CATHAY PACIFIC: World’s Worst Customer Service?


I was on Virgin Atlantic flight VS206 on the weekend from Heathrow to Hong Kong, connecting with CATHAY PACIFIC CX111 from Hong Kong to Sydney. I have had no reply yet from VIRGIN ATLANTIC or CATHAY PACIFIC. Here is the text of the complaint I have sent to them both. In addition to the $AU1700 I had already spent on my fare, by the behaviour of these airlines’ respective staff members I was forced to pay an additional $AU1500 or face not being able to get home. I have never had such an absolutely appalling experience from any airline. Staff member names have been changed for their privacy.

Wednesday August 1st 2018.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN at
VIRGIN ATLANTIC,
VIRGIN AUSTRALIA
CATHAY PACIFIC HONG KONG
CATHAY PACIFIC AUSTRALIA
and associated air travel regulatory bodies

Over the weekend I had the most disempowering, traumatic, baffling, and disgusting air travel experience of my life at the hands of VIRGIN ATLANTIC and CATHAY PACIFIC.
I have travelled the world by air extensively over the last seven years – USA, Chile, Argentina, France, Switzerland, Egypt, China, New Zealand, etc. – and I have never ever been so absolutely mistreated by an air carrier who having been paid for the simple service of transportation instead abandoned me in a foreign country, denied any responsibility for my situation, and forced me to buy a full fare with another carrier in order to make it back home within any reasonable timeframe.

1. I hold VIRGIN ATLANTIC responsible for making a clerical error when I checked in at Heathrow.
2. I hold CATHAY PACIFIC responsible for exploitative, deceitful and abusive practices in disrupting my check-in procedure in HONG KONG.
3. I hold VIRGIN in HONG KONG responsible for misrepresenting my situation and providing absolutely no assistance when VIRGIN’s initial error at Heathrow gave CATHAY an excuse to try to extort $US1200 from me.
4. Once CATHAY blocked me from checking in in HONG KONG, VIRGIN provided absolutely no assistance of any merit.
5. After my bags were removed from the CATHAY flight which I was booked to retun home on, CATHAY PACIFIC’s departure area desk in HONG KONG claimed that they could not do anything to help me as they could not access my booking and I would have to deal with VIRGIN.
6. I had no reasonable option other than to then buy, late on Sunday night (29/6/18) a direct flight from HONG KONG to SYDNEY with QANTAS for approximately $AUD1500.

I want a full refund of the flight which CATHAY PACIFIC staff prevented me from boarding even though I had a booking, was at the Transfer desk an hour ahead of check-in closing, and had paid for my luggage to go through to Sydney. I want a written acknowledgment of unacceptable treatment by CATHAY PACIFIC desk staff and an apology from CATHAY PACIFIC.

I want a written acknowledgment of error, an apology, and appropriate, adequate compensation from VIRGIN given their ultimate responsibility for the human error made by their staff when checking my luggage at Heathrow and the complete lack of assistance provided in HONG KONG when this whole issue could have been prevented from escalating to the extreme outcome experienced.

I will explain in full what happened as I have had no direct assistance from either airline in question even though I have asked VIRGIN to contact me and I have asked CATHAY PACIFIC for who to contact for customer relations assistance in Australia and Hong Kong and globally but received absolutely no reply after more than 48 hours.

On the afternoon of Saturday July 28, 2018 I went to Heathrow Terminal 1 to board a flight back to Sydney via Hong Kong after close to a month of travel through Colorado and London. My confirmation number for the London to Hong Kong booking was TRLKEF. I had a large rucksack, large wheeled duffelbag, a sausage bag commonly used as cabin luggage, and a very small backpack for my computer and sundries.
The weights of the two larger bags respectively was 16.8kg and 23.4kg, while the weight of the sausage bag was 11.7kg (total 51.9kg). I did not know these weights at the time but they are relevant to know, given what happened when I ultimately tried to deal with CATHAY PACIFIC in HONG KONG. My tickets for both London to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Sydney allowed for checking in 2 23kg bags.

At Heathrow Terminal 1, Counter 25 or 26 I asked about the price of checking a third bag. I could have simply carried this bag on to the plane and put it in the overhead compartment as I usually do but the trip had been long and I wondered whether I could easily just check the bag and pick it up again in Sydney. The VIRGIN counter staff member told me that he wasn’t sure whether it would be ̵ £65 or £140 but he would check for me. He then told me it would be £65. I asked if this would mean the bag going straight through to Sydney and not having to collect it in Hong Kong and he confirmed that yes, £65 would get me a third checked bag sent straight through to Sydney. I said that would be great and checked my 3 bags. He gave me a card with a written note on it and sent me along to the end counter, number 30 I think, where another Virgin staff member took the card from me, spoke back and forth with the first staff member, and then took £65 payment from me for the 3rd bag to go through to Sydney.

I did the usual stuff – security, the lounge, boarded the plane (Virgin Atlantic Flight 206), and had no further cause for concern until reaching HONG KONG and proceeding to the CATHAY PACIFIC international transfers counter. The flight into HONG KONG had landed shortly before its scheduled arrival time of 4:55pm on the afternoon of Sunday July 29. As part of the same booking, TRLKEF (GoToGate KMBR83), I was meant to be catching CATHAY PACIFIC flight CX111 from HONG KONG to Sydney at 6:55pm. I had left myself plenty of time between flights and made sure they were part of the same booking in case either was delayed or rescheduled at all. So far, everything was normal enough.
But then at the CATHAY PACIFIC transfers desk I was immediately treated poorly by staff.

The first staff member that I spoke to was CATHAY STAFF 1. She told me that there was a problem with my baggage because of excess weight. I explained that I had a third bag that I had paid for to be checked right through to Sydney when I went to the Virgin counter at Heathrow. She said that no, the bag weight was 60kg in total and that I was only allowed 30kg, and that the excess weight fee would be $US40 per kilogram. Immediately working out that this would be $US1200 I told her that I had paid for the extra bag to be sent to Sydney already. She told me that I had only paid Virgin, that I had not paid Cathay for the extra weight, and that at this point in the process, Cathay would not be able to accept payment per piece of luggage but only per weight. I repeated that I had paid for the bag to be sent through to Sydney. At this point, when I showed by baggage slip from Heathrow and flipped the receipt (AUTH: 821929 AID: A0000000031010) out of the way, I was dismayed to see that HKG and not SYD was typed on the pass in small letters. I told her that this was a mistake and that I had paid Virgin to send the bag to Sydney but they had obviously entered it wrongly.

CATHAY STAFF 1 then called VIRGIN, whose representative VIRGIN STAFF 1 said that I had only paid for the luggage to be sent to HONG KONG. I said that yes, that is what the staff member for Virgin at Heathrow appeared to have mistakenly entered into the system, but that this was not what I had asked for or paid for, and that I had asked about the price of sending my bag through to Sydney and that I had paid for my bag to be sent through to Sydney and that Virgin staff at Heathrow had told me that my bag was being sent through to Sydney.

CATHAY PACIFIC Desk Manager CATHAY STAFF 2 then became involved. She and CATHAY STAFF 1 had been talking to each other about me and looking at me but doing little to acknowledge anything I was saying. They just insisted that it would be $US1200 for my bags to stay on the plane. CATHAY STAFF 2 asked me to wait to one side. Staff were not helpful at all. I did not know what was happening, other than that they were waiting to hear back from VIRGIN. After close to 20 minutes, the phone went and it was VIRGIN STAFF 1 from VIRGIN. He spoke to me and told me that I had only paid for the third checked bag to be sent to HONG KONG. I told him that I had asked staff at Heathrow about the price of sending the bag to Sydney, that I had paid for the bag to be sent to Sydney and that I had been told by Virgin staff that the bag was being sent through to Sydney. He was no help.

I asked CATHAY STAFF 2 if I could see her supervisor. She said that she was the supervisor and that no, I could not talk to anyone else. It was now shortly after 6pm. I had shown CATHAY STAFF 2 my original booking from months ago guaranteeing me 2 23kg checked bags with CATHAY PACIFIC. She then said that by subtracting 46kg from 60kg and multiplying by $US40 I could agree to pay $US560 if I wanted to get on the plane but I had less than a minute to say yes. I said that this was ridiculous and that I had already paid for my bag. She said that they were going to close check-in and not let me on the plane. I had had no help at this point from CATHAY PACIFIC or VIRGIN AIRWAYS. I took out my phone and put it on video record mode and asked her to say that again please because I wanted proof of what CATHAY staff were doing to me. She covered her face and cancelled my check-in. I have never felt so completely at a loss as to what went wrong, and I have never been so badly treated by an airline. I paid for a ticket, I paid for my luggage, staff tried to extort $US1200 from me, when on reflection if we look at the actual weight of the checked bags even without taking into account the payment when I checked in at Heathrow for an extra bag, they were in fact 5.9kg over the 46kg originally paid for with CATHAY PACIFIC.

I was told to wait for a VIRGIN staff member. At this point I was in shock. A VIRGIN staff member appeared and walked me downstairs to the VIRGIN desk. Here I met VIRGIN STAFF 1. He spoke quickly and aggressively to me. I said to him, “I am not stupid, and you are not stupid,” to which he replied in an agitated manner, “Don’t call me stupid, if you’re calling me stupid…”. So I corrected him, “No no, please listen to what I’m saying – I am not stupid, and you are not stupid. With us both being not stupid, I’ll bet $US1200 that we still can’t come up with any sensible reason why I would have possibly paid Virgin at Heathrow for my bag to only go as far as HONG KONG. Why would I possibly take a bag that I could carry into the cabin for no charge and check it in for £65 to only go as far as Hong Kong so that I can be charged enough for an additional economy class seat to get it to Sydney?” I think that once we were eye to eye and that I was explaining to him that I had paid Virgin staff at Heathrow for my third bag to be sent through to Sydney, and that somebody had made a mistake by only entering the bag as shipping to Hong Kong, I think he actually sensed that a mistake had been made. But he asked me to wait to one side and that he would get back to me.

I stood waiting for some time but it was starting to get late and nothing was being done to help me at all. I went to the bathroom and changed my shirt as I’d already been in transit now for what felt like close to 20 hours. When I came back, VIRGIN STAFF 1 had printed off a list of flights back to Sydney over the next couple of days using a system called Amadeus. He came around the counter and spoke to me and told me that my checked bags had been put out in the baggage collection area on carousel 8. He said that I might be able to get a better priced flight back to Sydney if I booked something online. He also said that paying for extra baggage only covers it going from port to port. But this made no sense to me. If this is an internal industry practise, how or why would a paying member of the public know about it, and why wouldn’t staff at Heathrow say so. All of this just added to the incredible, jarring frustration of being absolutely disrupted by a system that couldn’t seem to acknowledge that it was in error. I didn’t want to be stuck in Hong Kong overnight as the next day was Monday and I had specifically made bookings with the intention of being back in Sydney by Monday morning for work.

I went through the process of filling in an immigration declaration, and collecting my bags from the luggage area. They had CX111 tags on them indicating that they had been either on the flight that I had booked or ready to go on to the flight that I had booked, and tags indicating that they had been selected for removal as well. They were sitting by the carousel and I don’t know at this point how long they had been sitting there. I put them on a trolley and found my way to the Departures desks. When I went to the CATHAY PACIFIC desk and told them that I had paid for a CATHAY PACIFIC flight back to Sydney but been interfered with by CATHAY staff and I wanted a replacement flight back to Sydney, they apparently tried to look up the booking but then said that it was with Virgin and that they couldn’t help me and I would have to speak to Virgin.

By this point it was getting late on Sunday evening, I had to get back home, almost all other flights to Sydney over the next 24 hours looked like taking about 20 or more hours and featuring additional stops, plus I had received nothing that felt like help from VIRGIN in Hong Kong so far. I went to the QANTAS desk and asked if they could squeeze me on to a flight home. I bought a ticket on QF155 for about $AUD1500 and taking my sausage bag with me as cabin luggage I had to pay an excess baggage fee for my two checked bags, an additional $HK1050 – significantly less than the $US1200 that CATHAY PACIFIC staff demanded.

Eventually I got my flight home with QANTAS.

I have tried to contact both CATHAY PACIFIC and VIRGIN about this through direct messaging and have been completely ignored by CATHAY and have not had meaningful direct assistance from VIRGIN.

This has been an absolutely terrible experience, and I believe CATHAY PACIFIC’s staff conducted themselves in a manner that was unethical, immoral, shameful and possibly unlawful. I believe that what might have been simple employee error in the first instance by VIRGIN ATLANTIC staff at Heathrow was compounded by irresponsible, unhelpful, and ignorant behaviour of VIRGIN staff in HONG KONG.

I will continue to send this communication to the relevant airlines and any associated regulatory bodies and related parties until this matter had been addressed in full.

Roger Hanney

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About Roger Hanney

Ultramarathon guy. Wannabe adventurer. HOKA ONE ONE Australia. First Type 1 to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. www.runeatsleeprun.com.
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