How costly can the letter ‘e’ be?

Dlta Air Lins
Booking air tickets online should be simple. Right?

Wrong! Not if our experience is anything to go by. Having agreed dates with our daughter and family in Minnesota for our trip here this year (which we’re currently enjoying), I began the search for the best deals way back in February. Unlike last year I found that I could get the best fares directly with Delta Airlines from Birmingham (BHX) to the Twin Cities (MSP) via Amsterdam (AMS) rather than working through a price comparison site.

Having duly selected our preferred route and dates (with the BHX-AMS sector operated by KLM), and at convenient departure times, I proceeded to make the reservations and purchases.

That’s when the nightmare began (although I didn’t know it at the time). Having completed all the passenger and debit card information, I then printed the receipts and e-tickets. And that’s when I discovered a ‘small’ error in one of the tickets. My wife’s middle name is Claire, but the receipt printed only ‘Clair’. I was certain I’d typed her names correctly, and when I checked the background security information held on file by Delta, everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion – no errors.

Knowing that even a small spelling mistake can be costly at the time of boarding, I decided to contact Delta and have the error corrected. In Europe, all Delta reservations are handled by Air France (part of the Skyteam alliance). So the 0845 (and costly per minute) number I dialed connected me with someone in France. Yes, I was told, the error could be corrected – at a cost of £60!!! What choice did I have? And with that I thought all would be in order.

Later that same evening I received a call from an Air France senior supervisor who told me that Steph’s reservation had been transferred to the Air France system (with a new confirmation code), and since I’d advised the airline of the error immediately, the fee was being waived. And I received an email confirming all this.

Two weeks before departure
A couple of weeks before our trip I needed to check a detail of our itinerary so went to my account on the Delta website, only to discover that the AMS-MSP sectors of our trip were not registered. Yet if I checked the Air France site with the other confirmation code, everything was there including our selected seats.

Another phone call to ‘Delta’ – unfortunately Delta in Europe does not have the very convenient call back system it operates in the USA. So once you are through, you have to wait on line – with the minutes and pennies ticking away – until a representative attends to your call. When finally connected, the representative was somewhat confused by the information she found in the Delta / Air France system and informed me she would sort it out and call me back. Which she did, almost two hours later. ‘All sorted’ she told me, but told me to check-in online through the Air France web site.

Check-in time
On Sunday 2 June I received an email from Air France advising me to check-in online (and I also received an email from KLM later the same morning with the same information). But I only received boarding passes for the BHX-AMS sector. Oh well, I thought, I’ll get the AMS-MSP passes in Schipol. But when we got to Birmingham Airport the following morning, the agent could see our reservations but could not check us in for the MSP flight from AMS, and advised us to sort it in Amsterdam. It took more than an hour in Schipol to get new boarding passes – but not for our preferred seats (we were initially given two seats in the very last row!). And the agent spent time getting the information configured between the Delta, Air France and KLM systems. Then it was off to the gate with a printed Delta confirmation of our return flight from MSP to AMS, and seats.

More problems in the Twin Cities
The day after we arrived to St Paul, I decided to check if everything was fine with our return reservations. Nothing on the Delta web site, but OK with Air France – but not the seats we’d been assigned in Schipol. A phone call to Delta again, and when I did get through all the changes that had been made in Schipol were nowhere to be seen in the Delta system. A very helpful agent, Kathy Beard, spent more than an hour working with one of her colleagues (fortunately at Delta phone expense) to reissue the return tickets. But again we’ve lost our preferred seats – at least we’re on the flight home (we were still the last time I checked). Let’s see what happens next Sunday when I attempt to check-in online.

And the outcome?
On all our boarding passes so far, Steph’s middle name has been abbreviated to ‘C’, ‘Cla’ or the like – never her full name. We also traveled to Oregon and California, and when I booked those tickets with Delta I was super careful about filling in Steph’s data correctly. Yet the system returned a ticket for ‘Stephanie Clair Jackson’! Well, I asked Ms Beard about this, and she told me not to worry. Provided that the security background information that Delta holds matches the information in Steph’s passport – which it does – then there is no issue.

All that hassle and heartache, and for nothing. Now why the Delta system won’t recognize ‘Claire’ instead of ‘Clair’ beats me.

Apart from that, we’ve had a wonderful time with Hannah, Michael, Callum and Zoë, and our trip to the West Coast was awesome.

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