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 up 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-CTC CM CALL CENTER AND WAS ADVISED THAT NEW TKT WAS
H-PROCESSED WITH ** NO ** ADC. WAS PREVIOUSLY ADVISED
H-THAT ADC WAS DUE IN AMOUNT OF 1500USD. WILL CONTINUE
H-TO MONITOR AND ADVISE US SALES SUPPORT CENTER IF NEEDED
H-NEW TKT 230xxxxxxxxxx
H-SALESUSA‡A‡COPAAIR.COM IS EMAIL REFERENCED FOR COMPLAINT
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.