Readers planning to travel to Fiji, as lots of Australians do, might profit by the following advice: catch your plane.

Air Pacific, one of two carriers on the Melbourne-Nadi route, has for some time had departures on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday at 11.25pm. The time has now been put back to five minutes past midnight. A booking made for an end-of-weekend evening departure yesterday - Sunday - at 00.05 was intended by the passenger to be for the service that used to leave at 11.25 and is now rescheduled to five minutes past midnight on Monday morning. On the point of leaving for the airport, the passenger opened his e-mails to print his ticket and discovered that the flight on which he was booked had left twenty-four hours earlier, at 00.05 on Sunday morning. Absolutely correct in timing and terminology on the airline's part, but perhaps a little misleading. A foolish error by the passenger, but the kind of mistake that is not hard to make.

In consternation, the passenger rang Air Pacific. This passenger travels often to Fiji and is equipped with all the frequent flyer and other "customer loyalty" mumbo-jumbo so beloved of airlines. Even so, the Air Pacific operator could scarcely wait to point out that the passenger had "forfeited" the ticket by not taking the earlier flight. All the airline's blather about being a "valued customer" cut no ice when it might actually have come in handy. Would the airline credit the cost of the ticket - in what passes for Air Pacific's "business class" so a not inconsiderable sum (though hardly justified by the somewhat spartan accommodation compared to the same class on other airlines)  - to the cost of a rebooked ticket for Sunday evening/Monday morning? Not on your sweet life, as my father used to say. The customer would have to buy another ticket and pay another full fare. This cost around $825, slightly dearer than the cost of the original ticket, which had been prudently booked ahead.

The passenger bit the bullet, gave his credit-card number and other details and waited for the ticket to be e-mailed. Instead of a ticket another e-mail arrived announcing that the ticket could not be bought at the quoted rate and that the cost would instead be more than $1500. The "customer service operator" handling the earlier booking had "made a mistake", it was explained.

Demanding a higher price after a sale has been contracted is called gazumping. This used to be a speciality of the less reputable class of estate agent. It seems it has now been taken up by an international airline, on airline moreover of which some 40 per cent is owned by Qantas, our own proud national carrier.

Air Pacific is about to be "rebranded" Fiji Airlines. But don't be fooled. It will still be good old gazumping Air Pacific.

And the passenger? He booked a ticket on another airline for this morning and told Air Pacific what they could do with their $1500 ticket. He will not be flying with them again if he can avoid it and is recommending this course of action to his friends, his colleagues and staff - and to readers of Argus.

25 February 2013

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