Auckland, Oakland, time travel, and fatal computer errors…

I’ve redeemed a lot of miles in my day, and sometimes I can redeem millions of miles at a time without a hitch or anything entertaining. And then you have some days where you seem to end up with the call center agents that could double as (inadvertent) comedians. Case in point today, as I was trying to hold an award reservation with US Airways from San Francisco to Auckland.

For the first agent I explained I wanted to book an award ticket from San Francisco to Auckland. She responded with “what was the name of that airport?” I responded with “Auckland — alpha kilo lima is the airport code.” She responded with “I want to see what region that’s in, could you spell it out for me slowly?” I did that, and once we built the whole itinerary she said “oh shoot, hold on a second, I have a pop up on my computer that says ‘fatal error.’ I’m going to need to reboot.” She puts me on hold for five minutes and then comes back and builds the itinerary again. After she puts me on hold for a few more minutes she claims the routing isn’t valid. Why? “Cause ya can’t do all that travel on one ticket.” After a while I realized that this was the type of agent that wanted to find everything wrong with a ticket rather than actually try to make it work, so I hung up and decided to call back.

The next agent was as sweet as could be, though also lacking just a bit in the geography department. She was perfectly happy letting me feed her the flight numbers, and once the reservation was complete she said “let me check with a supervisor to be sure this is valid, because I’m not sure you can do this on a domestic award.” I asked for clarification, and she said “well I’m not sure you can go via Tokyo and Bangkok when traveling between San Francisco and Auckland, that’s a lot of travel for a domestic award.” Despite feeding her the flight numbers and airport codes, it appears as if she was a little bit confused between Oakland and Auckland. Surprisingly enough they’re not the same place. And the fact that she even let me talk her through a routing connecting in Asia if she thought this was an eight mile trip across the bay really confuses me.

After she realizes her mistake she tries to put it on hold, and says “shoot, my computer just sent me a message saying ‘fatal error,’ I’m going to have to reboot.” Seriously, twice in a row? What the heck?

Though the icing on the cake was when she read me back the itinerary and on the return flight from Asia to the US said “I’m not sure if that flight lands the same day or next day. I forgot whether there’s time travel in that direction or not.” I said that the arrival was probably the same day, and she said “oh, that makes sense. I once did a round the world trip, but I did it so I kept traveling in the direction without time changes.”

RIP US Airways. It’ll be a sad day when their computers do all their thinking for them.

Filed Under: Awards, US Airways
  1. Only in America?
    They are only playing a game with you. Just making sure that you have to pay a price for squeezing so much out of your points.

  2. I was trying to book a ticket today too. They are bombarded with requests due to bad weather in the midwest.

    It took me a while to get the whole ticket ready, and then I was told that they only allow one stopover per travel. Or it would cost me an extra 30k miles…I thought you could get two, one on the outbound and one on the inbound segment. Will be calling later to fix that….

  3. Lucky,

    I really really enjoy your trip reports, but I love your airline agent stories.

    “‘Well I’m not sure you can go via Tokyo and Bangkok when traveling between San Francisco and Auckland, that’s a lot of travel for a domestic award…'” Priceless, your reaction must have been hilarious.

  4. Haha, sadly I was on the phone with AA tonight and they are very good about geography, awards and rules (unfortunately, sometimes!). So I’m sure that you won’t be the only one missing the lack of computers and knowledge about ticketing rules with US Air.

  5. I’ve recently booked this with US for 2 in C over Easter: IAD – LHR (UA); 4 nights; LCY – HKG (LX via ZRH); 3 nights; HKG – IAD (LH via FRA). 90,000 points x 2. Halfway through the booking, agent said to hold while she saved the reservation in case she had to reboot… Perhaps she was one of those who had been working with you Lucky and had learnt from it?

  6. @ Nigel — Reservations actually time out after 15 minutes, so they do have to enter your personal information and create a record within that amount of time or it’s lost.

  7. As someone who uses a GDS on a regular basis I really don’t understand why it is so difficult. The best is when you start to spell things phonetically and they think you mean the word you’re saying “There is no airport called Charlie Delta Golf – what do you mean?”

  8. More agent stories please – I Love them!!! Favorite was the US Airways world map with “The China” !!!

  9. I love booking JFK – Krabi (KBV) trips. For whatever reason US Airways agents think I’m booking NY-Kiev (KBP) trip and price it at lower cost.

  10. Without reading past the title, I knew this was going to be a post on US Airways. Man, I’m going to miss them.

  11. Just curious, but where are these U.S. Air agents geographically based? Perhaps that might help explain some of their ignorance.

  12. “I did it so I kept traveling in the direction without time changes”

    In fairness if you went North/South that would be true. Although I’m not sure if you could stop over at the North Pole….

  13. Ha. This reminds me of some checked bags that ended up in my care as a ramp agent. The bags originated somewhere in Europe, and were routed through HEL to JFK on Finnair before continuing on. However, from JFK things got a little confusing. The flight number was a UAX flight to IAD, but the printed city code was DFW. (Dallas/Dulles.) I was a bit confused, because they were computer generated — I didn’t think the computer would let an agent screw up like that, but apparently they do.

    Anyway, after some debate as to what to do, I volunteered to take the bag to baggage claim, and sure ‘nuf, there were some passengers there who had been waiting quite awhile.

    I spent a few minutes to explain the delay and the confusion. The passengers nodded their heads as if they understood the whole city code thing, and that Dallas and Dulles are two very different airports.

    After the explanation, the gentleman thanked me and said he had a question. I said sure, go ahead.

    His reply: Where is my other bag?

  14. This is too funny.

    I think the US airways computer system developed a coping mechanism. Just like your hang up and call back method, the computer uses fatal error.

    On united you can book a JFK to ewr direct flight with a stoppover in lax. Would love to see you include that on an award booking.

    The departure boards in Toronto are very fun for confusing flights. You can fly to Ontario, CA which most locals assume is the province (state) and country the Toronto airport is in. You can fly to London, Ontario on a dash 8 or London LHR on a 773. The most confusing is the Sydney NS, vs. Sydney NSW. Nova Scotia is in Canada and New South Wales is in Australia.

  15. Seriously this is hilarious!!!

    “I did it so I kept traveling in the direction without time changes”

    Priceless, keep ’em coming Ben!

    Cheers from Italy

  16. I just booked 2x in Business on US Air for 120k each:

    CLT – MUC – ZAG – SPU (Stopover)
    SPU – Vienna (23 hour layover)
    Vienna – Dubai (Destination)
    Dubai – Washington – Detroit (23 hour layover)
    Detroit – Charlotte

    It took 3 different agents to make it happen. More details here:

  17. “I did it so I kept traveling in the direction without time changes”

    Aha! This is Lucky’s plan all along – to remain young by traveling around the world in one particular direction!

  18. Have you ever LOLed while on the phone with these people?? Everytime I read the interactions with these agents, I always crack up.

  19. @oneeyejack – I wouldn’t have to stop myself from laughing, I’d have to stop myself from saying, “Are you f****** stupid?!?!?!” The thought of booking an award ticket on the phone with US or DL makes me shudder.

  20. @Peter S
    The stopover is London (I was pleased to be able to fly into LHR and out of LCY). The end of the trip is Hong Kong. I was surprised/pleased to find 2 Business seats available over Easter. Searched availability on United and ANA then called US with segments.

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