Self-described “social Influencer” Jacqueline Ng says she “filled out an online form. I emailed Cathay Pacific to try and upgrade to business class.”
She says she got an email back offering an upgrade subject to availability – telling her, “Because of your social network, we would like to formally extend a Business Class upgrade to you on the day of your flight, should any tickets still be available at check-in.”
Cathay Pacific Business Class
She showed the e-mail at check-in in Taipei before her first flight. She was flying paid premium economy, via Hong Kong, to New York. The agent declined the upgrade, and she flew premium economy.
She went to the airport for her return flight. At the check-in desk she showed the email again saying that she could be upgraded. Things didn’t go well for her.
- The agent called over a supervisor. Everyone went away and returned back “30 minutes later” with a letter saying she wouldn’t be flying.
- Cathay Pacific had determined that the ‘sure we’ll upgrade you’ e-mail was fake, and they were cancelling her ticket due to fraud and banning her from the airline.
Standing at the counter in disbelief, Ng says she couldn’t believe the absurdity of the accusations. She had only asked for an upgrade, but now she was being kicked off the flight — with no way home. She tried to reason with the supervisor; however, she quickly realized the decision wasn’t negotiable.
It gets even worse from there. Cathay Pacific refunded the cost of her return ticket. She e-mailed Cathay Pacific asking them to cover the higher amount she paid to buy a ticket home on another airline.
- Cathay told her they determined the e-mail was fraudulent. The person it was supposedly from hadn’t sent it. If she disagreed, she needed to provide the metadata from the email she had presented to prove it.
- Instead of responding with a copy of the email, including headers, she replied she didn’t see “the relevance of this request” and instructed that further communication go through her legal counsel.
- Making empty legal threats against a big corporation is a bad idea when you don’t intend to follow through. Their legal costs are lower than yours, and their pockets are deeper.
- She kept at it, though – suggesting that because she was such an important person (“Top 20 Under 20 National Award” in Canada) and had worked for Cathay Pacific’s parent company though she quit after five months – that she should be reimbursed.
Cathay didn’t respond further to her, only offering “Please have your legal counsel write to us through this email address with the same subject line. I will turn over your case to our legal team for a direct follow up with your legal counsel.” Now she says she’s actually going to sue.
Even Christopher Elliott Can’t Side With This Passenger
The passenger reached out to Christopher Elliott’s consumer advocacy folks for help. They heard her pleading, communicated with Cathay Pacific, and got her nothing (“she remains banned from the airline”).
The old Saturday Night Live law firm of Green & Fazio used to go after damages no matter what a consumer had done (“Let’s be frank, what does a ‘No Trespassing’ sign mean when you’re as drunk as I was?”). Christopher Elliott is usually the Green & Fazio of consumer advocates, consumers are being being unfairly treated because corporation.
This time though the case went before the Executive Director of Christopher Elliott’s ‘Elliott Advocacy’. Not only didn’t she completely side with the passenger, while Elliott advises against joining frequent flyer programs, she’s smarter than he is and offers “To be able to go on a waitlist for a possible upgrade, you must belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program. These programs are free to join, and you can earn miles toward free flights and the miles you earn can also pay for those upgrades.”
Yet I’ve Thought About Doing Something Similar
American Airlines once invited me to visit their Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining upon opening. Supposedly access was arranged and lounge staff knew to expect me. When I arrived though no one had heard of such a thing, I wasn’t on any list, and I was being turned away. I pulled out the e-mail from someone in corporate communications saying the visit was arranged. The signature block had an American Airlines logo. They honored that email as my ticket.
At the time I thought, gosh I could just show this email any time I want to use a Flagship lounge! I never did that though. It crossed a line for me to alter the date or location on the e-mail, just as I haven’t been a fan of customers photoshopping pdf’s in pursuit of status matches (and this, by the way, is why United shares member information with other airlines to combat status match fraud).
American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK
But what would Justin Ross Lee do? Does this seem any worse of an idea than drawing pentagrams and chanting ‘revenue management’ for an upgrade, though?
Although if you’re going to try either approach you might be better off just disguising yourself as a mimosa (“alcoholic beverages are complimentary in first class, so if you dress up as a cocktail, you can sit down without anyone realizing you’re actually a human who belongs in coach”).