Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vietnam Airlines

Having been in the travel industry for awhile I find it interesting/frustrating/amusing to see how this industry works. I will start at the beginning, and attempt to write our fun with Vietnam Airlines.

Due to the typhoon we were approximately 10 minutes from flying into Denang when the flight attendant announces that we will be returning to Hanoi, due to severe weather. Not sure why they wouldn't have known this before we left, but who are we to say. We arrive at Hanoi, and was told that we needed to wait in the departure area until Vietnam Airlines had more information. There was a chance they may fly out later that day. We waited, and waited, until the announcement came that flight had been cancelled. We needed to pick up our luggage and check alternate arrangements. We get our luggage only to find a huge line that would have taken hours, so we decided to leave. We call our travel agent and he has someone pick us up at the hotel, and then he advised he will meet us there to make alternate plans. Our agent books a train from Hanoi to Denang, cancels the tour and hotel in Hue. That was all confirmed and now the fun part.

We went to the first Vietnam Airlines office to get a refund for the 1st leg of the journey. They couldn't help us, and advised to go to the main Vietnam Airlines office about 1 km away. We get there, wait, and explain the situation, and she tells us that they cannot refund the ticket, it has to go to the agency of where we purchased the flights. It's a full fare economy ticket with no restrictions, and totally refundable. Generally, you can get a refund from the airline or the issuing agency, however in this case apparently only the issuing agency can do it. I request that she documents the record to avoid any confusion, though we do not have the flight coupons, we do have our boarding passes, and the rest of the ticket. She asks why we don't have them, and explain that your airline has them, when we boarded they take the coupons. Apparently, with this airline when there is a cancellation, you have to wait in the long line at the airport and pick up your coupon. She documents the record.

Later, as we were leaving to go to the train station, I receive a call from Vietnam Airlines asking me to call another number, because the coupon that they took for our flight has to be sent Denang to get a refund. You're kidding? Nope, they have to have the coupon or they won't refund our tickets.They have to literally fly the coupons to Denang in order for us to obtain our refund. We get to Denang airport at the end of our stay in Hoi An, and with the help of our guide explain what happened. We just need to either get authorization to refund the ticket or they can refund the ticket. Yes we understand that we do not have the coupons, but you have them in Hanoi at the airport. There should be something in our record, please take a look and see if nothing else. Nope, nothing in the record. You do understand that there was a typhoon two days ago, right and flights were cancelled? He tells us that he will call Hanoi once they are open to see if they will put something in the record, then send it to Saigon, so that they can refund our ticket but he needs to get information regarding the flight. Exactly what information are you waiting for, I ask. He says information. I ask about what? This goes on for about 30 seconds before he tells me that he needs to verify that the flight was cancelled. Okay, this explains, my first question? Clearly he doesn't recall a typhoon just hit central Vietnam. He keeps giving us the same answer regardless of the questions we ask and was hoping we would leave him alone. He got his wish. in Hanoi.

We arrive in Saigon, and head to the Vietnam Airlines office to see if we can get this resolved. I'm sure you can figure this out, but there was no message left nor anything documented in our record. What a shock! We explain to the gal what happened yet again, and she talks to someone on her team. While we were waiting, we saw three gals over by the computer playing computer games as people were waiting to have their questions answered. Gives you an idea, of what we've bee dealing with. Okay, so the lady comes back and says that she cannot give us a refund because she has to call Hanoi and get some additional information. What information were they waiting on? Apparently the same information the guy in Denang was looking for, to see if a typhoon actually went through Vietnam. We waited for about 10 minutes and told them they we cannot wait any longer as we have our ride waiting for us. This is now going on to about 20 minutes already and our poor driver has been waiting for us to come back. Another gal, comes in and we explain again, but with more feeling, (we were getting a wee bit frustrated by this point) what transpired and we need to get authorization to get a refund for the plane ticket. She does some more digging into our file and comes back to say that she will refund our ticket. It's highly unusual but she will do it, though she tells us that she will only refund USD 100 because the fares are cheaper in Vietnam, and will refund the amount of the market price. Mmm, wrong answer. We were to get USD 230 for both tickets. I'm sure you know what happens next...

I tell her that this is unacceptable and she then tells me that the rates are cheaper in Vietnam. That's lovely, I tell her except, however Vietnam Airlines cannot refund less than what I paid for a fully refundable ticket. I explained to her how the process is done, having been in the travel industry when it comes to a fully refundable y class fares. She looks at me, and then says she has to get an approval from her manager. She stomps off, and I figure we won't see her again, but after 10 minutes she shows up. She tells us that she has been authorized to give us our refund, but tells us that this is highly unusual. We get the amount back, and it's more than we expected. Okay, that covers the time we spent dealing with this airline. We thank her and leave but not before getting a lecture on how we need to wait for our flight coupons the next time there was a cancellation. Can you say electronic tickets?

Hopefully there won't be a next time.

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