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Why I fired Orbitz

dreamstime_m_10532639I will apologize in advance for the detailed account that follows of an Orbitz service failure. It’s my preference to avoid long-drawn-out accounts of customer service stories – whether chronicling heroic triumphs or abysmal failures. Let’s face it: we all have plenty of experience with both. And while the details of our stories may differ, the emotions experienced are eerily similar.

After an all-day presentation in Tallahassee on August 24th, I arrived at the airport at 6:00pm to check-in for an 8:08pm flight to Charlotte. At the ticket counter I was told by the American Airlines agent that the flight had been canceled months earlier – on June 5, 2016. When I asked her why I wasn’t informed about the cancellation, she said that it wasn’t American’s responsibility to notify me because I had booked the itinerary through Orbitz. I needed to take it up with them.

I knew then that if I was going to get home that night, I couldn’t afford to joust with Orbitz about why I wasn’t notified about the itinerary change. I had a full day of work scheduled in Denver the following day and I couldn’t afford to spend the night in Florida. I had to move fast to book the next flight out of Tallahassee to a major airport offering late flights to Denver. The American rep confirmed that she could get me into Miami but I’d miss the last flight to Denver. Since the Delta Airlines counter was located next door, I checked with the Delta rep to see what options she had to get me home that night. She advised that, while she could sell me a ticket that would get me into Atlanta, there were no connecting flights to Denver available on Delta until the following morning.

After checking other carriers, the Delta rep confirmed that there was a 10:00pm Frontier Airlines flight to Denver. She cautioned me that I’d only have about 45 minutes to deplane from my Delta flight in Atlanta, claim my baggage, purchase my Frontier ticket at the main terminal, clear security, and board the Frontier flight to Denver. I decided to gamble and bought the one-way ticket to Atlanta.

Later that evening after deplaning in Atlanta, I sprinted through the airport to baggage claim, retrieved my bag, raced over to the Frontier Airlines ticket counter in the main terminal and purchased a nonrefundable one-way ticket on the last flight to Denver. From the time the Frontier agent handed me my boarding pass, I had exactly 24 minutes to clear security and board the flight. (Of course, the TSA agent had to swab both my bags to verify that I was not transporting a bomb. Also, just to convey the Southern hospitality for which they’re known, another TSA agent confiscated my 11 oz. can of Foamy shaving cream. Nice.)

When I was finally permitted to clear security, I then had to run a gauntlet of towering escalators, endure multiple train stops, and make my way to the farthest gate in Terminal D: the dreaded D1A. I boarded the flight with four minutes to spare. Naturally, we then sat at the gate for an hour waiting for a maintenance issue to be resolved. In total, it cost me an additional $752.30 to get home from Tallahassee.

The following day I contacted Orbitz and, as expected, was on the phone for more than an hour with the rep as she investigated my claims. She contended that Orbitz had sent me an email notifying me of the itinerary change on June 5, 2016. The problem is that, although I have a record of 56 promotional emails from Orbitz from June 5 to August 24, 2016, I had no record of the email in question. Nor did my web guy, Larry. Nor did my server guy, Simon. When I asked the Orbitz rep to forward the original email to me, she said that she does not have the actual email; she only has a notification that an email was sent.

So, here we are. Although American Airlines and Orbitz each got paid on May 26, 2016 when I booked the original itinerary, neither will accept any responsibility for the service failure – and I’m left holding the $752.30 bag.

Lessons from losses: Let’s suppose that Orbitz did send an email (the one that I, nor Larry, nor Simon can locate) notifying me of an itinerary change. Orbitz is a large, sophisticated organization with robust technology. Why can’t there be a redundant verification process that, if unacknowledged by the recipient, would initiate another level of contact (that may include a second email, a text message, or a phone call)? Heck, even my dog’s groomer offers this feature when confirming Nugget’s grooming appointments. If I don’t acknowledge receipt of the appointment confirmation via text, they call to confirm the appointment. Come to think of it, so do my chiropractor and children’s orthodontist.

There’s an old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I was lead to believe by Orbitz that the itinerary I paid for in May would be honored in August. That didn’t happen and Orbitz refuses to accept any responsibility for the outcome. For that reason, I refuse to book another itinerary through Orbitz. Ever.

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Photo credit: © Brad Calkins

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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