A month ago, I got an invitation to speak at The Cost Effective Advertising Conference in Kuala Lumpur. The date clashed with our 9th wedding anniversary. I sensed a wonderful opportunity to spring a surprise on my wife. I decided to take her along. I wanted to wait until the tickets were booked before I broke the news to her.
My first choice was Cleartrip. Over the last few years, it’s been the only site I’ve used for my flight bookings. Mostly domestic though. Great experience, everytime. All my international tickets, however, were either booked by clients or conference organizers. This was my first experience booking an international flight ticket on ClearTrip.
As soon as I paid Rs.24K for the tickets, the first surprise I got was a message that said that the tickets are only blocked and not booked. To confirm booking, I need to present the copy of the Malaysian Visa along with the passport photocopy. This was new to me. And they gave me exactly a day to get this done.
I rush to the Malaysian Embassy to get my visa and they throw me a stump. They said they will only issue a Visa if I have confirmed ticket booking.
Reminded me of the chicken and egg syndrome.
I tried to convince the Malaysian embassy officials of my predicament and with the rest of the documents (like invitation letter, conference brochure with my name on the speaker list etc), it was in vain. I even fixed a meeting with a senior official the next day.
The next day, I got a call from a ClearTrip support staff who said, “Sir, your online booking is now void because it is past the deadline. Would you like me to refund your money minus cancellation charges or would you pay Rs.8000 extra for booking new tickets?” I found the casual tone of the message annoying. I did not like either of the choices she offered.
I explained to her about my embassy discussion and that no embassy issues a visa in one day and told about my desperate measures to get the visa (which was a requirement for me to get tickets from Cleartrip).
That’s when she said that visa is optional. Optional?? That was not mentioned in the email I got from Cleartip. I tell her that and she replied, “Oh, that’s standard email we send out”.
Standard?? That casual tone again. Ohh!
What I did not understand was why did she have to wait until AFTER the deadline had passed. If she had called me at least an hour before the “deadline’, I would have understood that visa was not compulsory and could easily have just given her the passport copy alone. It could have saved me tons of stress.
But she shrugged her shoulders. So did her team leader. So did the manager. Each time I had to repeat the explanation. But I must give it to them for patiently listening to me.
You know, when you pay Rs.24,000 of your money, the least I would expect is to be told in advance if the tickets was going to expire.
I accept its my mistake that I did not call them up and tell them about my visa problem. At the same time, it would have been nice for someone to have called and warned me about the impending ‘cancellation’. Calling me AFTER the tickets have been cancelled isn’t helping me at all.
After much discussion, cleartrip came up with a solution. I pay 50% ( Rs.4000) extra and they will book my tickets. I hated doing it but I really wanted to give my wife a vacation. I coughed up the money.
I get a confirmation mail from them saying that the tickets have been booked. Received the PNR.
Now, here’s when the real incident starts.
On the day of departure, I land at the Chennai Airport two hours before check-in. I hand over my passport and the online booking printout to the staff. The staff took an unusually long time to process my tickets. I sensed trouble. The staff did various rounds of discussions amongst themselves. Half hour passed.
Then the official came to me and said my wife’s ticket is ok and mine has been cancelled. Cancelled?? I told him that can’t be because we booked it together. He took out a printout and showed me the dreaded word. “VOID”.
You will realize how complicated the scene is when you listen to this. I booked my flight tickets through ClearTrip.com on a Jet Airways flight, which is operated by Malaysian Airlines and handled by an Air India Staff. And each one shrugged their shoulders and said its not their problem. I called ClearTrip but their customer service counter closed at 10 PM.
Now, there was only half hour to go for the flight to take off. I get panicky. I offered to buy a new ticket, but they refused to book a new one because they close the counter one hour before departure. An airport staff said I could still book it through a travel agency outside the airport. I run across to this agency. They said they cannot book the ticket because its just 20 minutes for take off.
I rush back and the guy at the counter gave me another idea. I could book the ticket for the next day and the airline will honour my ticket for today. And so I run like a mad man across the airport to this travel agency again and booked a new ticket. By this time, it was just 12 minutes for take off.
With the new tickets in hand, we had to wade through the immigration check and the really long security check line. You have no idea the number of “please’ and “excuse us” I had used to go past the long queue.
With just 5 minutes before take off, we were the last people to enter the flight. I was panting and awash with sweat. My wife was really hassled. This is NOT the kind of experience I wanted to give her on her vacation.
I’ll update the second part soon of what took place after I reached kuala lumpur.