Executive Email Carpet Bomb Scores Direct Hit On Cathay Pacific

Meet Tony Tyler, CEO of Cathay Pacific. Reader Jeff sent him an email after Cathay Pacific lost his reservation for a window seat on his flight to Australia and then served him a half-frozen kosher meal. Jeff wanted an upgrade to business class for his return trip, or a refund. Cathay Pacific’s customer service representatives were unwilling to provide either, but then Mr. Tyler intervened.

Jeff’s email to Cathay Pacific:

My girlfriend and I flew on flight 889 from JFK to HKG on 1-1-08 and flight 105 from HKG to MEL on 1-4-08. When I originally made the booking my girlfriend and I spent a fair bit of time selecting our seats for all four of our flights. My girlfriend becomes ill if she does not have a window seat and we figured that we would be fine for this journey since we were able to select all window seats.

When we checked in for flight 889 we were assigned a center and an aisle seat for the flight. When I inquired to the ticket agent we were told that there was no seat selection on record and we were out of luck as the plane was full. The same thing happened when we checked in for flight 105. Again for that flight we were assigned a center and an aisle seat. If you check your flight records you will find that at some point during that flight one of the coach cabin lavatories was closed off by the flight crew. My girlfriend was the reason why as she became violently ill during this leg. It got to the point where we were forced to talk to Australian quarantine and medical officers in Adelaide. At that point the gate agent was finally able to give us a window assignment for the final 45 minute leg to Melbourne.

This situation would have been bad enough on its own however we also opted for kosher meal selections. ALL of our meals arrived with the entree steaming hot yet the rest of the meal was completely frozen and inedible. Your flight crew was sympathetic however as these meals are not prepared onboard they were unable to rectify the situation as the rest of the food onboard was not a suitable kosher alternative.

We are currently booked on flights 110 and 840 from Sydney to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to New York respectively on 1-26-08 under the names Jeff and Crystal. Based on what we have gone through I feel that we are entitled to either a complimentary upgrade for those flights (with a window seat for Crystal) or a partial refund of our fare. If not I feel those flights will be our last with Cathay Pacific.

Please contact me via email if there are any further questions as I do not have mobile service in Australia.”

CSR Susan Tam was the first to respond.

We write in response to your emails of 21 January 2008, regarding your recent flights with Cathay Pacific whilst travelling from New York to Melbourne via Hong Kong. We are concerned to learn of the difficulties you and Ms Crystal encountered on board our flight, and we sincerely hope this letter finds her well.

We fully appreciate your disappointment with the seat allocations on your flights CX889 from New York to Hong Kong on 1 January and flight CX105 from Hong Kong to Melbourne on 4 January, and any inconvenience you may have experienced is deeply regretted. Having retrieved a copy of your booking records under computer reference K4EY3, we are however unable to find any Advanced Seat Reservations (ASR) that you have made prior to your flights. This explains why our check-in staff at both New York and Hong Kong were unable to locate your requests for window seats.

Whilst our staff will help all passengers with their seat preferences to the best of their ability, it may not always be possible to comply with all requests, especially when most seats are still being held as ASRs or are allocated to passengers who have already checked in. Nevertheless, we must and do apologise for any disappointment you may have felt with our staff not being able to offer you better seats, and that the seats ultimately assigned to you had caused you and Ms Crystal discomfort.

We are also very sorry to note that you were unhappy with the quality of our inflight meals. Our Catering Department is committed to ensuring that our inflight meals are of the highest standard, and we regret if our efforts fell short of your expectations in this instance. Customer feedback is always appreciated as it enables us to identify areas that may need improvement, and we are extremely grateful to you for sharing your views with us. Please be assured that your comments have been noted and will be forwarded to our Catering Department for the necessary review.

Mr Jeff, whilst we are unable to accede to your requests for any upgrades or a refund of your tickets, we do note that you have not made any seat reservations for your upcoming flights yet. Therefore, in order to make your flights with us more comfortable, we have taken the liberty of confirming adjoining seats for you and Ms Crystal on both of your returning flights CX110 and CX840 on 26 January. Your confirmed seats are 35H & 35K(window seat) for your flight from Sydney to Hong Kong and 36J and 36K(window seat) for your flight from Hong Kong to New York. However, since ASR can only be held up to 1 hour prior to flight departure, may we ask that you kindly present yourselves at check-in as early as possible, and our will make the necessary arrangements for you.

In closing, thank you once again for taking the time to share your views and concerns with us. May we take this opportunity to thank you for choosing Cathay Pacific, and we sincerely look forward to the pleasure of welcoming you and Ms Crystal on board our flights very soon.

Susan Tam

Jeff was not pleased with Susan’s response, so he hunted down and forwarded his complaint to Tony Tyler’s email address. The CEO was quick to respond with a detailed note and a resolution.

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your email. I apologise on behalf of all of us here for the disappointment we caused you on your recent trip, and for failing to meet your expectations in terms of the service we offered you.

I’ve had our IT people check what could have happened with your Advanced Seat Reservation (ASR), in view of there being no record of any ASR in your booking. Quite simply, if an ASR had been made, it would have been in your booking. If anyone deletes an ASR there is a record of who did it and when: there was no such record in your case, therefore it cannot have existed in the first place.

We’ve looked at the back-up files for the transaction on 15 September 2007. While they are not complete, they show that you opened the seat map window but that you tried to continue the selection of the seats after the confirmation of your bookings. Unfortunately the system does not recognise such seat requests: they have to be implemented prior to confirmation of the booking.

In the interests of a speedy reply to your email I have not had time to check exactly whether the confirmation screen sent to you would have made it clear that there was no specific seat allocation made. However I acknowledge that it should have done so, and I apologise for our not being able to allocate you a window seat when you checked in for the flight.

I am also sorry that the temperature of some of the dishes served was too cold. For health and hygiene reasons airline food is loaded cold and heated on board; cold dishes need time to warm to the right temperature and it would appear that the crew have been leaving insufficient time between removing them from the chillers and serving them. I do apologise for this.

Jeff, I am sorry we have let you down on this trip, and by copy of this email I am asking our Sydney Airport staff to issue you with lounge invitations at Sydney and Hongkong to make your trip home tomorrow a more pleasant experience. However I have to say that I don’t believe I can go as far as an upgrade or a partial refund of your fare in all the circumstances.

With best wishes
Tony Tyler

Jeff tells us that the lounge was exquisite, filled with classical music and yummy spring rolls.

If intransigent foes are keeping you from your desired customer service resolution, read our guide to launching your own Executive Email Carpet Bomb. If your grievance is with Cathay Pacific, exhaust all normal customer service channels and then shoot an email to tonytyler at cathaypacific dot com.


Edit Your Comment

  1. DeltaPurser says:

    Good decision on behalf of Cathay Pacific… Fair compensation, in my mind.

  2. wesa says:

    It sounds like user error, and Cathay Pacific went above and beyond in explaining this politely.

  3. I never thought I’d find myself in this position – kicking the person making the complaint BUT…

    If my better half could get motion-sickness so violent they’d have to close-off the washroom if they didn’t get a window seat, I’d be calling to confirm it SEVERAL times before the day of the flight. Trusting the website, alone, to take care of something THAT IMPORTANT was not a wise move. (I’d have called weekly until it bacame “Fran, it’s me, can you check if those seat assignments are still there?”)

    That said, I’ve very glad Cathay Pacific eventually made them happy-ish – seat-wise and lounge-wise.

  4. CurbRunner says:

    In addition to calling ahead to confirm my booking arrangements, I always print out any advanced seating reservations that I made online, along with any other reservation documentation and a back-up copy of the photo ID page of my passport, and carry it with me to all check-in points in the airlines’ boarding process.

  5. aishel says:

    I don’t get it…he needs kosher meals on the airplane but will eat dinner rolls in a lounge in Singapore?

  6. akalish says:

    A CEO sending a thoughtful, considerate email…Wow! What an exemplary reply. The consumer didn’t get a free ride, but he got consideration and an investigation into the situation. All CEOs should take a page from Tony Tyler.

  7. Sockatume says:

    I find it curious that they equate “hot meal served frozen solid” with “room temperature meal incorrectly served chilled”. I mean, that’s a pretty serious difference in edibility right there.

  8. cookmefud says:

    I think cathay pacific did the right thing here.

  9. ecwis says:

    OK I think we can all blame the victim in this case…

  10. RottNDude says:

    PWNED! Unbelievable they pulled the backups to confirm his story. Sounds like a case of “user error” to me.

  11. azntg says:

    I think that’s a good personal response by the CEO and reasonable compensation considering the circumstances.

  12. bodgy says:

    I had this happen to us on Iberia. The maddening part about that was that we had confirmed and had a printout that the ticket agent gave us stating our seats. Different story when we got our boarding passes though.

    I do think he should have confirmed his seats if it is such a big deal. I don’t think he was entitled to an upgrade or a refund. He still had seats, they just weren’t what he wanted. Mick Jagger said it best “We can’t always get what we want”.

    Some people have entitlement issues.

  13. bodgy says:

    PS: We did end up with an entire row (5 seats!) to ourselves because the gate agent moved us. Not the worst thing in the world.

  14. Ass_Cobra says:

    You know what is amazing to me, Cathay Pacific can pull the transaction and see what actions the user took for a booking and BofA can’t tell me what I did or did not do incorrectly when the online payment function of my credit card fails yet again.

    The initial response was great. Thoughtful, polite, not from a robot and did not contain “we are taking it seriously”. The CEO response was above and beyond. I’m glad they gave him something for the problem. A partial refund is tough and the difference between economy and business between New York and Sydney is about 10-12K. It’s just very different flying there on business class.

  15. bradanomics says:

    This is the part of the email that won me over

    “I apologise on behalf of all of us here for the disappointment we caused you on your recent trip, and for failing to meet your expectations in terms of the service we offered you.”

    The fact that the CEO APOLOGIZED speaks volumes to me. The assumption is that “it is being taken seriously.” We hope that you will “regret the error.” But for someone to actually apologize is rare at best in today’s support organizations.

    I am a technical support engineer by trade and will not hesitate to apologize to a customer if I feel that the customer was wronged in some way. This does wonders to diffuse bombs and it also helps put ME in the right mindset of doing the right thing for the customer.

  16. peteynice says:

    @bodgy: “don’t think he was entitled to an upgrade or a refund. He still had seats…”

    So if you bought tickets for a football game that when you checked online before the game were on the 50 yard line but when you get to the stadium you find out they are really behind the end zone, would you not be pissed? After all, you still have seats!

  17. BOOMAHRET2008 says:

    If you’re going to complain be sure you have all of your “backup” documentation ahead of time. You need to be able to support you what you’re claiming.

  18. RottNDude says:

  19. brokeincollege says:


    That’s because BoA doesn’t want to admit bilking you $35 for the late fee because you “paid late”. Curious how all computer systems go down the day before a payment is due. Or the day of.

  20. kepler11 says:

    While it’s nice that the person got a reply, and thoughtful responses from the airline, I have to disagree regarding using this technique in this case, and say that these issues do NOT rise to the importance of spending your credibility by sending email to the top executives. And I think Consumerist should stress this point and not encourage frivolous use of mass email like this. Consumerist might become associated with people with minor issues wasting companies’ time. And the story’s headline is deceiving — this is NOT a success story.

    Sending messages straight to the top is for issues of great importance, and I cannot believe that the ones in this story are such issues. They happen every day to thousands of passengers, and the person in this story was still told in the end that he wouldn’t get a refund. (In fact, I think asking for a refund was a bit of a scam to begin with, and quite over the top considering that the airline did very little wrong. Who asks for a refund because their airline meal was cold, or they didn’t get a particular seat? Admittedly the girlfriend gets motion sick or something, but how can the airline be responsible for that?)

    They didn’t get what they wanted, and they spent several people’s time trying to have that explained to them. They only got a small gesture, lounge passes, because they whined loud and long enough. If everyone who didn’t get their chosen seats and received a cold meal were to be compensated, the lounge would be full, and everyone would feel like not getting your seat is a disaster. Are you going to do this on every future flight that you take, now that you know it “works?”

    Sorry to disagree with the story’s sentiment, but in summary, I think that one should be a little bit more humble than to pull out the CEO’s email address when you don’t get your assigned seat and the salad is cold.

  21. DeltaPurser says:

    @aishel: aaaaaahhhh… good one… didn’t catch that one myself :-)

  22. viviennet says:

    @peteynice: First of all, it sounds as if this was a case of user error.

    Second of all, the analogy you used – end zone seats vs. 50 yard line seats – is quite frankly, TERRIBLE. That’s pretty much equating it with paying for Business class seats and getting Economy seats on arrival.

    I really do doubt that Cathay Pacific would lie about the ASRs, I’ve flown with them (sadly, cattle class only) for over 20 years and they’ve never let me down. It sounds like the complaint was initiated by a dude with an angry girlfriend who wanted answers.

  23. matt says:

    @bodgy: Iberia did this to me too. It was a pain in the ass from Chicago – Madrid, but on the flight back, there were only 6 or 7 other people in the whole of economy class. I spread out just fine over the 5 middle row seats.

  24. Buran says:

    @bodgy: When you are talking about someone’s health, the OP had every right to have ‘entitlement issues’. Because the airline failed to realize the severity of the situation, their actions caused someone to become violently ill on the flight, which could have been avoided by simply reseating someone else who did not have severe motion sickness problems. It is not likely that everyone in a window seat would have the same issue.

    Normally I’d say it isn’t a big deal, but in this case, it is. It’s not like my preferring to sit by a window — I like to but sitting in an aisle seat won’t cause me to throw up.

  25. JustAGuy2 says:


    They had an aisle and a middle assigned. They could have easily asked the FA “my girlfriend gets violently ill, is there anyone in a window who would prefer an aisle?” Given that a significant % of the population prefers aisle to window, shouldn’t have been that tough.

  26. econobiker says:

    Wow. Imagine getting this kind of reply from even the CSRs at United- people would die from shock…


  27. Framling says:

    To me it sounded like a user error caused by an ambiguous interface, which is really an interface error, which is really a system error, which is, at the root, the airline’s fault. Why would it present a seat selection interaction if it was too late to select the seat? It should be made abundantly clear when an important and significant option or decision (such as seat selection) is going to become unavailable.

  28. sukhwani says:

    I’ve had no such luck. I have contacted Cathay Pacific Customer Service and Tony Tyler CEO of Cathay Pacific on 2/23/08 without any luck.

  29. foilhead says:

    Because Jeff’s itinerary was carried solely on Cathay Pacific and also booked through them, he was most certainly on an e-ticket and therefore eligible to use their online check-in. OLCI provides a seat map on which passengers may pick their seats (or change them, if they had an ASR on the booking) two days prior to the flight. Cathay Pacific promotes OLCI quite heavily, and even reminds travelers about it via email once it is active for their flight, so I don’t see why Jeff couldn’t have checked in online beforehand just to confirm that Crystal still had a window seat.

    Also, Jeff may want to keep in mind for his future trips that begging for a free upgrade automatically eliminated any chances of him actually getting that free upgrade. This is an unwritten rule that most airlines observe, but passengers with a high frequent flyer status are usually exempted.

  30. Jim Ryan says:

    Cathay Pacific is notorious for very bad customer service and very rude employees. Due to the high level of complaints, Tony Tyler’s e-mail address has been changed to something that cannot be guessed based on his name.

    I live in Hong Kong and fly about 140,000 miles a year on Cathay. This makes me a “Diamond” member which is supposed to be their highest tier. Trust me, they do not care about any of their customers, including their “Diamond” members. Unfortunately, since I live in Hong Kong, I pretty much have no choice but to fly them.

    Cathay Pacific staff almost never apologize for poor service, and are strictly forbidden from offering upgrades in response to customer complaints. You would pretty much have to escalate to the CEO to get an upgrade, but they have now made that impossible by hiding their CEO’s e-mail address.