Thursday, April 21, 2005

We opodo-ise for the interruption in normal services....

In the absence of any time to write anything of any worth, I thought you might like to see the next installment of the Great Opodo problem.

Since returning from holiday I had a letter from Katie Powell from Opodo, making excuses for why it wasn't sorted. This is my response.

Get a cup of tea before you start, it's a long 'un. But worth it.

Dear Katie

Thank you for your letter dated 15th April. As much as I would like to forget all about this incident, subsequent problems and your arrogant-esque letter which tries and fails to justify your actions has made me even more inclined to write back to further update you on the situation and also to correct some of your assertions.

First of all the update.

We'll pick the story up on the evening of Thursday 31st March. But not before a timelined version of previous events.

Thursday 24th March - answer machine message left from Opodo to myself alerting me to the fact that my flight on the 4th April from Bangkok to Phuket had been changed.
Thursday 24th March - return phonecall from myself to Opodo. No success, promised a call back. No call received.
Friday 25th March - return phonecall from myself to Opodo. No success, promised a call back. No call received.
Saturday 26th March - 2 return phonecalls from myself to Opodo. Told that nobody could help me till the following Tuesday, someone would call back then.
Tuesday 29th March - No call received. Phonecall made to Opodo in absence of one from them. No help, promised a phonecall when resolved.
Wednesday 30th March - No call from Opodo. 3 emails of complaint written to Opodo. No response.
Thursday 31st March (24hours before holiday departure) - phonecall received at 10.21am from Opodo at the same time as I was on hold to them. Success. Phew. An alternative outbound flight had been sourced within 5 minutes of the original one. A confirmation email was promised.

And that's where we left it. One week after the initial contact, lots of inefficiency inbetween and one day before we were to depart on our holiday - it was sorted, after 6 phonecalls from me (at the cost of £3.77 to myself). Or so we thought.

So, now I'd like to respond to some of your assertions in your letter.

"From our records I can see that you returned our call on March 26th 2005..."

The 26th March was actually the 4th time I had returned your call. Fortunately my phonebill has arrived since I have returned. I have evidence.

"...(lots of excuses).... which is why 31st March was the first date that we could make contact with you"

Seriously? You expect me to take this as a reason. Did you write this on April Fools Day? 7 full days after the initial contact, less than 24 hours before I was due to depart the country on the first leg of my trip was the first time that anybody in Opodo could talk to me about it? If this is your idea of customer service then you seriously need to review your procedures.

Now back to the story.

At 17.19pm on Thursday 31st March. 7 hours after I was told a confirmation email was on its way, I still had not received it. So again I called Opodo (7th time). I was told that there had been some problems with the email generation and it would be sent soon. It was. About 30 minutes later. The footnote at the bottom said: "Created at 17.30pm". I'm sure there is some novel explanation for 17.30 being the time it was created and not 10.30 which was the time of the original phonecall.

I was in the process of printing it out when I noticed that the times of the return flight had been altered. And I knew nothing at all about it.

Another call to Opodo (18.14pm - 8th time). The GDS team were otherwise engaged and someone would call me back straight away. Ha. I'd heard that one before.

Another 2 phonecalls to Opodo (18.48pm - 9th and 10th time). I spent 16 minutes talking to a lady who wasn't sure why it had happened but assured me that Opodo had lots of foolproof systems in place which made sure that errors like this would have been picked up before it became an issue. Impressed as I was by her youthful naivety I couldn't help but comment on why it was that if there were lots of foolproof systems in Opodo, that I was the only fool picking anything up. What would happen if this wasn't seen as an error by the system as it was actually right? She didn't think it was.

At this time I was also impressed to hear the excuse 'the airline are looking to customers to help them out after the tsunami'. We later found out that Phuket airlines had planned some time before to downgrade their services to the one 17.25pm a day from the 1st April due to the low demand arising from the end of a season, nothing to do with the Tsunami. This was information direct from their Bangkok desk. Disgusting doesn't even begin to describe it.

To cut a long conversation short, she too was unable to do anything about it. Which wasn’t entirely surprising. She did say that someone came into the office at 8am the following morning and would be working on my case immediately. Oh good. That was reassuring.

So. We had a situation where it took a week to get back to me about an outbound flight which had changed, only for the return flight to then be changed. And for no-one to tell me about it. All about 15 hours before we were due to depart. How confident would you feel on a scale of 1-10 of me getting a phonecall, and getting it sorted? I wasn't sure why the return flight had to be touched at all. But I'm sure you'll have some travel agency type flannel for it.

So the following morning I depart for Heathrow, wanting to be full of the holiday spirit but having the 'impending doom' monkey on my back. 8am came and went, so did 9am and so did 10am. I could wait no more. 10.15am I rang Opodo, and again at 10.19am. I rang Opodo 8 times between 10.15am and 10.58am in all. For interest, the total cost of all 18 phonecalls to Opodo was £15.90.

Eventually we got to a stage where the original return flight was re-instated. Not before Lisa apologised for not communicating the change - so it was the real plan - the foolproof system wouldn't have picked it up after all. I checked the details about 4 times with Lisa: our original outbound flight had changed by 5 minutes and our original return flight was the same. 'Yes' she said. I asked for email confirmation, which I checked at the airport - but I didn't receive any. And not before time. The flight was then called.

Landing at Bangkok airport, I switched on my phone. It beeped and told me that I had a new voicemail message. My stomach dropped. I listened. I had 2 infact. The first one was my Mum bless her, wishing us a nice holiday. The second one was Amanda from Opodo, our next heroine in the great Opodo sham. Only Amanda didn't turn out to be a heroine after all. If there isn't a role as Chief excuse maker at Opodo, which I find hard to believe, then may I suggest you create one immediately and put Amanda into the role.

The message lasted about 5 minutes and cost £6.50 to access.

To be honest, I couldn't really tell you what Amanda had said as I'd lost the will to live after about 4 minutes. But it contained such well worn favourite phrases as 'not our fault' and 'doing all we can'. I was even supposed to be impressed by her obtaining someone's mobile phone number in Phuket and ringing them when they weren't expecting it.

The general gist was that apparently the airline had changed their mind after I'd had it confirmed, and that it was now 4.30pm British time on Friday afternoon, that Amanda wouldn't be back in till Monday morning to help us by which time we'd be in the air from Bangkok to Phuket. "You're on your own buddy" in other words. Which was a novel interpretation of ‘doing all we can’. So not only was the pre-holiday build up taken away from me, it was also happening whilst I was away.

But the problem here was that in all her bluster Amanda hadn't actually told me which flight had been changed, and also to which times - so I listened again for some clues. She insinuated that it was the return one and I felt it must be as that was the only one we were having the problems with now and also she said that I couldn't be helped by Opodo until Monday morning and by that time I would be in the air. So I assumed that flight was OK and it must be the return flight which was the problem. We decided to wait until we got to the airport on Monday to try and sort that one out rather than try and play 'give us a clue' with the Thai airline phone operators.

The thing here is that in the 8 full days since this started, not once was I offered a solution, all I was given was excuse after excuse. If at the first contact I'd have been told:

"Sorry Mr Watski, your flight has been cancelled by the airline - we've only got space on this one leaving at 5.25pm. So you can either take this one or cancel - we'll refund your money and you can try your luck elsewhere"

I may have mumbled and grumbled about it a little bit, but at least I would have known my options, where I stood and most importantly would have had time to do something about it. But at this time Opodo had bumbled and fannied around for so long not returning phonecalls that the options were now severely restricted. I was actually so angry I sat by the pool in Bangkok on the first day of my holiday writing this letter, not knowing whether I had a flight or not on the second leg of it.

So anyway. We get to the airport on Monday morning. We actually got there late for our flight (10.50am for a flight due to depart at 10.45am) due to a combination of things. Which was a stroke of luck as it turns out as the 10.45am flight Lisa told us 4 times we were on was also the flight we weren't booked on. We asked Thai airways whether we were actually down to be on any flight at all that day with them. 'No' was the reply. Apparently we'd been cancelled off the flight on Friday 1st April and not rescheduled on any others.

We then went to the Phuket airways desk to ask them if we were down to be on any of their flights that day.

Can you imagine being in an airport, in a foreign country, walking around the airlines asking them if they'd mind checking if we were booked to fly with them at all that day as we weren't sure anymore. Is there anything more soul destroying? If I were them I would have also have given me the pitying looks they were giving me. The perverse thing was that we were paying Opodo to be our agent, whilst doing ALL the work ourselves. That's some scam you've got going there. No wonder you don’t need anyone there to return phonecalls.

Apparently we were down to be on the 17.25pm Phuket airlines flight. Which was about 6 hours away, and also the same flight which I'd told Opodo all those days ago that it wasn't convenient. Funny that. Did Opodo actually do anything at all in the previous week and a half except take our money and put two fingers up to us? You’ll have to remind me what it was if you did anything.

Luckily a lovely lady from Phuket airlines took pity on us and managed to negotiate us onto a Thai air flight which flew an hour or so later - at their own expense of course. Now that's customer service. It took you 10 days to bumble around and get to nowhere, yet it took a Thai lady speaking hardly any English to sort it out in about 20 minutes. The Thais could teach you lot a thing or two.

I can almost see your reply now which will heavily feature blaming the airline and everybody else, and give some believeable reason why absolutely not one single person at all from Opodo was capable of getting back to me within a week. But the airline aren't to blame, as you say in your letter: airlines need to make changes to their original flight programme. All Phuket airlines did was alter their schedule. It was your mismanagement of the consequences that has cocked this up for everyone except yourselves. And you're getting paid for it. It is plain to anybody with eyes in their head that if you had sorted it out right at the outset - the 24th March, then the airlines and us would have had options and wouldn't have been squeezed into the corner we were squeezed into.

To answer your final question: Yes we had a great holiday thank you. But it was very much in spite of you rather than because of you.

So what I want you to do is:

1: Give me the real reason why my second leg flight wasn’t initially sorted out until 10 minutes before my first leg flight was called, when you knew of the situation 8 days before. Include reasons for the failure of any one person at all within Opodo to ring me once.

2: Apologise that you messed up. Apologise for all the delays in sorting it out. Apologise for your incompetence impacting on the enjoyment of my holiday. Apologise that if it wasn't for me then you lot would still be buzzing round like wingless flies. And no caveats either - don't patronise me or demean yourself by trying to justify anything.

3: Furnish me with the address of your ombudsman. I intend to complain to the body you're affiliated to. If you haven't already been thrown out.

4: Furnish me with the name and email address of the top bod within Opodo. You know the guy that makes all the decisions? His/her boss. So I can alert them to how incompetent you all are.

5: Refund me the cost of the flights. You don't deserve the money. I actually feel sick that your company actually made some profit from it. You've not done one thing to justify earning it.

6: Refund me the cost of the 18 phonecalls to you and 1 voicemail access in Thailand (£15.90+£6.50= £22.40). I have copies of the bill if you would like them. I would bill you for the cost of the other times I accessed my voicemail in Thailand to try and understand what Amanda was saying if I could but that is masked in other business.

7: Donate the whole lot to the Red Cross Tsunami aid appeal.

Nothing else will suffice. As you can see, I’m still extremely angry about all this.

I had to laugh when I saw the Opodo strapline: "Opodo - travel your way". Is it because you have to travel your way because Opodo aren't going to do anything for you.