getting home: horrific customer service from pacific coastal airlines

On the way home, I flew from from San Francisco (SFO) to Vancouver (YVR) on United Airlines, then from Vancouver to Port Hardy (YZT) on Pacific Coastal. Pacific Coastal flies out of a separate terminal, not connected to YVR proper. You need a shuttle or a taxi to get there.

This part was my fault

I didn't wake up as early as I'd like -- very unusual for me -- so I was rushing to get out. In my haste I must have picked up the wrong address on Google Maps. I was driving along when the directions told me to get off the highway and take a detour. I thought there was an accident or some other obstruction, and that Google Maps was taking me on some alternate route to the airport. Bad move.

I followed directions for a while, driving in circles, unable to figure out what was going on, getting more tense as the time ticked away. At one point I got back on the highway, followed directions from a later exit, and found myself back where I had first gotten off. Oh my god.

Now I was flustered. I pulled over and looked at Google Maps on my phone, and realized what had happened. I got back on the highway and drove like hell to the rental car return.

Thus ends the portion of this episode that was my fault. 

Note to United Airlines: Canada is not in the U.S.

At the rental car return, of course there is a huge long line of people returning cars. Nice rental car person checks my now not-quite-full-gas-gauge (from driving around in circles) but says, "OK that's full". Thank you! 

Then he's telling me how to get to the airport -- with a mask, and an accent, and talking fast (because he probably says this 10,000 times on every shift). I had to say, "I'm sorry, I'm not understanding you." After two repeats, I finally got it.

Up elevator, down escalators, through various doors, jump on the air train, get off at International terminal. Can't find United. It is now 7:20. Flight leaves 8:30. Cannot find United. Cannot see flight on departure board. Ask three more people. I'm at Aisle 12, United is Aisle 2. Run. I'm not a runner. Run run run. Almost cannot breathe.

There's a long line, but I cut to the last agent on the counter and ask for help. She decides to take me. Yay!

ID, vaccine check, then wait wait wait. Long wait. She calls over a supervisor. They mutter to each other. I hear the supervisor say, "That's because it's too late, the flight has closed." Oh noooo!!!

I'm like, are you sure, can I run there, etc. Nope, you would never make it, it's in a different terminal. Different terminal? Yes, it's been changed to the domestic terminal. Flight to Canada. Domestic terminal.

At that point I realized that even without the 15 minute detour driving around random San Francisco streets, I would not have made the flight. Damn.

She says I'm confirmed for an 11:00 pm flight, standby for a 7:00 pm flight. 

There are only two flights each day from Vancouver to Port Hardy at this time of year -- at 8:30 am and 3:10 pm. So if I'm on either of those flights, I'm staying over in Vancouver. Which means another hotel, change fee for the Pacific Coastal flight, plus I have work on Tuesday and really want to be home on Monday. 

Then wait, wait, wait, wait... long wait. Agent goes to another terminal, wait, wait, wait, then... "OK, I have you on an 11:05 a.m. flight to Vancouver." I actually said, "I love you." She might think I am a stalker.

Then I walk a long long loooong way to the domestic terminal. The security line is 30 minutes. So there is absolutely no way that I would have made that 8:30 flight, even without my driving screwup. This made me feel better.

The worst possible customer service

My 11:30 flight was on time and I cleared customs with almost two hours (1:45) before my flight to Port Hardy.

Then I waited. Everyone waited. Hundreds of passengers were waiting -- for their luggage. I was waiting at the luggage carousel watching the time tick down, wondering if I was going to miss my flight to Port Hardy. 

(Please don't tell me "This is why I don't check my luggage." That is nice if it works for you. It does not work for me, especially when I travel alone.)

I tried to check in online, but got error messages. The Pacific Coastal website would not let me check in. 

After an hour, I finally got my luggage, and jumped in a cab, arriving at the South Terminal 30 minutes before my flight. 

And I was told that I “missed” the flight because I arrived 30 minutes before the flight, rather than 40 minutes. 

Another passenger was going through the same thing. He was late because the shuttle from the Main Terminal to the South Terminal did not arrive.

The counter agents kept repeating they were sorry, but I would have to fly the following day. It was an issue of “weight and balance”. This is hard to believe, since I had reserved a seat and paid for luggage to be checked – thus weight and balance were already accounted for.

I'll tell you right now. I was crying. I was not yelling – I would never do that – but I was crying and pleading. One of the counter agents laughed at me and mocked me for crying.

And then, while this was happening, I heard the first boarding call.

Yes, exactly no passengers had boarded the plane. 

The counter staff made it sound like the airplane’s doors were already locked – while in fact no passengers had boarded at all! 

The plane is empty, passengers are just lining up to board, I am 30 minutes early, and told I “missed” my flight?! There is no rational reason for this.

Mocking Agent told me he had booked me for the first flight the following day, and said, sarcastically, “The flight leaves at 8:30. Try to be on time.” 

It was not enough to refuse to let me board when the plane is empty, he had to make snide comments, too. A person who sees a customer crying and distraught and chooses to mock them should not be working front-of-house.

Then, Pacific Coastal charged me a $105 “reservation reactivation fee”. 

It took the agent less than three minutes to book me on another flight. And they charged me $105 for the inconvenience and indignity.

And then... they called standby passengers. Seriously. They were able to take a handful of standby passengers, but not two passengers who had reservations and were 30 minutes early, rather than 40 minutes early, because of airport issues.

The terminal was packed and very noisy. I am sound-sensitive at the best of times, but in the state I was in, the noise was unbearable. I went outside, called Allan for the millionth time, sobbing like a child. Then I managed to get a grip, and booked the last room in an airport hotel. 

So in addition to the $105 change fee, Pacific Coastal’s inflexibility also cost me another $325 for hotel accommodations and dinner.

As I said in my complaint letter to Pacific Coastal:

I understand that a 40-minute window for check-in is Pacific Coastal policy. The policy states, “Failure to be checked-in prior to closing may result in the cancellation of your entire reservation.” It may result – not will result. May means it’s a possibility – not a hard rule. 

Since the first boarding call hadn’t even been announced, the staff could have been flexible. They could have acknowledged that I had waited an hour to retrieve my luggage in the Main Terminal. They might have admonished me, reminded me to arrive earlier next time, and then checked me in. It was certainly possible to do.  

It’s not like I had cut it close, showing up a few minutes before takeoff. Nor was I late because of negligence or poor planning. Those 10 minutes were completely out of my control.

To refuse a customer who is 10 minutes late, through no fault of their own, then charge them a “reservation reactivation” fee, and force them to spend the night in a hotel and fly the next day, and to mock them in the process, is some of the worst customer service I have ever seen. 

If another airline served Port Hardy, I would certainly never fly Pacific Coastal again. Much to my dismay, I will have no choice to continue to use this airline – which is why your staff can get away with this terrible customer service.

I'm not expecting much in the way of response, but I'll let you know what happens. 


Amy said...

I am stunned by their rigidity. Do they enjoy upsetting people for no reason?

How long would the drive have been if you rented a car?

laura k said...

Driving is not an option. There's no ferry from Vancouver to Port Hardy. The ferry (also not near the airport at all) is 2 hours, the drive home from the ferry is 5 hours.

I considered abandoning my luggage at YVR and leaving with it, but I wasn't sure what they would mean, how I would get it back.

With God's Help said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through this. Good that you have made your voice heard by contacting them.