My Response To Swiss & The DOT

Filed Under: Swiss

Earlier I shared the email I was sent from SWISS regarding my DOT complaint over first class award tickets that the airline unilaterally decided to cancel. The response from SWISS was just so dishonest that I couldn’t help but respond right away. Here’s how I responded to the email I received, on which a representative from the DOT was CCed:

Hi Rosemary,

Thank you for taking the time to reply to me, though I’d like to address some of the claims you m ake, as they don’t match my understanding of the events.

To start, your claim is that SWISS is not responsible for making these award seats available, and that “the affected itineraries were all mileage award tickets booked via Aeroplan on Air Canada ticket stock.” This is simply not true, as I know several people who also made bookings through other partner programs, including United MileagePlus. However, their tickets haven’t been canceled, even though the conditions were identical. Could you please explain how this wasn’t SWISS’ error if several airlines had access to these seats, and why only Aeroplan tickets were targeted for cancelation? Are you suggesting that partner airlines manipulated SWISS inventory to make these seats available, or how would other airlines have been able to book SWISS seats in the “O” fare class if it wasn’t SWISS making those seats available?

You also make the claim that SWISS first class travel is “not permitted” by Aeroplan. The footnote in Aeroplan’s award chart (which I hadn’t actually seen until after my ticket was canceled, and which otherwise doesn’t in any way show during the booking process) states that SWISS first class awards are “not available,” which is different than stating that travel in SWISS first class is not permitted. But clearly that wasn’t the case, since it was available when I booked.

For reference, I actually redeemed Aeroplan miles for a SWISS first class ticket from Zurich to Los Angeles back in June 2016, and that ticket was flown without any sort of issue. Could you explain what has changed between then and now?

Next, you make the claim that this was handled promptly. While SWISS may have canceled the tickets quickly, it was two weeks from the time I booked until anyone reached out to me to inform me that my ticket had been canceled. I wouldn’t call that swift communication on the part of any party. Do you consider that to be adequate communication to passengers when SWISS unilaterally decides to cancel a ticket?

[DOT Representative], I hope that the DOT can appreciate that this was not an “erroneously” published fare, but rather this was a first class award ticket booked at the published price, virtually identical to the one that I booked and flew last year. No attempt was made to contact me regarding my ticket until two weeks after I booked, and SWISS seems to be honoring some airline partner award tickets, but not others.

I look forward to your response, Rosemary.

Best,
Ben Schlappig

We’ll see how they respond…

Comments

  1. I think it’s interesting because my take is that the DOT usually intervenes only when there’s an obvious gross injustice. (I’m not saying whether that is right or wrong on their part.) I think the DOT wanted to stay out of the so-called games that we passengers play with leveraging discounted fares, etc.

  2. Gotta give you props on that letter. Boom, boom, boom. Nicely done.

    Had they just owned up to the mistake, I probably would have let this go if I were you, but their obstinance and refusal to admit they fat-fingered something is astounding.

  3. Ben,

    If they respond to your response, you should bring up the comment from the other thread wherein commenter Thomas points out that Swiss both states they didn’t issue the ticket and have no contract with you, but also claim that their contract with you (which they just said they didn’t have) permits them to cancel the ticket for essentially whatever reason they see fit. He rights posits that Swiss can’t have it both ways. I’d love to see Swiss’ reaction to that.

  4. Lucky, great letter. Did Matty Klint help you at all? I can’t seem to find any jurisdiction where he is admitted to practice law….

  5. “[E]rroneously published fare” implies it was a ticket purchased at a price clearly below the ordinary or expected price range for the route and class ticketed. That was not the case. This statement is, at the very least, a tacit acknowledgment by SWISS that points and miles are essentially currency for a fare, and the amount needed for redemption and ticketing is subject to published rates. The published Aeroplan rate of 70,000 miles for North America to Europe is the “published fare” in terms of redeeming Aeroplan miles for first class partner award tickets. Thus, it clearly was not an “erroneously published fare.” SWISS is trying to blend “mistakenly ticketed” with “erroneously published fare.”

    Turning to the issue of whether SWISS did or did not make “procedural changes that would have authorized the bookings,” the letter’s claim is limited by SWISS’ qualification that no changes were made to “our reservation system.” SWISS uses Amadeus for its reservation system. A different system, StarNet, is used to release award space to StarAlliance partners such as Aeroplan/Air Canada, United, and ANA. Does SWISS deny that the award availability was released through StarNet? SWISS may be technically correct that it did not make changes to its reservation system, but no changes needed to be made to its system if it made the first class seats in question available via StarNet. The cancellation of Aeroplan award tickets was generated by Galileo, Aeroplan’s reservation system. Thus, SWISS is making a statement that may be accurate but has no bearing on weather SWISS took action, mistakenly or otherwise, via StarNet to make first class awards available via StarNet.

    Finally, SWISS’ explanation of the ticketing and cancellation process is inconsistent. In the same sentence, SWISS says, “SWISS cancelled those tickets, and promptly contacted Aeroplan. Unfortunately, SWISS has no control over tickets issued by its interline partners.” So which is it? Is SWISS was able to cancel a ticket issued by award partners or does it have “no control over tickets issued by its interline partners.” It can be one, or the other, but not both.

    …..Go get them, Ben.

  6. Ben a lot of what you say in your response is valid and Swiss and Aeroplan have both behaved pretty poorly in this case.

    But as I said in a comment on your original news item about this and as Swiss have said in their reply (and Aeroplan likely will to) – when you click on that box ‘I accept the terms and conditions’ you will definitely be accepting that in the even of an ‘error’ (whether its a cash fare of miles) Swiss/Aeroplan can cancel your reservation.

  7. @Duck Ling: When a contract is unconscionable and unenforceable, it will be struck down, despite the fact that both parties entered into the contract in the right frame of mind.

  8. Ben has made several valid points and raised a number of questions that should be of interest to many going forward. You can agree or disagree with his perspective and arguments, but for people to tell him to “get a life” and “move on” on his personal blog is pathetic. Do you really think you are adding anything substantive to this story? PRO TIP: You’re not.

  9. GAZ I actually like a lot Ben’s answer, if you don’t you should be the one to stop reading this topic and move on with your life.

  10. Well written letter. Small guidance (which can be rejected respectfully)…in a semi-formal letter like this, “would” is more appropriate than “could” when passive-aggressively challenging the other side to do something you don’t they can do (in this case, provide defendable rationale for something that is ostensibly indefensible). While at a superficial level it seems to be more deferential, it’s actually a deeper dig and challenge. There are two example in your letter – the second of which is particularly relevant.

    OK – too much analysis of our language .

  11. @db – Yes, this morning I received a response from AF/KLM. The email is as follows:

    Subject: Update on your recent Air France ticket purchase

    Due to a system error, your ticket(s) for travel on Air France in La Première/First Class which was recently purchased has/have to be cancelled and will be fully refunded, consistent with DOT guidelines and policy.

    We apologize for this inconvenience.

    An Air France representative will attempt to contact you by phone.
    If you have any questions in the meantime, Please feel free to contact Air France.com websupport at 1-800-992-3932 to help you in this matter.

    We thank you for your understanding and wish you a pleasant day ahead.

    Kind Regards,
    Air France

  12. @everyone – my comment was actually intended to poke fun at those who inevitably respond with that nonsense. Clearly poorly worded on my part.

  13. If anything… I appreciate Ben representing the “little man” (all of us) in this circumstance and taking it to the “Big Man” (i.e. – Airline Corporation) to assure that they are held accountable for their actions and that they are not free to act at their own will and desires without accounting for their actions. At the least this brings a voice to the passengers in circumstances like this!

  14. But Globetrotter both Swiss and Aeroplan will jump on the fact that many people (including bloggers) would have posted that people who purchased (I use the word purchased as miles are still generally considered a form of currency and hold a ‘value’) knew at the time that it was a mistake. Many have posted the fact that Swiss does not allow F redemption flights yet in the next breath they have jumped on the error in the hope of it sticking. It was an error, most purchasing it knew it was an error and it didn’t stick.

    It’s the same with ‘mistake fares’. On forums like FlyerTalk anyone who mentions the two words ‘mistake fare’ in a thread about a mistake fare is shot down in flames. Because the airline uses it in their defence that the majority of people purchasing such a fare knew it was an error.

    I think the way both Swiss an Aeroplan have gone about it is totally wrong. The delay in notifying people, the passing the buck….it’s not good customer service. But they ARE acting within their T&C’s that the purchaser has said they accept. This shifts the legal obligation onto the purchaser to demonstrate that the T&C’s are unjust or unenforceable which in this case will be like p*ssing in the wind.

  15. I love when an airline messes up and releases a mistake fare or an error like the one in this thread. I’ve taken advantage of many. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But in EVERY case where it’s been a win the airline has always said along the lines of ‘as a gesture of goodwill….’. Not ‘because we are obliged to’.

  16. Why is this website allowing PlayerX (above) to doxx the SWISS employee?
    What’s the point? To have Lucky’s fanbois harass her?
    Simply childish.
    You moderate comments and that should be removed.

  17. Lucky you should delete the Swiss employee’s name from these posts and delete the sad pathetic comments that are Doxing the employee who is just doing her job. The Internet is a disgusting place sometimes and you shouldn’t help these people go after an airline employee via LinkedIn/facebook/whatever.

  18. @Duck Ling Corporations don’t speak their mind. Many times they offer a gesture of good will because they want to avoid a DOT ruling or lawsuit that might end with an unfavorable precedent against airlines.

  19. Well super interesting situation here:
    From one side, yet another trite corporate answer to ‘regular’ customer.
    On the other side – Av geek who surprisingly shows extreme knowledge & details in the procedures.

  20. @bc— lol, I totally agree with you. “Would” is very much underused, and “could” overused.

    Overall, I think it’s a very good letter. My only quibble is with regards to the parenthetical about the footnote in the Aeroplan award chart. To me, it comes off either as (1) disingenuous or (2) naive, given that Ben books awards for a living. I think everyone involved here (SWISS and those who booked) knew this was a mistake. Rather than playing dumb (like SWISS has done here, much to the outrage of a lot of us), I think overall the better tack is to acknowledge this may have been a mistake but that SWISS still has an obligation to own up to and fix its mistake.

  21. For the reply-ers who want Been to get a life This IS his life
    Plus for us – he would not have known about other passengers’ experiences had it not been for his occupation to gather evidence from his readers.
    I expect Rosemary to be unpleasantly surprised.
    Thank you for keeping DOT in the loop and us too!!

  22. I would suggest you have them call you and duke it out. Usually I get a call from the airline on my DOT complaints.

  23. They’ll take the following into consideration:

    – who is this guy? If he’s not happy, will it affect us somehow, really?
    – what kind of legal rights does he have? If none, refer to question number one.
    – is he causing any kind of costly trouble? If not, refer to question number one.

    Letters are thus very weak forms of rights enforcement. I’d suggest a filing of a legal claim, perhaps at some cost but hopefully as inexpensive as possible, which would cause the airline to need to engage in some kind of legal process and review (if only having their legal area take on yet another case) and this per hour costs way more than worth it to issue a credit or perhaps even a substitute ticket. $5000, say, for a one way ticket (in absolute value, actually a lot less for them cost-wise) is probably what several hours of legal work they’d need to do to even address this case costs, so it’s better for them just to issue some kind of compensation and be done with it.

    Thoughts?

  24. Great response! And thank you for taking this matter further. Even if nothing will change and no tickets will be reinstated, at least there is hope that in the future they will think twice before doing this to people.
    Please keep us all updated

  25. Lucky,

    Thanks for taking the time to address these issues with the airline and DOT. Airlines retain so much power in the service-consumer relationship and they’re frequently able to act in an unfair manner with impunity. I appreciate you fighting this battle for us.

  26. I can’t say I favour 1 side of this issue over the other. I can say, though, that I find Rosemary’s response incredibly arrogant. Does she not know that she represents SWISS, that people will take her attitude and demeanor as representative of SWISS? Compounding this is her failure to do a simple Google of Ben’s name. If she’d done this she would have realized her words would reach a much broader audience. And if you’re reading this, Rosemary, there are a lot of readers of Ben’s blogs who actually pay for premium fare tickets with money and not points.
    I’ve flown to Geneva in the past, with my client thankfully reimbursing me for business class travel on the longhaul of my choice. I’ve never flown SWISS (mainly due to Just having a comfort level with other airlines) but I wouldn’t have minded if it was the most viable choice at that time. But after witnessing Rosemary’s attitude (which represents SWISS’ attitude) when it comes time to book my next flight to Switzerland, in the back of my mind I’m going to think, ‘SWISS? – nah, they’re an a**hole airline’.

  27. Agree with you @Aztec. I’ve never flown SWISS, but if the opportunity ever comes up I’ll probably disregard them given Rosemary’s arrogance.

  28. Great letter but, if there is a weakness, it is that the situation is not clear if one reads Lucky’s response only. I would have recommended a very brief summary of the facts in the beginning of the letter. Good luck, Lucky! We want you to win!

  29. No idea who is right or wrong here.But Rosemary’s ‘expert’ response is the verbal equivalent of the middlefinger pointed upwards.

    I thought nowadays people would be more careful using that kind of arrogant style. Apparently not. Clearly no strong performance from Swiss.

  30. Well written, however……

    1. Everyone who booked this (including you Lucky) KNEW it was a mistake. You lied in your response to the DOT.
    2. No one cares how its worded. You know, I know and everyone who booked knows AND its noted that SWISS first Class is not bookable using Aeroplan miles. Their disclaimer will cover them regardless of what your opinion is.
    3. I hate the airlines, they are MESSED up companies who take advantage of customers. Even mileage programs are HUGE profit centers, so I’m not meaning to take their side… but … What would you do if you were them?! Honor these tickets of Fake customers. They know they are not pissing off anyone who actually pays for Full fare first class on their airline. They also know these things go viral, and everyone went looking for the inventory once they found out about the mistake.

  31. Hold my popcorn!
    Also:
    1) I cannot see SWISS, Aeroplan or DOT doing much about this
    2) It was not a mistake fare when you consider it was priced properly. BUT this was a mistake fare in the sense that “SWISS First Class is not available for reward travel” on Aeroplan.
    3) “Mistake” alias “problem” was with SWISS booking system – admit it SWISS and take responsibility!
    4) The way SWISS responded, (doesn’t matter whether it was certain Rosemary or else. It was a SWISS representative and such it’s a SWISS’s reply)
    not only after they realised their IT system glitch, but also in the written reply – they were rude and it was not a response you’d expect from a serious company (you don’t like us? bugger off! – that’s how I don’t expect to be treated as a customer).
    4) This may well end up as good business case for all parties involved
    5) Good response to SWISS & DOT, however see point 1

  32. @Miriam yep, similar to Ryan’s comment. IT system failure or not, they are pretty much saying you should have known about the T&C. And we did know but thought let’s try to play the system…

    Oh well, I’m going to hold some popcorn as well and wait for their replies.

  33. @ Pauly Oskie

    ABSOLUTELY… This has been my Modus Operandi for years and I have been more successful, I believe, than most who write and moan. I try to spread the good word on this and other blogs, no idea about the effectiveness .

    For a NYC resident at least, the Small Claims Court is a good and cheap tool. It works more often than not, not only with airlines but also with other common nuisances. What they hate most is not the max $ 5,000 exposure but the hassle and need to attend, send a representative or lose.

  34. But you did know that SWISS F awards were neither “permitted” nor “available” via the channel you used. Whether SWISS was right in what they did is immaterial once you misrepresented your knowledge of this fact in your reply – all they have to do is copy and paste your many posts describing the unavailable and impermissible nature of these awards.

    I hope you all win; basing your defense on some untrue claim of naivete doesn’t seem like a winning strategy.

  35. File a lawsuit in Small Claims court. Breach of Contract (Contract of Carriage). Get them into court – on the record. They will have to pay a lawyer to haul their butts down there and get them on the record. They wont like it – they wont want to pay for it.

  36. I would recommend to read Nicks comment above mine. I was about to post the same. “SWISS First Class is not available for reward travel.” You all are experienced miles&points travellers and knew this. Then purchased tickets. And now act all surprised?…

  37. Yet it was made available, has been made available in the past (for limited times) and whenever it has been made available the bookings were honored at the ordinary first class award rate. I never booked this tickets, so I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I want airlines to be reasonable and live up to their commitments. We get a 24 hour window to cancel no matter what. They should get the same.

  38. Because they were honored in the past, doesn’t mean they should honor them now. The policy is clear. SWISS/Aeroplan have absolutely right to follow by their own policy! Not to follow a policy “you honored them in the past, do it now” (was that in the past not on a gesture of a good will basis?). The fact SWISS made an error by releasing the seats, how they went on about to apologize about it (or the lack of it) doesn’t change the reality that this was a mistake fare…

    And how can the tickets be priced at the right price, how do we really know the right price for something that is not available?: “SWISS First Class is not available for reward travel.”

  39. SWISS says the tickets are not available. They were available. If they want to write a policy that says “first class may not be booked via Aeroplan, regardless of availability, they are free to do so.” They never made that change after availability was opened up (and honored) in 2016. The policy doesn’t say what you claim it says. If they want to change it, they are free to do so and it will stop this from ever happening again.

  40. @Chris Wow – it is clearly written below Aeroplan booking chart SWISS 1st class is not bookable under the T&C with them! I’m also with Aeroplan since 2014 and know about this since I applied for the membership. That they made availability in the past, does not change the fact that it still IS a mistake fare under the T&C. If the decide to honer the tickets, that’s fine… However if they say, look our T&C is “SWISS First Class is not available for reward travel.” then they so do have the right to apply this policy irrespective from what they did in the past. It would again be only their gesture of a good will to honor those tickets.

    Again, even though I also think they are handling the whole situation poorly (that letter they wrote was just pure rude overload; cancelling only Aeroplan but not United or others) they are justified to do what they doing…

  41. Contracts are construed against the drafter. Aeroplan’s terms and conditions (the general terms and award ticket terms) use the term “available” and “eligible” differently. “Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards are available on all eligible scheduled flights….” including Star Alliance partners. In describing what it means to have an available fixed mileage award, Aeroplan says, “Fixed Mileage Flight Rewards are capacity controlled, which means that there are a limited number of seats available on a given route. Capacity controls do not apply for Market Fare Flight Rewards.” Thus, available/availability is used in terms of describing inventory released for booking, particularly with respect to fixed mileage awards (which is what Ben and others booked). Eligibility is another matter entirely. You may have a good argument, but you are using two terms interchangeably in a manner inconsistent with he very terms and conditions upon which your argument relies. If you or Aeroplan want to argue bloggers’ actual knowledge of the customs and habits of SWISS award availability precludes them from taking advantage of unintended availability, that’s another story. Aeroplan will likely make a change to its language, but only after it weathers this storm and resolves the issue with all customers who make an award redemption in SWISS first class.

  42. Any more movement on this? Any further replies from Swiss?

    I’m curious since our family is considering a European trip this coming year and if this is how Swiss handles their mistakes, then we may wish to avoid them.

    Thank you!

  43. I think this is being played up way to much. It is pretty much common knowledge that Swiss does only release First Class Awards for Senators and HON-Circle members.

    A mistake has been made: people that would not normally be able
    to fly Swiss First all of a sudden got to book such reward tickets. Now Swiss has no interest having such people that haven’t brought the airline any financial benefit at all occupy their First Class.
    Now Aeroplans tickets where the only ones cancelled as per contract Aeroplan is prohibited to give out Swiss First Class awards. Hence even when seats are available (per accident) aeroplan is not allowed to hand them out (per contract), which they did anyway, making it ultimately Aeroplans fault.

    This is probably the reason the other tickets were not cancelled, since there is no such rule with other programs.

    As Swiss I wouldn’t even answer your email. The statement they were obliged to make was made, even if you don’t like it.
    Since you are neither a Senator or a Hon Circle member or even a frequent flyer on them at all, they just do not care about you and I honestly can’t blame them. Case closed.

    Legally speaking I think they are in the clear. But legal is not always = right. But in this situation I do tend to side with Swiss.

    However, the way you are just throwing that employee under the bus is disgraceful. She is just doing her job and does not deserve being harassed by your community.

  44. @Nick Art,

    I fail to see how anyone is throwing “Rosemary” unde the propverbial bus. Her response, and by extension Swiss’ was less than stellar. That’s poor customer service. Whether one agrees with her and Swiss’ response or not, her communications were… Lacking. Also, Swiss did release the tickets to Aeroplan. Whether they should have or not isn’t the issue – Swiss did and then refused to honor them although they’d honored similar tickets in the past. If you’ll read the threads and background information on this, you’ll see that statement is accurate. Therefore, they seem to be selectively cancelling tickets, again tickets that they themselves released to Aeroplan.

    I also fail to see how Rosemary is being harassed. Do you have inside information that the rest of us aren’t aware of? Has a formal harassment complain bee filed with the authorities? Heck, we don’t even know her last name, or if Rosemary really is her real name. I don’t see where OMAAT has released her personal address or phone number, and I seriously doubt that they even have it. So please, how is commenting on a story and releasing her communications to OMAAT harassment? I am waiting with baited breathe.

  45. @Nick Art,

    PS. Apologies for the typos. I made the mistake of trying to type while a cat was walking on the keyboard!

  46. @Bob

    My statement regarding Rosemary was maybe worded a bit strong. Nontheless there are a few people here that have indeed been joking about her and her title for example. I didn’t use the word harassment though. It may seem ridiculous but keep in mind we’re talking about a human being here. Hence I personally would not have released her name at all.

    I can’t comment on if a harassment claim has been filled.

    Now about the poor customer service: Yes, you’re right. But for Swiss Lucky isn’t really their customer is he? For them he is just a random guy that wanted to take advantage of a mistake. So as mentioned they couldn’t care less.

    About if it’s the Fault of Aeroplan or Swiss we could discuss endlessly.
    As mentioned above Aeroplan is not allowed to give out Swiss First Class awards per contract. So even if there are available seats that have been released per accident, Aeroplan is not allowed to give them out. So in my opinion it is Aeroplans fault.
    And sadly just because the tickets from last year were honored does not mean they have to honor them now.

  47. DO keep us in the loop on this one!

    If airlines let pax cancel flights without penalty, I might be more sympathetic to them. BUT they’re not.

    They run their websites, not us. It’s not our fault they’re making mistakes. Mistakes will happen. Making things right for customers is a cost of doing business, one which can pay great dividends if executed properly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *