As problems go, this is a relatively small one.
I want to lead with that, lest you think I’m being overdramatic. Don’t worry, I know that the world has bigger fish to fry. That said, for a certain segment of the population, this could still be a problem, and thus it’s one I want to illuminate. Anywho…
Recently, I found myself booked on an Alitalia flight to Barcelona via Rome. I’m using Delta SkyMiles for this flight—30,000 miles plus $25 for taxes and fees—meaning that Delta sold me the flight even though it’s operated by Alitalia (not a codeshare or anything, you fancy airline pros, but an actual Alitalia flight).
Because of the way the Delta computers talk to the Alitalia computers—or the way they don’t talk—you need to make your seat reservations directly with Alitalia. I got the numbers I needed and called Alitalia to make the arrangements.
The agent on the phone answered quickly, and seemed eager to help. In fact, she mentioned, I could even upgrade to the airline’s “Economy Plus” offering for just $95. Considering how little I paid for the flight, that seemed like a bargain. I was in!
If you’re familiar with Alitalia, you might see right where this is going. But I wasn’t, and didn’t; this will be my first flight on Alitalia, not to mention my first ever award flight.
Back to the story.
Happy to have snagged a $125 flight to Barcelona in relative comfort and style, I cheerily went about my life. Until today.
Checking over my flight information again, and cross-referencing it with the cabin map on SeatGuru, I noticed that my assigned seat was in the economy cabin, not the premium economy cabin that I thought I was in. The $95 charge hadn’t posted to my credit card either, so I assumed a mistake had been made and my booking hadn’t been updated.
I gave Alitalia another call.
This time, they were still quick to answer, but as I explained the situation I was in it was clear today’s representative was in a very different mood. (I wonder if she had received similar calls in the past and was gearing up for the inevitable fight?)
You see, you may have noticed earlier that I was offered a seat in “economy plus”, not, as the airline brands it, “Classica Plus”. It turns out that although Classica is the Alitalia equivalent of economy, “Classica Plus” is not synonymous with “Economy Plus”.
Now if you’re a regular Alitalia customer, this might be obvious to you. But remember, this is my first Alitalia flight. I’ve also informally polled a few friends, and they all agreed: if Classica was economy, naturally economy plus would be equivalent to Classica Plus.
I won’t go too much into the “bedside manner” of this latest customer service agent, except to say that she was immediately defensive and acted shocked that this would have confused me. In fact, she seemed downright insulted that I would dare to question the policy. She was quick to place the blame squarely in my lap. And, of course, there would be no way I could get my money back and downgrade to a regular economy seat.
Again, in the scheme of things this is not a big problem. A $125 flight to Barcelona is still nothing to be too upset about. However, I still think this is a misleading practice (intentional or not, and it is probably not) worth highlighting, to prevent future travellers from making the same mistake.
A few takeaways for Alitalia (if you’re listening):
- Change the name of this “economy plus” offering, or change the name of “Classica Plus”. Maybe the Italian translations are more clear, but in English they are totally misleading.
- Train your customer service associates to be nicer. Although my first experience was pleasant enough, my second was quite the opposite, and based on a cursory Google search I know I’m not the only one. (Recent FlyerTalk thread title: “Is Alitalia an airline or a joke?”)
- Make it easier (or just possible) to get a refund. I realise that airlines love these types of upgrades because they cost so little and maximise every dollar spent—especially on award flights. I also realise that with Alitalia in relatively rough financial waters, you’re eager to maximise those dollars more than usual. However the combination of poor customer service and inflexible policies are far more dangerous than a red balance sheet. A red balance sheet can be reversed, but it’s meaningless if customers don’t want to fly with you in the first place.
So there you have it. A quick cautionary tale, in hopes that it might steer someone else in the right direction in the future. As for me, I’ll try Alitalia a few more times (I hear that their customer service representatives all seem to have different interpretations of their policies; not a good omen for the quality of service, but potentially useful for me) and hope I get someone who is willing and able to help.
Otherwise, I’ll consider it a semi-expensive learning experience, and take solace in the fact that it might help you avoid the same $95 fate.