With Slovakia having eased entry restrictions, I decided to visit my family there earlier this month. While I knew there was the possibility of countries changing entry restrictions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and me having to cancel the trip because of that, I could have never even imagined of what almost axed my trip.
Rather than being denied boarding or entry because of an update in travel restrictions, the trip almost didn’t happen because my reservation was cancelled–without me realizing it until about 24 hours before the flight.
So what did happen and how did I resolve the issue?
Rumors About the Czech Republic Being Put on Slovakia’s High-Risk Countries List
Normally, when I go back to Slovakia, I fly to Vienna airport which is about a two-hour drive from my hometown, Nitra.
At this point, however, Austria doesn’t allow the entry of foreigners. While technically it allows transit, to simplify things (or so I thought), I decided to book a flight from Tokyo to Prague instead. That’s because Czech Republic eliminated all restrictions for people arriving from Japan.
In the time between booking the flights and departing, though, the COVID-19 situation in the Czech Republic–and especially Prague–got worse. That, in turn, sparked rumors about Slovakia putting restrictive measures targeted at people arriving from the country in place.
With that, I decided to rebook my flight to arrive in Vienna instead of Prague. Luckily, having booked it with Turkish Airlines miles, the change was possible for just 25 dollars.
After calling the airline’s call center a couple of times unsuccessfully, I finally managed to talk to an agent that was able to make the necessary changes. At the end of the call, he reassured me multiple times that everything was in order and that I would not need to take any action.
He also said that because he didn’t have the ability to process the 25 dollar payment, I would be receiving a call from another department at Turkish Airlines within 48 hours. At the end of the call, once again, he reassured me that there is no need to take any action from my side.
Forty-eight hours later, I was still waiting for the call. I didn’t give it much thought at that time, though, as on both Turkish Airlines’ and Swiss’ (operating airline) website, the reservation was showing the new flights that I had rebooked myself to.
One Booking, Three Different Itineraries, Zero Confirmed Flights
I didn’t give it much thought until 24 hours before my departure when I decided to go check myself in. Logging into the Swiss website, I was shocked to find that the Tokyo – Zurich flight had disappeared from the reservation. Instead, the website was showing only the Zurich – Vienna flight.
I also wasn’t allowed to check-in.
Weird, I thought.
Next, I checked the Turkish Airlines website. I pulled up the booking, and I was surprised by what I saw again. This time, the entire itinerary was displayed. Tokyo to Zurich to Vienna, flights LX161 and OS566, just as planned. There was a catch, though. The reservation was showing as economy class even though the booking class was showing as “I” which is award business class.
“This is getting weirder,” I thought.
Going back to the Swiss website, I noticed there was an option to send myself an e-ticket. So I did.
When it arrived in my inbox (it arrived three times within a few minutes of each email…) and I opened the attached PDF, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The PDF listed my original flights, from Tokyo to Zurich to Prague. It listed departure and arrival dates, and arrival time as “not available,” though.
At that point, I realized the booking was completely messed up and started suspecting that it was because of the “missed” payment which Turkish Airlines never called to collect.
One Call Center, Four Agents, Two Hours, Zero Help
With less than 24 hours remaining until the departure time and the clock ticking, I picked up the phone and called the Turkish Airlines call center.
First time, I chose to speak to an agent in English.
After him that I needed to figure out what happened with my booking, he told me to call one hour later because their reservation system was down. He also stressed that I should call “one hour later,” “not two or three hours, one hour later.”
Not being 100% convinced that we were on the same page, I called about fifteen minutes after hanging up. This time, I chose to speak in Japanese. (I assume) a Turkish lady fluent in Japanese picked up. I explained that I needed to see what was with my booking.
This time, not one, two, or three hours later but just fifteen minutes after my previous call, the agent was actually able to pull the booking up. That joy didn’t last long, though.
She told me my flights were cancelled and that she could do nothing about it. At least she forwarded me to another, mysterious, department. After explaining my situation to the next agent again, I was put on hold.
I waited and waited, but even twenty minutes later, the agent didn’t come back.
So I did what any reasonable person would do–I hung up and called again.
Finally I reached someone that was able to help me. Or so I thought.
The agent immediately recognized that the booking was cancelled because of my failure to pay the 25 dollars. He was also surprised that no one called and said “I don’t know why my colleague told you 48 hours, they should call much sooner.”
“Well, at least he can solve my problem,” I thought. Just like the agent that did the actual rebooking, this agent wasn’t able to take the payment either. Instead, he had to leave a note in the system asking the payments department to give me a call.
“They’ll call you in, maximum, four hours,” he said.
“Can you make it an hour?” I countered.
After a bit of back and forth, we settled on two hours. Of course, at that point, I was quite certain that I would not get the call within that timeframe. And I was right.
Turkish Airlines’ Tokyo Office Comes to the Rescue
Being fairly desperate at that point, I remembered my friend’s suggestion to call the Tokyo office. A Google search or two later, I had the number, and so I dialed it.
After two or three minutes of “all of our staff is currently busy,” one of Turkish Airlines’ Japanese sales staff picked up. Explaining the problem to her again, she said “oh, I see there is a note to call within two hours but no one called you yet.”
“Well, the note is there for nothing other than covering the call centre agent’s a**,” I thought to myself.
Luckily, she also said that she could reissue the booking for me. She also mentioned, though, that the Tokyo office only took payments via bank transfer.
Mentioning to her that wiring the money would not be a problem, she said she would send me an email with the details immediately. She also mentioned that I’d have to complete the payment by 2PM. While it was already around noon at that point, meeting the deadline was not a problem at all. Especially considering that the other option was having the reservation disappear into thin air.
I thanked her, hung up, and waited for the email. This time, it arrived within a few minutes.
I walked over to the bank, did the transfer, emailed a picture of the transfer confirmation document back to the email address that the payment details arrived from, and waited.
A bit more than an hour later, I received another email from Turkish Airlines, with an e-ticket.
This time, it was showing the right flights. It was also showing those flights being in business class. And, it was showing the actual flight dates and times, not just “not available.”
With the morning wasted and unproductive, I could finally take a breath and get some work done before packing for the trip.
I can only imagine what the situation would have ended up like if it happened to someone not used to traveling or dealing with airline call centers.
At best, the person would probably end up not heading out to the airport and canceling their trip. At worst, the person would not even realize that their flight has been canceled until getting to the airport and being told so.
In either case, it would have been a terrible situation to be in.
I understand that mistakes do happen. In fact, I should likely have called Turkish Airlines after 48 hours of not receiving a call from them in spite of the agent reassuring me multiple times that I didn’t have to contact them again or take any further action.
That said, the situation could have been made better if Turkish Airlines did at least send an email that the flights have been cancelled. A simple heads up. Or if they actually called within 48 hours. Or within two hours of my call the day before my departure as promised.
Instead, I had to hunt down the Tokyo office number. And had to be fortunate enough to be based in Japan, a country known around the world for great customer service, and to be able to deal with the Tokyo office directly.
Fortunately, all turned out well and I had a great trip. Not without a lot of effort and stress on my side the day before departure, though. Going through this situation made me ponder: “What is the value of the great onboard service that Turkish Airlines is known for if the customer service on the ground is barely one star?”