What does it take to convince a US Airways agent that you can go back in time?

As many of you know I book award tickets for a living, and occasionally I share my more entertaining interactions here. 99% of my bookings are boring, while 1% of the time I run into an agent that just doesn’t get it… and it kind of brings to a smile to my face. They usually have one common theme — they involve either Delta SkyMiles or US Airways Dividend Miles agents.

I called US Airways earlier in the day to make a booking for a client. I should have known immediately that the agent was pretty clueless, but then again that’s the case with a majority of US Airways agents. Usually I can spoon feed them enough so that even if they are clueless they can still get a ticket on hold fairly quickly.

Agent: “Sir, where are you traveling to?”
Me: “Seoul Incheon.”
Agent: “That’s NHN, right?”
Me: “It’s actually ICN.”
Agent: “ICM?”
Me: “No, India, Charlie, November.”

When an agent doesn’t know a basic Star Alliance hub airport code, I try to make their lives easy and give the information to them in a language they’ll understand.

Agent: “So which flight are we looking at?”
Me: “It would be OZ flight 202 in “I” class from LAX to ICN” (for those of you that don’t know “I” class is business class award space)
Agent: “You flying Austrian Airlines from Los Angeles to ICN?”
Me: “No, Asiana Airlines.”
Agent: “Asian Airlines? I don’t think that’s an airline.”

Fair enough, after putting me on hold briefly she confirmed that they are in fact part of Star Alliance.

That should have been my sign. But I’m a bit of a masochist, so I played along.

Then we get to the return, which involved the ANA flight from Tokyo Haneda to Los Angeles. What’s “tricky” (if you can even call it that) about the flight is that it leaves at 12:05AM (on the 2nd of the month) and arrives at 5:55PM the previous day (on the 1st of the month).

So in this case we were booking Tokyo Haneda to Los Angeles to San Francisco. The agent is totally fine, until I mention the connection from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Agent: “Okay, so you’re flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the night of the 2nd.”
Me: “No, the flight would actually be the evening of the 1st, since I just want to connect off the Tokyo Haneda flight.”
Agent: “Sir, that can’t be, the flight leaves Tokyo on the 2nd, you can’t go back in time.”
Me: “The flight actually lands in Los Angeles the previous day. It leaves just a few minutes after midnight, and because it crosses the international date line, lands the day before.”

She paused for a moment — I assume she had never heard of the international date line or time zones before.

Then she said: “Sir, you don’t understand what I’m saying. There’s no such thing as time travel. Let me talk to my supervisor and double check.”

So the agent puts me on hold. I spend 30 minutes listening to the classy US Airways advertisements about how I can have a luxurious vacation at a US Airways partner hotel with liquor dispensers and minibars that are refilled daily (the true sign of luxury, my friends!), until I decide to hang up. Nothing ticks me off more than being placed on hold and not having the agent check in with me at least once every five minutes to say they’re still working on the reservation and didn’t take a bathroom or Angry Birds break. I mean, what the heck was she even “working on?”

So I hang up and figure I’ll get a more competent agent. Nope, guess who answers…

“Sir, you’re the one that thinks you can travel back in time, I just spoke to you and your reservation is still on my screen.”

Crud. Of all the US Airways Salem based reservations agents, what are the chances I’d get this one twice?

She continued: “I had a supervisor confirm that the flight lands on the 2nd and we’ve notated the record to reflect that.”

It took a third call before I found an agent willing to permit time travel.

It is Friday the 13th…

Comments

  1. Hahahahaha! Great post. This sums up just about every experience I’ve ever had booking an award with US.

  2. Wow it’s hard to imagine anyone is that dumb, and then the people they pay to be supervisors is just as bad. Funny story though – at least funny since I didn’t have to be the one dealing with the fool!

  3. I’ll be glad when I can just interact with the computer system itself…why do airlines still use agents and don’t invest in a good AI reservation system that knows all the rules and understands complex requests? I just called Virgin Atlantic to book an award flight on Hawaiian and was given a booking code and told to call back in 24 hours. Why 24 hours when all is computerized I don’t know, but I call back and all of a sudden none of the 20 flights between HON and OGG have available award space in any class. That can’t be possible – if the first agent told me seats were available on at least 6 flights, they should not just disappear. Should I try again in a week or so?

  4. WHat I love is the agents putting me on hold for 30 minutes to figure things out, and the advertisements telling me that I can just book my award on the web…

  5. Where do they find these people, and how are their jobs secure in this economy? Of all the criticisms I read about UA ICC agents, failure to understand how time zones work is NOT one of them.

  6. Love it. I activated a credit card today and the guy kept trying to press the payment protection plan on me. He was clearly reading a script and wasn’t listening each time I said “no.” It’s not his fault, it’s just that so many call center jobs are really just people being told to read a screen because computer-generated speech isn’t good enough yet. I love it when a company empowers its employees to think for a living.

  7. This is why I pay you to find and book my award travel Lucky! You provide a great service and shield me from the pain. (Thanks as always…)

    Good story!

  8. US Airways agent: Where would you like to go?

    Me: San Francisco to Hong Kong

    US Airways agent: What city in Hong Kong?

  9. Lucky,

    This is EXACTLY why there a business in booking award tickets. If everything was like calling American (which they too have some challenges)you’d probably have to 9-5 it like the rest of us 😉

    Keep on doing what you do…

  10. Hilarious!

    I thought I was having a rough time last week when an agent was explaining to me that “Catania doesn’t have an airport”…because she was spelling it with a “K”…and looking in Germany (since, clearly, Air Berlin must ONLY fly to Germany), but your story is MUCH better!!

  11. I am so glad I’m not the only one! This EXACT thing happened to me. I’m at the point where I think I might just give up on US miles, crazy promotions notwithstanding. Dealing with the agents is just too stressful.

  12. You’d think call center people would have some sense of the geography they need for their jobs. When I lived in New Mexico I’d regularly get statements like “We can’t ship internationally.” My favorite was a National Geographic call center that thought I needed to pay international subscription rates.

  13. What a funny experience….and then you got her again when you called back.

    I wish you really would have recorded the call (like I said — it is easy with Google Voice)

  14. The airlines have no reason to make booking award flights easy — thus the lackluster websites and lackluster call centers. I have no hope that things will improve in the future, since there’s no incentive for them to do so. Fortunately, we have Lucky to help us.

  15. When on hold with an incompetent agent, make sure you call back on another line before you hang up the first line to ensure you don’t get them again 🙂 When you hung up you put her next on the queue to pick up, and then in you come!

  16. Just had this issue two days ago on the same ANA HND-LAX flight! These agents are simply clueless. This issue is independent from the fact that I had to explain that ANA was a *A partner…or that they can actually fly from HND and not NRT. Ugh.

  17. Part of the the problem is the call center is based in Salem. How many people from there have traveled internationally or met some one from another country? Jersey? That is not in the UK, that is clearly in the US.

  18. @Steve Kalman #27 I get that occasionally. I’m still holding out hope for Star Alliance Gold lounge access when flying to ABQ. Unfortunately, RCC guardians seem to have a better grasp of geography… rats! 😉

  19. Coins, I see that the USAir agents have you marked too! LOL.

    The list:
    Starwood
    AA
    USAir
    I’m starting to get nervous for you as a blogger.

  20. At least you get to vent by blogging. The rest of us have to suffer in silence when things like this happen to us.

  21. This lady and the agents should be on UNDERCOVER BOSS on CBS!!!!

    Yesterday they had a lady who was under trained, and walla the owner of this vacation chain is going to train those agents personally!

  22. Heard a new one today,
    “Sir, although you are paying the $150 change fee for Dividend Miles ticket, you can not change your flights from Asiana to United.”
    Me: “Why?”
    Agent: Because we have already compensated Asiana for your ticket and there is no way for us to get our money back!!! Any changes you make have to be on Asiana only.
    Me: Whaaaaatt?

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