How We Made Copa $1,445.60 Richer (Tales From the Field)


I’ve seen several comments on posts in my “Tales From the Field” series asking for stories where it didn’t all work out as well as we would have hoped. Ask and ye shall receive. To be fair, it all worked out fine for our Cranky Concierge client in the end, but we ended up having to eat nearly $1,500 thanks to Copa being downright difficult. In fact, we’re booking as little of Copa as possible now, but let’s get to the story.

Earlier this year, we booked a client to fly from Chicago to Rio via Panama City in coach on Copa in April. At one point before departure, there was a schedule change that required reissuing the ticket. I didn’t handle this whole thing myself, so I’m still not entirely sure how this got so messed up. But I do know that somehow the flight from Panama City to Rio ended Copa Tales From the Fieldup in Business Class and there were no coach seats available. That’s not good. This very well could have been our fault, but mistakes like this do happen. With most airlines, you just call and explain what happened. Usually someone can get it fixed.

So that’s what we did. One of our Travel Architects called up Copa and tried to straighten out this mess. The agent said she would have to get someone else to reinstate the reservation in coach, but it would be done and no further work was required.

A couple weeks later, however, it wasn’t fixed. There was another minor schedule change, so an architect called Copa again because it was still showing in Business Class for that one flight. Again, Copa confirmed the ticket was fine. Our architect left it at their word. Of course, that was a mistake. We should have been calling them every single day to get it fixed, because of course they wouldn’t let someone travel in Business Class without paying for it, even if they promised to fix it. But nobody followed up. Fast forward to the day of travel, and you can see where this is going.

We got an urgent call early in the morning from our client standing at the Copa ticket counter in Chicago. They won’t check him in because he owes the fare difference between coach and Business Class for that second flight. The total comes to $1445.60. I hadn’t really been involved up until this point, but I immediately jumped into action. I spoke with the agent at the airport who confirmed that there was nothing he could do. That I fully believe. So we started calling Copa to see if we could get this worked out. Nobody was willing to take any responsibility or help in any way. The only option was to pay the fare difference or our client would be stuck.

Of course, this wasn’t our client’s fault in any way. We were getting close to his departure time, so what else could we do? I gave the Copa agent our company card and told him to charge it. We’d have to fight Copa after the fact, but we couldn’t make our client miss his flight.

With that done, I started researching the best I could. Clearly there was an issue with blame likely to fall on both sides, but I was hopeful that we could get this worked out. We called Copa to ask about this and were told that no amount was charged to the card, so we didn’t have to worry. In fact, Copa entered these remarks into the reservation:

H-NEW TKT 230xxxxxxxxxx

ADC means the additional amount of money owed. We were happy to just leave it alone after this, but of course, this was completely and totally wrong. The charge showed up on our card a couple days later and it was time to fight once again.

This time, I asked for some help from friends in high places. I went to someone who had some influence and he agreed to help connect me with someone at Copa who would actually pay attention to this. We were told we’d hear back soon, but we didn’t.

Finally, after much poking and prodding, we received an email two weeks later basically telling us that it was entirely our fault. They included a transcript from one of the phone calls with their agent saying that everything was fine. They did not include a date or timestamp on this call, but they said that we had gone in and made the change to Business Class after the call. They didn’t include any further information or transcripts from any of the other calls we made, but they told us to basically suck it. They weren’t giving us any money back.

I responded and asked for the timestamp from that original call, but that was the last I ever heard from Copa. I thought about suing the airline, but frankly, there wasn’t anything to really sue for. Sure the Copa agents lied on multiple occasions, but ultimately, the facts are that he ended up in Business Class and they made him (er, us) pay for it. There was blame on both sides for this, but Copa refused to take any responsibility at all. While most airlines we work with would have resolved this issue quickly after it happened, Copa chose not to and profited in the short term.

Of course in the long run, they have lost business because of how we view the airline. We now warn clients that Copa is very difficult to deal with and if there are any problems with the flights, we are likely to have less luck than with other airlines. In addition, we will no longer book Copa in our system because we don’t want the liability of dealing with an airline like that. That doesn’t mean we won’t book Copa in a different way if someone prefers that option — customer preference always comes first — but we most certainly aren’t pushing for it.

40 comments on “How We Made Copa $1,445.60 Richer (Tales From the Field)

  1. Have you considered disputing the charge with the credit card issuer? It may not work, but there’s very little downside. It seems to me that that comment from Copa that you posted would give you a decent case–and the dispute will force Copa to respond.

    1. Doubt that is going to fly.

      The charge was for the client to be able to fly in business class. The client flew in business class. The charge was authorized by the card holder. Case closed.

      That it essentially was coercion won’t matter to the bank.

      1. Forget that. Even if the charge back is successful, the airline will just refer it to collections, and then you’re really screwed.

    2. Grichard – We thought about it, but it didn’t seem like a good plan. I think it’s a hard case to make. We did authorize the charge as Oliver said. It’s just a pretty poor way for an airline to handle the situation.

    1. Noah – No complaint was filed with DOT, but that actually might be a good idea. After all, the agents did lie on multiple occasions and we have proof of at least one of those. Seems complaint-worthy.

      The architects did not collect names but they did keep notes on the phone calls. Still, that’s hard to use as proof of anything since there’s no recording. Anyone on the other end could dispute it if they wanted and then it becomes a “he said, she said” pile of garbage.

      1. Have you considered adding call recording into your standard procedures? I’m not sure on the legality of it for California (some states both parties have to consent, in others only one.) Phone calls are actually pretty small data wise.

        1. Nick – Haven’t really thought about it. I know the rule is that you can’t record without telling people you’re doing it. But I guess we could think about it.

          1. I would do it. It’s a simple thing and it protects you in the case of a dispute exactly like this.

            I honestly can’t believe your folks don’t get the name and/or employee number of every single airline rep they ever talk to. I’m just a regular person and I absolutely do so… I usually say, “in case I need to follow up on this call or something goes wrong, what is your name and employee number?” I also commonly ask for their direct call back number but they will almost never give that (and I suspect, often they don’t have a direct number that I could call). Part of asking that very clearly early on is to make them understand that I’m taking notes and WILL follow up on the call.

  2. Basically what I’m seeing here is your agency’s worker screwed up when taking care of the schedule change, and you would like to blame Copa for it. That’s nice, but generally not how the business works.

      1. I’m with Johnson on this one….. I read a narrative in which your agent (or “travel architect”) has failed to adequately document and engage the airline to correct a SNAFU. The efforts that you describe are casual at best and do not rise the standards of experienced travelers, or anyone experienced in interacting with large organizations Whether other carriers are, allegedly, more gracious than COPA in forgiving your mistakes is besides the point. At all times the system /told you/ that you were going to be screwed and then when travel day rolled around and you were, as expected, screwed, to my mind, you have no right to point fingers. And now you’ve used this blog, which is usually worth my time, to throw a very public and very unprofessional tantrum. I’m disappointed.

  3. How the space got into business class is easy to see in the history of the reservation so that would not be the issue. It’s more the airline not wanting to loose the money and the bigger/standard/every day issue, of airline workers not knowing what they are doing.

    In my day at an airline you were given a lot of training and HAD to know what you were doing. Now to save costs, airline use the GDS software where you just fill in the blanks so they don’t have to give much training to workers. They aren’t taught how to problem solve or even how to go about checking for a problem. It’s just say what ever will get the person on the phone and the next agent can deal with it if something is wrong.

    1. David SF – Yeah, in the history I can see when the original segment was canceled and the new one added by my guy. Like I said, this could very well have been our fault, though where things get murky for me is why our guy did what he did. I’ve just been going under the assumption that the move into biz class was our fault. But the problem is that when the agents on the phone say that it’s fine and they’ll take care of it, that’s when we end up getting screwed.

      I’ve had this problem before. Working schedule changes can get pretty hairy sometimes and mistakes happen. But most other airlines we deal with have no trouble just reinstating the original segment if something is accidentally messed up.

  4. How about suing COPA in small claims court? They might decide it is easier and cheaper to settle with you, and send someone with an attitude that is more conducive to making it right.

    1. Carl – I’m just not sure what we’d sue over. To me, this is a sales and customer service issue and not a legal one. It’s a business decision, and if Copa wants to act this way, then they’ll lose business. They can decide if it’s worth it.

      1. If I am understanding this post correctly, you did not make the change to business class, they did. If so, then it is a deceptive practice and essentially constitutes fraud. The statements made by the agents are not true and you relied on them. Classic, common law fraud. In my brief research of California law, your business can sue for claims less than $5,000 as a small claim. You just have to serve COPA in California and I am sure they have an office there somewhere. The other poster, is correct, they will settle with you.

        1. ron – No, the change appeared to happen during the schedule change process, and in the history is looks like our guy made the change. But the issue was quickly found and we called Copa. They said it would be taken care of but it never was.

          1. Not to mention, proving “fraud” requires meeting a pretty high threshold. I think you’re going to have a hard time proving that Copa did this on purpose with an intent to deceive.

  5. Cranky,

    Presuming you can see the remarks section of the reservation without having to call in a favor and get it sent to you, that gives your position better standing. Just how much, I don’t know, ’cause IANAL, but one would think those PNR comments are worth arguing about in court.

    At least you can hold your head high and know you did right by your client. That counts for a lot at the end of the day, even if in the short term you bank account is $1500 lighter.

    1. Dan – If I’m reading the PNR comments thinking from a legal standpoint, all it says is that no amount was charged. It doesn’t say it should or shouldn’t have been charged. That might be implied by the way the remarks were written, but it doesn’t seem like enough to me to be able to sue on it.

      But yeah, taking care of our customer was never the issue. We knew we had to get him down there. I shudder to think what he would have encountered had he been stuck with an OTA. He’d never have made it.

  6. Good to know. We have a group considering a trip to Costa Rica. COPA is now off the table for our air carrier.

  7. CF-sounds very similar to service we received during IAD snow OSO. Through and past departure time, Copa said flt was on time. Flight didnt exist. Delay caused miss on alternate flts. Cruise missed. Before anyone says it, day early travel not possible. Copa wouldnt even refund fare for flight that didnt fly. Definitely one to avoid.

  8. Sometimes in business things happen, and you do what you can do. If that means eating $1500 sometimes you have to get out the salt and pepper and go to it. It will often pay off, though not always.


    Travel architects?? Really, Brett? Come on, man. What a silly title for a travel agent.

    PS Don’t be surprised if someday the California Architects Board sends you a cease and desist letter. It is actually illegal in California (and other states) for somebody to use the title “architect” when they aren’t a licensed architect. Seems ridiculous but they will go after people for stuff like this.

    1. John G – But how do you really feel? While you may find it silly, we’ve found it necessary to find a way to differentiate ourselves from traditional travel agents, because we operate differently from traditional travel agents. This seems to help a fair bit, and so it stays. (Besides, we actually get a lot of people who like it.)

      Second, there is no restriction on using the term architect outside of the building and construction industry. Just ask anyone who uses the name software architect. Or go ahead and ask the AIA itself:

    2. I work every day with lots of software architects. Would bet my company’s legal department would enjoy getting a cease and desist letter :)

  9. I have found that: a) Airline personnel do not talk to each other; and b) they are far too willing to stare at a computer screen and not use any common sense. Recently I was booked on American from Kauai to Hartford via L.A. and Dallas. The outbound flight from Kauai was delayed three hours. The ticket agent kept insisting I would make my connections because “the computer says it’s OK”. I couldn’t make her understand it wasn’t OK, because she was trained to trust the computer and not listen to the customer. Finally, with people growing angry in line behind me, I took pen to paper and drew a chart showing it was physically impossible to make it on to a flight leaving LA at 11:30PM when I wouldn’t arrive on the delayed flight until 12:15. The re-booking was excruciating but I was not going to leave that island, or that counter, without knowing what was waiting for me on the other end of that flight.

    Airline agents think we should trust them because they say we can and because they are taught to believe the computer. I do neither.

  10. Good on you for solving the customers problem but also the principle of avoiding Copa in the future.

    I guess what may factor in their end:

    – how much have you traditionally used copa? How many revenue flights per month (ie how much do they stand to lose?) do they stand to lose?

    Without knowing how often you have hostorically used them, if it’s rare, there’s no ongoing “relationship”, they may have taken the decision to grab whatever revenue they can. Not say that’s a good way to do business but may be a factor in their decision to screw you.

    1. Docjames – Well, we don’t do a ton on them, but they wouldn’t really know. We roll up into a much larger agency, so I would imagine that the amount of Copa that gets booked by the big agency would be somewhat substantial. So if they were actually looking at revenue data (which I can’t imagine they were), I’d think it would motivate them to do something.

  11. After all this writing and posting and commenting, maybe Copa will send you an olive branch…and a credit.

    1. Oh, one only wishes you could do so. But realistically, the rule of thumb for travel agents (or architects, if you prefer) is that during any schedule change, any change beyond what comes across in the GDS should probably be verified with the airline first (and anything involving a class of service change definitely should come with a waiver code or OSI, to prevent situations exactly like this).

      But no, we really have no recourse other than pursuing something through Sales Support or personal contacts.

      1. FT_Roy – Agree completely. The only thing is that when Copa says one thing and does something different, it would still be something we could theoretically complain about to DOT. Frankly, I don’t think they’ll care nor do I think it will change anything.

  12. Another great post, Bret. And a great example about why complete and accurate notes by your agents, following EVERY client or vendor exchange are so important. Most of the time you will never need them, but you and your team can afford to write a lot of notes to avoid that ugly, $1500 or so ‘penalty.’ Sharp clients also make a few notes, but in hiring you they should be relieved of most of that responsibility. Of course Cranky and its reps did the right thing – you had little choice. When the fight is over it will have cost you even more, but I do hope that you continue the battle. One more proof that even tiny errors, perhaps a single keystroke, at Copa (probably) and at Cranky, can become expensive. Continue the fight and perhaps write-off the net loss as a training expense for your staff. These things are unfortunate, but real. They are valuable learning experiences and, when handled properly in-house, can be of great value. I have to believe that your staff behaved properly in that your no-fault client reached his destination.
    Arm chair judgments? Perhaps. When I was flying regularly (some years ago) few such services were available. Now, with little need for ‘schedule risk management,’ and knowing at least enough tricks to protect myself most of the time, I’ve never had the pleasure or the need to engage a Cranky-like service. Should I be faced with a trip that is beyond my limited skills or does not pass the odor tests, I’ll ring your bell. For now, I like avoiding risk: things like picking low-risk carriers, routes, times, days etc. As one now mostly retired, I have that flexibility. Those who do not have such advantage, at least in some cases, are well advised to engage a Cranky-like service and from day one. Good, honest work!

  13. Hopefully it will make you feel a little better to know that karma works both ways for Copa. I had a friend whose family bought over $2200 worth of tickets for a family of four. There was a minor mishap with the credit card (I’m really not sure why Copa is so incompetent in this regard, but they are), and my friend ended up taking the flights and never getting charged.

    I’ve flown Copa several times, and while they have usually been fine, they’re in for some serious competition with Avianca/Taca.

    Sorry about your $1500, but hopefully it will give you just a little bit of joy to know that you’re not alone, and that Copa does have a real problem, and that sometimes the barrel aims right back at them.

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