Cathay Pacific Breaks Basic Promises

Jun 14, 2013

I really don’t want to turn this blog into a nag-fest, but I recently had such a bad experience with Cathay Pacific that I felt it needed to be made public somehow. In a nutshell, they failed to make a the most basic attempts to keep on the schedule they advertised when I bought the ticket, and then the Hong Kong branch openly broke a promise that the San Francisco office made to me. Below is the (slightly edited) text of my last email to them. I’ll update here if I get any response from them, but right now I don’t expect much.

Dear Sirs,

My wife and I were booked to fly from San Francisco to Dhaka on June 10th for a wedding & family reunion. I had been told that there was a schedule change, but also that Cathay Pacific would take care of rescheduling me. We received no notification thereafter. When I tried to check in online, I suddenly discovered that our connecting flight was taking off one hour before the first flight even landed. When I called Cathay Pacific about this, they apologized and offered me only one alternative – to fly out the same night, within 12 hours. (If I hadn’t noticed the problem with the schedule and made the change, I would have been stuck in Hong Kong for 2 full days until the next flight.) This necessitated a sudden change of plans, and required a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong.

After spending half an hour on hold, and having the first customer service representative drop my phone call, I eventually talked with a very helpful representative that made the alternate booking for me. Rather than keeping me waiting on the phone, she took my number, made the necessary changes, and called me back, which I greatly appreciated. She also said that because Cathay Pacific had made this mistake, and I was now stuck with the long layover, they had arranged complimentary vouchers for a travelers’ lounge in Hong Kong. This was a huge relief – given the last minute change to the flight plans, I had enough to do that I wouldn’t have time to arrange any accommodations in Hong Kong myself. Indeed, we received another call from Cathay Pacific shortly thereafter, informing us that our vouchers would be waiting in Hong Kong.

Upon our arrival in Hong Kong, I asked a representative from Cathay Pacific for our travel vouchers. After conferring with the other agents for a few moments, she informed us that even though the San Francisco office had guaranteed us the vouchers, the Hong Kong office refused to issue them to us. She attempted to blame our scheduling mishap on Dragon Air, and also tell us that their policy was to not issue vouchers in these situations. First of all, I made the booking through Cathay Pacific’s website, on flights with Cathay Pacific flight numbers, so Cathay Pacific should assume responsibility for schedule changes. Second, the policy in Hong Kong should have been entirely irrelevant at this point. The San Francisco office had made a promise, and the Hong Kong office should be required to fulfill that promise. Note that there was no debate as to whether the promise had been made to me – the agent in Hong Kong fully acknowledged that I had been promised the travel vouchers. The debate was only whether Cathay Pacific would abide by the promises it had made.

I was informed that I could check into the traveler’s lounge at my own personal expense of around $33 USD each. In fact, we spent $74.72 USD each to spend just half of the layover in travelers lounge. I can only assume that I will be in the same predicament on my return flight, though I was also promised vouchers for the travelers lounge for the return flight by the San Francisco office.

The really sad part of this whole story is that I used to like Cathay Pacific. The fares are competitive, the in-flight service is good, Hong Kong is a very good airport for connections, and the connections to Dhaka are very good (as advertised, in any case). But these benefits are overriden by failures in some of the most basic requirements for an international airline:

  • Cathay Pacific failed to make even the most basic attempts to follow their advertised schedule. If I had not proactively discovered that their rescheduling resulted in a missed connection, we would have spent two full days in Hong Kong waiting for the next flight. Not only would this have been an increased expense to me, we would have missed part of my cousin’s wedding, the entire reason for our trip.
  • Cathay Pacific openly and willfully broke their promises to us. I simply cannot fathom how an international airline believes one branch can choose to ignore the promises made by another branch. How can this possibility even occur to your agents? Even if a mistake was made in promising us the vouchers, the airline should still honor the promise.