That’s absurd: United charges $100 to change ‘Bob’ to ‘Robert’

Ticket change fees must be a major source of revenue for the airlines. How else do you explain Bob Bennett’s recent e-mail exchange with United Airlines, in which the carrier insisted it charge a $100 fee for changing the name on his ticket from Bob to his legal name, Robert?

My friends over at IAG recently calculated that if airline tickets were transferrable — which is to say, if you could change the name on your ticket without paying anything — it would cost the U.S. airline industry $1 billion a month in lost revenues. Maybe that’s why the United customer service agent in this exchange is so insistent on billing Bob.

Here’s the entire exchange. Read and decide for yourself if United was right — or out of line:

8/17/07

Sent by Robert Bennett to United Airlines Customer Service
via UNITED.COM web site

The situation is (or should be) simple. My legal name is Robert Bennett. This conforms to my ID and my Mileage Plus account. But I am a musician and I work under “Bob Bennett”. Someone who does not normally handle my flights recently booked a ticket under “Bob”
and, of course, I could not add my MP number to the record. I was told a couple key things by both the Reservations Agents and the Customer Service Representatives I spoke with:

— The computer, understandably, cannot draw the proper inferences between the given name “Robert” and its common nickname “Bob”.

— They had the ability to make the change but would not do so without a $100.00 “mandatory fee”.

The point is this. If Mary Jones wants to have her ticket reissued to Bud Smith, $100.00 makes some amount of sense. But if Betty wants to change her ticket to Elizabeth to conform to ID … AND … her Mileage Plus account of 20-plus years, why the $100.00?

If it were a security issue, the answer would be no in all cases. But aside from language about “mandatory fees”, the reality is … “We simply won’t do this for you without charging $100.00.”

I’m not asking if it’s policy. I’m not asking if it results in revenue. I’m asking if it’s right and if it’s good customer service?

– – – – – – – – – –

8/18/07

Sent by United Airlines Customer Relations to Robert Bennett
via e-mail

Dear Mr. Bennett,

Thank you for contacting us about concern regarding the change fees. We appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Mr. Bennett, please know that you need to pay change fee of $100 once the reservation is ticketed. The change fee cannot be waived off. Our records show that you have contacted to our phone agent on 17 August and the agent has issued a travel certificate for your future travel. While I never want to disappoint a valued customer, I do support our agent’s decision to collect appropriate fees in this instance. As with any business, we monitor customer feedback. Your good comments are
important to us and will help us evaluate our decisions that impact your travel experience.

We appreciate this opportunity to respond and look forward to serving you.

Regards,

Denzel Singh
United Airlines Customer Relations

– – – – – – – – – –

8/18/07

Sent by Robert Bennett to United Airlines Customer Relations
via e-mail

Dear Mr. Singh:

Again, I did not ask if the fee is UA policy (it is) … I did not ask if it generated revenue for UA (it does … it’s not an FAA or regulatory requirement) … what I asked was “Is it right (perhaps I should have added the word “fair”, but that seems to be so subjective as to be unhelpful)?” … and I asked “Is it good customer service?”.

The UA answer is apparently “Yes” on both counts. While I appreciate any move in the direction of addressing this issue (the creativity of a voucher issue), what I object to is that ANYBODY has to pay $100.00 to simply correct or refine identity data related to a ticket record.

I’m not sure what the situation may be worldwide, but it is common in U.S. culture/practice for given formal first names to be often used interchangably with common nicknames: Bob/Robert, Betty/Elizabeth, Theodore/Ted, John/Jack. This is not difficult for a human being to understand, but a computer cannot draw this distinction unless it is programmed to do so. And human customer service agents _could_ be given the ability to address THIS SPECIFIC NICKNAME SITUATION without having to invoke a $100.00 processing fee. The ticket is not being reissued to ANOTHER PERSON … the ticket data is being refined and corrected to properly apply to the SAME CUSTOMER. If the mechanism does not exist to draw that distinction, then it needs to be addressed.

It is without dispute that it is United’s policy to invoke the fee is without question. Any agent that charges for this is absolutely in line with company rules. And from where you sit, you can do nothing but support the actions of your agent. I fully understand that. What my complaint addresses is that the policy as it stands does not reflect ANY nuance or leeway whatsover with respect to a COMMON NICKNAME kind of situation. My opinion is simply that it should.

I’m not asking if the policy was properly invoked. I’m complaining that the policy is inequitable because it does not take into account the good faith efforts of a customer who attempts to correct/refine identity data in the airline record … versus a customer who actually DOES want to transfer a ticket to another named individual or change a destination or travel date. That fixing “Bob” costs the same as re-routing or rescheduling is simply absurd. Any policy that defies common sense, is dictated by what a computer system will or will not allow and short-circuits an agent’s ability to recognize a significant change from a “corrective identity change” belies the
proper notion of what customer service should be.

I realize these comments are beyond your scope to address … my hope is that they might merit forwarding to other persons who can assess them from a “change of policy perspective”.

Thank you for your response.

Sincerely, Robert Bennett

– – – – – – – – – –

8/22/07

Sent by United Airlines Customer Relations to Robert Bennett
via e-mail

Dear Mr. Bennett,

Thank you for contacting us again. I’m sorry you’re dissatisfied with our response.

Mr. Bennett, I am sorry you feel you were not fully informed of the procedures to change your ticket. The basic procedure is this to make any date changes you must pay a change fee. And you must pay the fare that applies to your revised itinerary. Usually last-minute ticket changes preclude your meeting the advance purchase requirements so you would need to upgrade the original fare to a full economy fare.

We appreciate this opportunity to respond and look forward to serving you.

Regards,

Denzel Singh
United Airlines Customer Relations

– – – – – – – – – –

8/23/07
Comments by Robert Bennett
Not sent to Airline

If you’ve taken time to wade through all this, you’re pretty much looking at Exhibit A to support the fact that so many United States
businesses couldn’t care less about any customer service issue that is not addressable by anything other than cookie-cutter means. It’s clear to me that this representative either didn’t read the e-mails … or … worse yet, DID read them and was intellectually unable to
grasp the distinctions I was trying to make. The final reply refers to “date changes” for a ticket. I NEVER asked for date changes. I ONLY asked for “Bob” to be changed to “Robert” so that my Mileage Plus number could be entered into the record … the ONLY way United Airlines allows online access to an airline record on its web site.

Do you think my comments will be forwarded anywhere up the food chain? I don’t either.

PS: If this did not “paste” correctly into the online form and you’d me to send a copy, please e-mail me outside the web site and I’ll reply. Thanks so much for your time.

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