If you squint, LAX doesn’t look exactly like the ninth ring of Hell. More like the eighth.

November 20, 2011

Customer Support

Air New Zealand

Dear Sir/Madam:

Imagine this scenario, if you will:

You’ve saved long and hard for a new Ford car, paid the dealer in full and have all your paperwork in order. On the day you arrive to pick up the vehicle, however, the salesman meets you at the door with a sad expression on his face.

“During the night the wind blew a tree onto your Ford and completely destroyed it,” he says, wringing his hands. “It was an unfortunate incident for which we cannot in any way be held responsible. And, because it was not our fault, we’re not going to bother ordering in a replacement Ford, nor are we prepared to give you a refund.”

He dangles a set a keys in front of your nose. “What we will do, because you are a valued customer and we desire your future business, is put you into a used Holden. It’s not what you want, it’s not what you paid for, but look at this way: it will still get you where you want to go.”

That customer being screwed over? That’s me. The salesman with the slick pitch? That would be Air New Zealand.

Let me explain:

I was originally booked on Air NZ flight 83 – Vancouver to Auckland non-stop– due to depart at 19:00 on Friday, November 11. I was at YVR three hours ahead of time, as per requirements, only to be told by a gentleman standing by the Air New Zealand check-in counter that there was a problem. It had been a particularly windy day and, he informed me in hushed tones, a passenger bridge had been blown into the jet, causing external damage.

I was advised to come back in an hour for an update on the flight’s status.

Things weren’t quite as organized or efficient when I returned to the counter, if only because, by this time, several more passengers were present. Everyone was milling around, asking each other if anyone had any information. As a journalist, I’m accustomed to marching up and asking questions, and so I did just that.

I talked to a female employee this time and she seemed just as unclear on the situation as the rest of us. Yes, there had been damage caused to the exterior of the jet. No, we would not be flying out tonight. The plan, as she understood it, would see Air New Zealand bringing in a jet from Auckland to fetch us, but that would take at least 14 hours.

Passengers who had arrived on connecting flights would be put up in hotels; those of us who still had access to local accommodation were advised to go home and call Air New Zealand’s 1-800 number for updates on our flight.

OK, fine. Wind = act of God = no one’s fault. Crap happens. I get that.

Things, however, went swiftly downhill from there. Despite spending several hours dialling the 1-800 number, I was consistently greeted by a busy signal. The one time I did get through to a customer rep, I was told, in a rather cavalier manner, that passengers on NZ 83 were simply being flipped onto Sunday’s (Nov. 13) flight, because it was the next available non-stop flight on the schedule.

Not good enough, I said. That flight doesn’t arrive in New Zealand until Tuesday morning (Nov. 15) and I have to be at work Monday morning.

Plan B, I was told, was to fly to Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 12, and catch the LA-Auckland flight that night. LAX? Seriously? The main reason the non-stop flight is so popular is because no one in his or her right mind wants to endure the ninth ring of Hell that is LAX.

Not good enough, I repeated. If I wanted to experience the dubious joys of LAX, that’s the ticket I would have bought in the first place. Like the Ford lover in the above story, my expectations were simple: I wanted what I paid for. No more, and certainly no less.

Since it was obvious that would not be happening, I asked if Air New Zealand had any plans to compensate me for this major inconvenience. And that’s when the line went dead. Must have been the wind again. Yeah, right.

In the end, as the hour grew late and I started to panic about confirming flights, I took the drastic action of making two long-distance calls to the Air New Zealand office in New Zealand. The first time I was told I’d already been tentatively booked on flights that would see me fly out of LAX on the Saturday evening. The second call, made two hours later in an effort to confirm that booking, revealed there was no evidence at all on the computer of that earlier booking, tentative or otherwise.

I was finally confirmed to fly Vancouver-LAX-Auckland, but it took several hours, two expensive phone calls and much frustration on my part before all the arrangements were made and the keys to the Holden were thrown in my face.

Did I mention that I ended up in Los Angeles without any U.S. cash or that I was still in the process of travelling a day after my travel insurance expired?

Did I mention that a day meant to be spent relaxing at home, adjusting to the time difference and recharging my batteries before heading back to work found me, instead, spending eight hours in LAX?

The part that really pisses me off is this: not once did anyone say they were sorry.

Not a single person had the common courtesy, the common decency to say, “Despite this unfortunate incident being the result of a random and unpredictable Act of God – meaning Air New Zealand can in no way be held responsible – I apologize.

“I apologize that you were forced to spend eight hours sitting on your arse in a terminal in LAX and that, because of that, you lost an invaluable part of your life that could better have been spent making love to your wife or massaging your leg muscles back to life after a long, cramped flight, or mowing the lawn or throwing the ball for the dog.

“You had a miserable day and, on behalf of Air New Zealand, I’d just like to say I’m sorry.”

I paid for the Ford in good faith and then had no choice but to accept the Holden or forfeit a day’s wages. Yeah, I’m guessing the very least I’m owed is an apology.

Well that, and two complimentary tickets to somewhere hot.

I’m thinking Rarotonga.



One Response to “If you squint, LAX doesn’t look exactly like the ninth ring of Hell. More like the eighth.”

  1. Susan Paul said

    Ah, so I see someone else has the to complain bitterly of
    the way Air New Zealand handled this affair. I too was booked on Flight 83 out of Vancouver direct to Auckland on November 11th.
    I too was told by a flustered and indecisive female Air NZ employee to go home and phone Air NZ. I too sat on the ‘phone
    for hours on end, pressing the end call and then the recall button.
    In the end I had to take the Sunday 13th flight, direct, but ended
    up missing the main event of my trip which took place Sunday
    afternoon in Auckland. Two additional taxi rides, dinner and lunch
    out at a restaurant (I’d cleared out my fridge in preparation of being away for 3 weeks) were a couple of expensive results of
    this 2 day delay.
    I sent an email to Air NZ, outlining my frustration, never got anything back except a stock email saying someone would contact
    me within 10 working days of my complaint. Didn’t happen. I finally called them…three times….and finally spoke with an agent
    who at first feigned ignorance as to the details of the “accident” to
    the airplane, but who obviously was aware, as our conversation
    disclosed, of how it all happened…wind and all. Anyhow as it
    would not be “cost effective” for ANZ to compensate all their passengers in any way I was out of luck. I did get an apology.
    A business class return, or some cost shaved off my next trip to
    NZ would have made my happier. Oh well.

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