Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm Angry Today

I could use your help.

I lost the battle, but I don't want the war to be over.

Last November, fulfilling a dream I'd had since I was 9 years old, I booked a vacation for this summer in Iceland. Anyone who's been reading this blog for more than a day knows that I won't be able to go on that trip, that I'll be right in the middle of physical therapy trying to walk again.

So I had to cancel my trip. I asked to postpone it, but that was out of the question. Icelandair wouldn't deal with me, but would only deal with my online travel agency--which was not much of a help. Bottom line is that because I didn't purchase travel insurance, they're going to impose the maximum penalty on me for cancelling this trip. They're going to refund me 50% of my fare, but to rub salt into the wound, they want to charge me an extra $100 to do this. That's right, I'll get 50% minus $100. (See "Update" below--this $100 goes to the travel agency, not Icelandair.)

I'm not arguing that this isn't legal, and I'm not seeking government rules forbidding such a practice. I asked them out of a sense of human sympathy and decency to allow me to cancel that flight without penalty, or at least to reschedule it until next summer when I will be healthy again. They refused, because they could.

I've written to their CEO. I've sent letters, including a letter from my doctor, to their North American office in Massachusetts. So far this has been to no avail.

A friend just told me that he emailed them asking that they refund the rest of my money, and I quote, "because they can choose to do so." He suggested I ask for your help.

So I'm asking. If you're willing to participate in this little email campaign, please be courteous in your message. You know my name, and my Yahoo email address is pretty easy to deduce from the contact information in the left column of my blog profile (here). (I prefer not to list my full and complete email address anywhere, so as to avoid the spambots.) The email address for Icelandair's Reykjavik headquarters is here, and their North American office is here--and all of them are here. My airline reservation number is 2VXOOP.

Again, I'm not trying to incite you to storm the gates or to carry pitchforks, but to implore Icelandair as decent, good people, to make an exception to their policy so that I can visit their country when I'm healthy again.

I hope you're with me :-)

Update, 6/21/11: Icelandair says that the $100 fee is not from them, that it must be from the travel agency. This makes sense: the travel agency representative could not explain to me why Icelandair would credit me one amount while charging me a second. The reason is because Icelandair isn't doing the charging here! Because this was misrepresented to me (that's a polite way of saying they lied), I will certainly not pay that $100 charge.

Update #2, 6/21/11: Several people have sent me their replies from Icelandair, which are all variations on the same theme: I booked my flight through a travel agent, and they can only deal with the travel agent. While that's true, it is Icelandair that refuses to budge on its refund policy. The most recent reply I got from them is that while they understand my frustration, they do not waive their policy. That is what I'm hoping to change with this email campaign.

Update #3, 6/21/11: "Now witness the power of this fully operational battle station!" OK, there's no Darth Vader in this story, but a West Point classmate of mine is trying to help my story go viral:

Often times these customer service opportunities will become viral marketing for or against a company regardless of the company’s activity in social media, and today is just one of those times. You see, Icelandair chose to tell a customer that he was not important, and I think it will end up costing them business. Of course, if this story goes viral, they will end up spending a lot of money just trying to “undo” the negativity from all of the commotion that is created.

It is important to note that Icelandair did nothing legally wrong, and they did not violate any contract terms either. However, there are times in business when you can make a judgement call that will cost the company a small amount of money but gain a large return in word of mouth marketing. Unfortunately, our short story is about the the exact opposite occurring...

Think about the long reach of viral marketing and the internet. This is a Florida business marketing blog about a airline in Iceland treating a California customer poorly, and it will be tweeted to 100+ countries and over 200,000 twitter followers (and hopefully a lot more) everywhere. This is word of mouth marketing that works against IcelandAir, and all because they did not think about how this could help their company...

Remember, this is not an article about the big bad wolf, IcelandAir did nothing contractually wrong. They just missed a great opportunity to get some very cheap viral marketing from social media accounts all over the world. Not to mention the attention that it will receive in the blogging community.

Icelandair is holding firm, but they can still change their mind.

15 comments:

Happy Elf Mom said...

Posting to facebook and the blogs. No reason not to ask politely that they do the thing that will ensure the most customer loyalty in the future. :)

Darren said...

Thank you!

I *would* be a loyal customer. Hotels.com got the hotel to reverse my entire charge. I wrote the hotel manager a personal letter stating that when I'm able to make my trip to Reykjavik, I *will* book my stay again at their facility--the Grettisgata Apartments.

Happy Elf Mom said...

OH nevermind on the hotel. You got that money back. Well, good for you and I hope you are able to stay at the Grettisgata Apartments and have a lovely time. :)

PeggyU said...

Does Iceland really get so many visitors that Icelandair can afford to irritate its customers?

Sandy said...

Sorry if this is a "duh" comment, but if you paid with a credit card, they might offer travel insurance. We found out by accident that our card offered it

Darren said...

Icelandair apparently does, and unfortunately my credit card says they provide no such insurance.

Alleninhawaii said...

I'm going to come across as heartless here, but this reminds me of that situation where the guy who didn't buy fire insurance pleaded with the firemen to save his house. By choosing not to purchase insurance and then pleading with them to "make an exception" you are encouraging others to forgo insurance and to otherwise free ride off those who do purchase insurance.

Darren said...

The difference is that it costs them nothing to change this reservation two months out. Nothing. The situation with firemen is not the same.

Ellen K said...

Just a suggestion. I don't know about television in your area, but we have a couple of serious consumer reporters who have gone after car companies, fraud, apartments without A/c and more. Negative publicity has a way of trumping Serge at the ticket desk. It wouldn't hurt to contact the Iceland consulate and lay your concerns out in very specific terms. I would be willing to say, I can't go now because of medical issues, and get documentation from your doctor of this. Then I would just keep pestering them. Frankly, now I don't know why you would ever want to go there. And with their failing economy, can they afford to tick off what few tourists want to head there? I would make it public without making it angry. Make them look stupid, greedy and self serving.

Darren said...

The country is still beautiful. And the hotel people were entirely awesome. It's just the airline that's being unpleasant. I like the rest of what you say.

Eowyn said...

Have you considered contacting Christopher Elliot on tripso.com? (I forget the website of his personal site, but tripso.com is a place where people collect stories of service gone right and wrong in the travel industry.)

Darren said...

I have, but Icelandair isn't doing anything illegal or unjust here. They're just not taking advantage of an opportunity to get great PR and do the *decent* thing.

Bob said...

I agree Darren should have purchased travel insurance, @Alleninhawaii. Also, Icelandair is not doing anything wrong by sticking with their policy to refund 50% of the fare minus the $100 change fee. However, we can politely ask them to refund the entire fare and they can decline. So, let's politely ask. The discourse has been civil so far which is appropriate given that Icelandair has done nothing wrong. They can choose in this case to do something they don't have to do, which is refund the money.

Ellen K said...

Here's where the rubber meets the road. In a poor economy a service oriented industry can make one of two decision in a situation like this. They can dig in their heels and create animosity considering that people just don't visit Iceland very often. Or they can decide to entice others and polish their own image by maybe not doing the minimal effort but instead doing the right thing. Of course, you have to contend with the fact that other countries don't necessarily play by the same cultural rules. Lining up for a ticket is unheard of in some nations. This may be one of those situations where a small country feels intimidated by a larger one and acts out against individuals. I am willing to bet that whoever is running the Icelandic Bureau of Tourism is NOT going to be happy about this story. And that is what I would do-go to the media with it.

Darren said...

Good idea--I sent this information to the Icelandic Tourism Board, including the good news that the hotel has secured my loyalty by being compassionate enough to refund my entire amount.