Airline admits it handled delayed flight and refund poorly

2015-01-21 00:00

DURBAN businessperson and writer ­Myan Subrayan was unimpressed when a delayed Safair flight from Port ­Elizabeth to Johannesburg led to him missing an ­important function where he was the main speaker.

But it was the airline staff’s alleged ­abrasive handling of his plight and its ­unresponsiveness to his complaint that added insult to injury. Subrayan said he ­regretted trying out the new airline for the first time on December 12, after the ­four-hour flight delay led to him missing the important meeting. “I’m out of ­pocket both ways as I had to pay for the ticket and I’m not going to get paid for the speaking appointment,” Subrayan said in an e-mail.

Subrayan said he arrived at the airport at 6.30 am, only to learn that his flight would be delayed by three hours. And when he complained to an Safair staff member that he was going to miss his meeting, he said she “rudely” responded that he should have flown the night ­before. He asked to speak to a manager but was advised that the company’s CEO was in the office, yet unavailable.

Frustrated, Subrayan said he decided not to take the later flight that the airline had arranged and staff at the ticket desk advised that he could request a ticket refund via e-mail. Subrayan immediately e-mailed the airline’s customer care ­department, highlighting his dissatisfaction at the poor service.

“This is the first and last time I will fly with you. I will ensure I tell everyone in my networks never to use your airline.”

But five days later, when he had not received even an acknowledgment, he e-mailed Safair’s vice president Lorna Terblanche asking for a refund and again complained about the company’s “dismal service and total lack of customer service and care”. Another five days passed and there was still silence.

I contacted Safair to find out what had gone wrong and to ask why Subrayan’s complaints had been ignored, especially since he was within his rights in terms of Section 19 and Section 54 of the CPA, to obtain a refund for the service failure.

Safair vice president commercial Oliver Wigdahl responded, putting the flight ­delay down to a technical fault with the aircraft. “Regretfully with a busy scheduled airline, these events do occur, but thankfully not frequently. The challenge is to deal with the unexpected professionally when it does happen,” he said.

He said the airline’s back-up aircraft was in Cape Town and the pronounced delay was as a result of the time taken to secure a third party operator, and for it to mobilise crews and complete pre-flight procedures during peak morning business.

“We anticipated a three-hour delay and were able to communicate this to checking-in passengers down at PE, including Mr Subrayan. We issued a verbal apology and refreshment vouchers … We also kept passengers informed through SMS,” he said.

Wigdahl said the airline’s ticket desk staff had advised Subrayan that according to the ticket terms and conditions, because the flight delay had exceeded four hours, he was entitled to carriage on a later flight or a refund within 21 days.

Wigdahl said the company had, in fact, processed a R1 799 partial refund five days after receiving Subrayan’s e-mailed request, but had neglected to inform him.

Upon further investigation of the complaint, he said the airline found that Subrayan was entitled to a full refund, and a further R800, for the return leg of the journey, which had now also been processed.

“One thing we should have done, which we now realise we failed to do at this point, was write back to Mr Subrayan to confirm the refund had been completed,” he said. “We totally empathise with Mr Subrayan regarding the impact and frustration that such a delay has on a planned business trip, but we will never compromise on passenger safety where technical issues come to light.

“We value Mr Subrayan’s business very highly and hope that he may be persuaded to give us another try, when we can demonstrate our commitment to low fares, ­on-time performance and customer ­service excellence.”

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