Monthly Archives: March 2009

Don’t use Frontier Airlines, Priceline.com #

I’m stuck in Atlanta.

I booked on Priceline.com. I needed to be in Atlanta for a day, so flew in late last night via Frontier Airlines.

On the first leg of the trip (with Frontier partner, United), the flight left 20 minutes late because a computer failure required all baggage to be processed manually. Fortunately, the pilot was able to make up the time (and then some) on the way to Denver.

On the second leg of the trip (Denver to Atlanta, on Frontier), the flight was delayed more than an hour for “weather reasons,” although no other flight into Atlanta, both from the same airline and from any other airline was delayed out of Denver. When questioned, Atlanta locals admitted there was some light rain that morning, but nothing that should have caused delays. After boarding, we sat on the tarmac for another hour waiting to take off while the pilot got clearance from the tower. We got in about two-and-a-half hours late.

Frontier Airlines cancelled my return flight, and didn’t tell me until I arrived at the airport. The agent at the counter said it was due to mechanical reasons. They claimed to have contacted the hotel I was staying at, but I had checked out in the morning—I was staying only the single night, after all. Although I had provided my contact information to Priceline.com, the airline was only given my hotel number. Frontier had no later flights, and they refused to provide a ticket on another airline that was leaving a couple of hours later. I was not offered any compensation for likely hotel charges caused by their inability to properly run an airline.

Checking with Delta (the other carrier who did have a flight running), a one-way ticket would have cost me in excess of $750, due to exorbitant walk-up prices (+ taxes; no love from Delta either). No wonder airlines are never profitable. The marginal cost to get me on that flight would have been negligible, but it seems they would rather do without the extra money than actually provide airline service.

The Frontier Airlines representative gave me the phone number to the airline’s “customer service center.” She neglected to mention they’d closed already. (5:00 pm Mountain. Really?) I had the option of leaving a voicemail to tell them what I think of them, and how I would very much like them to give me money back for not providing the service I paid for. I hung up without leaving a message rather than break into uncontrolled swearing.

I figured maybe Priceline.com might be willing to help out. Nope. After entering my eleven-digit confirmation number and home phone number, the answering agent asked for it all again. (I despise when companies do this—and many companies are guilty. If you require information be keyed in, provide it to the answering agent and stop wasting my time!)

I explained my problem to the agent, who put me on hold for 10 minutes while he “logged the details of my problem into the computer.” Uh-huh. He then came back on the line and told me the hotel fee was non-refundable. WTF? That had nothing to do with my problem. I explained again I was stuck in Atlanta because the airline was clueless, and would like them to find me a way home. More waiting. I finally got a warm hand-off (at least he got that part right) to a guy who told me the entire thing was non-refundable (even when it was the fault of the airline—federal consumer protection laws be damned), and that they would do nothing for me, not even check to see how much a flight on the other airline would cost me (it might be less than the walk-up rate). At no time did the fact that I paid for a service they were unable to provide factor in to his thinking.

The trouble with this story is that it could have easily been prevented or solved by either company.

Priceline.com: (1) Forward my contact phone number to the airline. The say they tried calling me. They could have only gotten my hotel’s phone number from you–go ahead and give them my actual contact information. It would have been easier. I would have have to cut my meetings short by a few hours, but at least then I might have had some options. It would have prevented the entire snafu. (2) Implement a useful automated answer program. The last thing you want to do is make a frustrated customer irate, and that’s all your system seems to do from my end. (3) Take care of your customer. The airline’s cancellation was beyond my control. Bend over backward to get me out of Atlanta, and not only am I your customer for life, you get a heartwarming story told to everyone about how cool you are. A permanent customer, and some free word-of-mouth publicity for a couple hundred dollars. Instead you get this. I hope it costs more.

Fronteir Airlines: (1) Again, would it really have been that difficult to have put me on another airline? This was your fault, after all. The customer desk agent was polite, and surprisingly helpful, although she maintained a somewhat condescending attitude. Again, is the cost of losing a customer and bad publicity worth the little bit extra it would have cost you to put me on a different airline? You already have my money, after all. (1b) As a second, half-baked make-up attempt to win me back, you can refund my money for the second flight (or provide some other consideration for the inconvenience), but I won’t hold out hope. I have no expectation you will respond with any sort of integrity; you are in the airline business, after all. (2) You may want to consider waiting until after all of your domestic flights have left (or, even better, arrived!) before closing your customer service center. Really.

UPDATE: Frontier cancelled another of my flights on the way home (no explanation), keeping me in Denver for several extra hours, and forcing me to (again) reschedule my transportation home from the airport. It was in Denver that I saw the first smiling Frontier employee of the trip too.

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