Open letter to South African Airways

If you follow me on Twitter (@PhakamaniLisa), you would already know that I have a serious gripe with South African Airways (SAA). I’m sure Sudan Airways and Eagle Air (Uganda) offer better service.

This is not about the tiny leg room, dry food, the 2hr delayed flight with no notice, lost luggage or the time they sat me next to an obese man who took up half my seat- it’s about the ongoing bad service. And it appears I’m not alone, their Facebook and Twitter pages are rife with tongue lashings from disappointed and angry travelers. HelloPeter is a playground for angry SAA consumers reporting an array of issues from “Bad Attitude” to “Billing” and “Damaged Goods”. Worst of all, the complaints are going unattended. So tweet by tweet, they’re reputation is being further obliterated.

I really can’t imagine why a huge parastatal would risk forsaking an on and offline reputation management team. I hope they are considering stepping into the 21st century with the R5 billion bailout they’ve recently been handed by treasury following an abrupt walk- out by several board members.

I don’t have the time to school them on public relations but should one of their members find this blog post within the next decade, they should read about it here, here and here.

I rarely complain about bad service but thought I must share the story about the straw that broke the camel’s back. The letter to the current CEO Vuyisile Kona went as follows:

“In early September of this year I booked a return flight from Johannesburg to Harare for October. I purposefully book my flights ahead of time so that I don’t incur high tax rates. I paid R 3 888 for a return flight.

A week before the departure date I received an email from SAA saying my flight had been rescheduled (17 October 2012): “We would like to inform you about a schedule change on at least one of your flights booked. Please click the following link and enter your booking reference XXXXXX in order to see your updated itinerary…We would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused due to this schedule change.”

The inconvenience they might have been referring to is the fact that I couldn’t catch a 16.15 flight. As protocol would have it, you must check in 2 hours before for international flights and board an hour before. Including travel time to the Gautrain- this would mean I would have to leave work at 13.00 latest. This would also mean that I would have to take a half day of leave from work. I am contracted to apply for leave 2 weeks in advance and with SAA only notifying me a week before there was no possibility of applying for leave and catching a 16.15 flight.

The next option was to catch the first flight out the following morning at 06.10. When I called customer service, the agent said I would have to pay an additional R 2 000 because the flight was not “in my class”. The next available flight “in my class” would be 10.40 which would push my travel itinerary in Harare out by over 12 hours.

I then cancelled the booking expecting a full refund for the original flight cost and booked the morning flight for R 5 605 this is (an additional R 1717 to the original flight I had booked and paid for a month in advance). As mentioned, I book my flights ahead of time so that I don’t have to incur high tax costs. I would also incur an additional R500 weekend parking ticket because at 4am in the morning- there is no Gautrain to the airport (which would have cost me half the amount).

Yesterday I received a computer generated credit note saying I would only be refunded R 3 203 of the R3 888 I paid for the original flight booking and the additional R1717 I had to pay to be on the 6.10 flight

 Note:
1. SAA sold me a service that doesn’t exist by not providing a flight on the agreed date at the agreed time and at the same cost

2. They notified me of a schedule change 6 weeks after I confirmed my booking and 1 week before departure date


3. SAA was not diligent about finding a suitable alternative between the time I received a rescheduling notice and the time I cancelled the flight


4. The amount I paid for the original flight has not been fully refunded, R685 outstanding


5. I have not been compensated for the difference of the new flight which means I’ve suffered an additional cost of R 1717.

Given the above circumstances, charging me 17 % for a service SAA could not deliver is unfounded. Given the fact that SAA failed to give me a suitable alternative, the ticket must be refunded in full.

Per article 11.2 of SAA’s “Conditions of Carriage”:

“11.2.1. If we cancel a flight, fail to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, fail to
stop at your destination or Stopover, or cause you to miss a connecting flight on
which you hold a reservation, the amount of the refund shall be:
11.2.1.1. if no portion of the Ticket has been used, an amount equal to the fare paid

Hard to tell but this has little to do with the R685 ($80) they owe me and more to do with the state of South Africa’s airline industry. With Velvet Sky and 1 Time having filed for liquidation, the low cost airline industry is basically non-existent. A few years ago, we were celebrating growth in the domestic airline market; from 7 million flyers to 12 million within 5 years. Today, SAA is hemorrhaging tax payer’s money so fast they need a turnaround strategy with a dash of miracle. So now what? We cheer “support proudly South African products” whilst booking holiday flights on British Airways…

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