Last summer I discovered that Via Air was the worst airline in America with an F-rating from the Better Business Bureau and 71% of their TripAdvisor reviews poor or terrible, compared to 27% for Allegiant, 26% for United and 6% for Southwest.
In the spring I warned against booking the airline, concerned it wouldn’t last. Now Via Air has pretty much shut down. They ghosted airports, who don’t know why the airline never turned up when their schedules had them starting to fly. They’ve been accused of not paying employees, who say they can’t get through to the airline either. And after initially claiming a scaled back operation was due to a pilot shortage (apparently pilots unwilling to work for the $0 in wages they were paying) they started ghosting reporters, too.
So it’s not surprising that they didn’t notify passengers who purchased tickets that their flights were cancelled. The airline may not have even had contact information for passengers who booked through online travel agency websites.
Credit: Via Air
The appalling – but not shocking – thing is that online travel agency sites apparently didn’t notify their customers, either that Via Air wasn’t operating. My local news in Austin covers a man who showed up at the airport, having booked tickets through Travelocity (which is owned by Expedia), expecting to fly for Father’s Day only to discover that Via Air hasn’t operated at the airport in weeks.
He’s been refunded the $275 he paid for this ticket, but since walkup fares to Pittsburgh are running “$800 to $900” roundtrip he rented a car and is driving.
There’s something fundamentally wrong, I think, with the large online travel agency websites. In my own experience, and from emails I get from readers, my sense is:
- They provide poor customer service, often long hold times for agents without the capability to help with much of anything that goes wrong with a booking.
- They don’t do a very good job of helping customers identify the best trip for their needs. There’s very little guidance on the best connection, what flight experience is going to match a customer’s preferences, or what hotel they’ll enjoy.
- Instead customers are either left to their own devices to pick whatever is out there (so pretty much zero value add) or worse options – especially for hotels – that are presented based on which hotels will pay a premium for consumer eyeballs rather than what hotel will best meet a customer’s needs or what will give them the best price.
Expedia Dancers Ghost You When the Airline You Booked Shuts Down. Flickr: Juggernautco
Online travel agency websites complain that Google is delivering travel results directly to customers instead of sending people to their websites where they can collect a toll (commission) on the transaction. And they want the government to step in and force Google to deliver customers to them.
I say that online travel agency websites should be better, should add value to customers, so that customers will want and prefer the service that they’re providing.
The bare minimum, it seems to me, is that an online travel agency should be aware when an airline they’re selling stops operating — so that they proactively reach out to customers to help them in getting re-accommodated. No one should ever show up at the airport, weeks after an airline has been there, to discover they have no flights when they made their booking through an agency.
Travelocity should do more than facilitate a refund because Travelocity failed in its fundamental duty to the customer. As they say “Travelocity had one job.”