When I read about flights like Prabir Mehta’s, I can’t help but exclaim: airline alliances! Curse you, airline alliances!
You might do the same when you read about his flight from Atlanta to Bombay via Amman, Jordan. They were tickets by US Airways and Royal Jordanian, both of whom belong to the OneWorld airline alliance. Mehta had booked them using his frequent flier miles.
Now, I should say right up front that I’m deeply skeptical of airline alliances. Sure, they allow frequent fliers to collect and redeem “miles” on reciprocal carriers, but they also give airlines broad permission to collude with each other. Too often, these alliances are good for airlines, but bad for consumers.
And loyalty programs? Oh, don’t even get me started.
That’s my bias. If you disagree, have at it in the comments, but you are wrong.
Anyway, here’s what happened to Mehta. Two weeks before his departure, the connecting flight from Amman to Mumbai was canceled and he was rebooked 2 days later. His original flight had him overnighting in Amman, and since he was flying in business class, Royal Jordanian had agreed to cover his hotel expenses.
Bear in mind, though, that US Airways “owns” his ticket, so it has the final say-so as to what happens with the scheduling.
US Airways did not inform me of these flight changes despite having my e-mail address and phone number on file. I happened to notice there was an issue when I tried to pull up my itinerary on the US Airways Android app.
US Airways agents refused to give me any other options besides the ones I had been presented. I could either accept the new flights and dates or US Airways would cancel my scheduled trip. This, despite there being multiple US Airways and OneWorld partner flights to Mumbai on my original dates with seats available for purchase.
As a result of these changes, I had to pay for three nights’ stay in Jordan. Royal Jordanian refused to compensate me for the hotel stay, including the original one free night promised at the airport hotel.
US Airways agents could have offered travel vouchers, miles, cash to help me out but refused to do so. They could have rearranged my flights on other airlines but they refused to do so. I felt like a hostage with two bad choices.
Let’s take these one at a time. The scheduling — yes, US Airways should have notified Mehta as soon as possible. It’s not entirely clear why it didn’t. In terms of scheduling the next flight, that’s also up to the discretion of the carrier. Award tickets are based on availability. As of now, there are no rules in place that would allow a passenger like Mehta to select his replacement flight. US Airways can choose a new flight three days later, and he has to live with it.
Is that fair? You tell me.
Could US Airways have been more helpful? Based on what Mehta has told me, the answer is “yes.” But I wanted to get another perspective on this, so I contacted US Airways on his behalf. It responded directly to him by phone:
I got a call back from Wayne at US Airways customer relations citing your contacting US Airways.
Unfortunately, he was barely sympathetic and not helpful at all. I guess passengers who redeem miles are second class citizens.
He said that since this was a schedule change, there was nothing US Airways could do. He suggested that I contact Royal Jordanian, which I have already done. They pointed me right back at US Airways, since this flight was ticketed through US Airways. So I’m now without recourse.
I personally think it is absurd that an airline can get away calling a canceled flight a schedule change and not offering any compensation.
US Airways could have helped me out by either:
1. Putting me on one of the many OneWorld flights from ATL-BOM where plenty of seats were available for sale, or
2. Compensating me for my hotel nights and expenses. I am willing to accept miles, vouchers, cash.
Am I being unreasonable here?
I don’t think Mehta is being unreasonable. I mean, he earned those miles to get him from Atlanta to Mumbai in business class. As a loyal customer, you’d think he would be given extra-special treatment — not forced to languish three days in Amman to wait for the next flight with a mileage seat. But maybe I’m being idealistic here. Maybe miles really are as worthless as I’ve always said they are.
There’s one last thing I can do, but it’s a long shot. I can contact Royal Jordanian and ask it to help Mehta with a combination of miles or a voucher. But I’m pretty sure that the airline was just following its own rules, too, and shouldn’t be on the hook for three hotel room nights.