost the entire value of the tickets. I spoke with a number of agents to try to get the airline to issue a waiver, but I came up empty-handed.
I had to tell my client what happened.
Some small-business owners might be tempted to come up with a ton of excuses and say that the clients are out of luck. But I can’t do that. It’s ultimately my job to interpret the rules correctly, and I have to take responsibility for any errors.
These are repeat clients, so I called them to discuss the matter. They were very appreciative and said they would be happy to work with me to figure out how to have the lowest impact on my business. That might mean using frequent flier miles I have stocked up or shifting their travel dates. No matter what, it’s painful, but it has to be done. I made a mistake, and now I have to pay for it.
Update: The airline agreed to work with us on this ticket, so it looks like we've escaped the worst of it. But it doesn't change that fact that we would have taken responsibility if it hadn't worked out.
Brett Snyder is President and Chief Airline Dork of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. Snyder previously worked for several airlines, including America West and United, before leaving to create a travel search site for PriceGrabber.com. Snyder did his undergrad at George Washington and earned his MBA from Stanford.