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 When I originally made the booking my girlfriend and I spent a fair bit of time selecting our seats for all four of our flights.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.
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.
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
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.