Air France Complaint - Buyer beware
My story from the beginning:
My partner and I are attending a much anticipated lecture in London on the 25th July, and we were looking on-line for the best flight offers on Saturday the 4th of July 2009. We came across the city jet website and saw that we could get return flights from Dublin to London City airport for €119.70 per person return. We entered in all the details to book for 2 of us, and entered our credit card details and went on to confirm the booking. However, it was denied as we had insufficient funds on our credit card. A message came up on the screen saying that the transaction was not authorised. We had obviously thought that we had enough money on the card, but when we later checked our on-line banking, we were a couple of euro short. This, you would think would be the end of it, but sadly no.
On Monday, we went to the bank to lodge more money onto our credit card so that we could pay for the flights. We assumed that it would take a day or two for the money to be on the credit card, but just on the off chance that this transaction processed more quickly than the “anything up to 3 working days” we had been told by the bank. It was then that we discovered the money missing from the credit card. We were quite shocked as we initially thought that perhaps our credit card had been skimmed or was being used fraudulently in some way. It was around 4.00pm so we thought we better get on to the bank right away before they closed to see what was going on. We were told that the money was being held pending authorisation by ‘AIR FRANCE’. They had requested from our bank the price of a ticket for 1 person for some reason, even though when we attempted to book flights for ‘2’ people we were told that the transaction was denied due to insufficient funds. This I thought was crazy – how is it legal for a company to ‘hold’ money on your credit card without your knowledge?? We were unable to access this money, OUR money until Air France declined their initial request to take it. We immediately checked our e-mails to see if in fact, our flight booking had gone through without our knowledge, but there was nothing. No confirmation of flights, no mention of ‘provisionally’ holding seats for us, no booking contract, and no mention of why they were holding money on our credit card – NOTHING!!! I have worked in the hospitality industry for 13 years, and I understand the procedure of pre-authorising credit cards on a guest’s arrival, but you HAVE to tell the guest what you are doing. Otherwise, you are using their credit card without their knowledge, which is definitely unethical, not best business practice and I imagine illegal.
I called the customer services number for Air France and was told to call their reservations line. After a while explaining the situation to a girl in customer services, she searched for our flight booking. I kept trying to tell her that we had no booking as we were told that the request for the flights was denied on-line, but low and behold, there were 2 seats ‘provisionally’ reserved for us. I inquired as to how this could be, and as to how the money was holding on our credit card, and she really couldn’t give me any answers. She said that she couldn’t confirm the bookings as no payment was made for the seats. I explained that as Air France were ‘holding’ this money on our credit card we were now stuck as we had no money on the card to book with another airline. She said that the seats were being held provisionally for me, and that there was nothing else she could do until she spoke to her supervisor. I inquired as to the price of these ‘provisional’ seats and I was told that she could give me one seat at the original price of €119.70 but that the other one would be at the new higher price of €169.00. I told her that this was outrageous, as if she was holding seats for us, and holding money on our credit card, then why could I not confirm the booking at the original price. Then, all of a sudden, during the course of our conversation the cheaper seat had been sold so now both seats were €169.00 per person. I just don’t understand that if they are holding seats for me (without my knowledge), how can they all of a sudden be bought by someone else!! She said that because she was working for Air France she could not alter the prices for city jet flights. I asked to speak to a manager who was ‘in a meeting’ and she told me that she would get the manager to call me back the following morning. She said that there was nothing more that she could do at this stage. I thought to myself that this was outrageous and I was so angry as Air France were holding us to ransom by continuing to hold the money on our credit card.
As it was after 5pm, there was nobody else we could get through to. The more I thought about it, the angrier I was getting. HOW CAN THIS BE LEGAL!!! We decided to call the 24 hour lost/stolen credit card line for our bank. They gave us some advice, and said that in ‘no way’ should a reputable company hold money on peoples credit cards like this. They didn’t know the exact legalities of the situation, but when we asked could they just cancel the charge they said that Air France has to reject the amount which they were holding. So we were stuck.
The next morning, we contacted our bank again; just to verify all of the information we had been told. They gave us the transaction number so that Air France could follow this up. They said that this transaction number meant that Air France had requested the amount of €119.70 was made available to them to take from our credit card. Our bank had accepted this request, and so, the transaction number was created.
I called Air France back at about 9.30am as I was tired of waiting for them to call me back. I understand that €119.70 might not seem like a big deal to them, but it certainly was to me. And more over, the fact that they held the money on my credit card in the first place, without my authorisation – HOW CAN THEY DO THIS???
I spoke to a man in customer services and explained the situation again as he did not know who the lady I was originally speaking to was. He looked up the details on our ‘provisional’ booking and the proceeded to put me on hold for 10 minutes while he spoke to his manager. I couldn’t speak to the manager as he was ‘going into a meeting’. I told him that this was unacceptable and that I wanted to know what was going on. At this point, I was still willing to accept the 2 flights at the original price, but not for long. I asked him how it was legal to hold money on people’s credit cards without their knowledge, and he said that when you enter your credit card details in the on-line booking form, you are consenting for the company to charge your card. I am not a complete idiot, so I do get this concept, but what I don’t get is why they held money on our credit card firstly for flights for 1 person when we had tried to book for 2 people together and secondly without informing me that they were doing so. I had checked all of the policies on their website and nowhere did it say that they would do this.
Again I was fobbed off that he was going to get his manager to contact City Jet after his ‘meeting’ and he would call me back later that day.
My frustration was now bubbling over into rage and I thought that I am just going to cancel the whole lot and get Air France to release MY money that they were holding without my consent.
I called back and asked to speak to the same man again so that I didn’t have explain the whole ordeal a third time. I was not permitted to speak to him, so I had to speak to another lady who was less than accommodating. I explained the entire ordeal AGAIN and I told her that I wanted her to cancel whatever provisional booking she had in for me and my partner and to release the money they were holding. She said that she could not release the money as they had not charged our credit card. I explained that I was well aware that they had not charged our card, but that Air France was ‘holding’ this money and we were unable to access it, so they should release the ‘hold’. During the course of our hour long conversation, I asked her several times to contact whatever bank they used and give them the transaction code and release the money, which she eventually did after approximately 50 minutes. She attempted to tell me that she would cancel the flights for me, which she would normally not do as I had made a contract with City Jet. Obviously, these flights had been booked for me, without my knowledge. Had I not found out when I did – would City Jet have told me or would they have waited until they flight had gone and charged me anyway as I didn’t cancel??? How could there be a contract when one party has told the other that the transaction was DENIED!!! I then read to her the details of the ‘Liability’ section in the ‘legal’ section on there website, which goes as follows:
A binding contract in relation to a ticket is not formed until Cityjet accepts a customer's offer to buy a ticket. An offer will be deemed to have been accepted by Cityjet once the customer is in receipt of a booking confirmation. Prices are subject to change at any time before acceptance by Cityjet. All flights and products are offered subject to availability. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the event of a genuine Web site error or inaccuracy, Cityjet reserves the right to withdraw an offer immediately and without notice. Cityjet reserves the right to cancel all confirmed bookings that are subject to genuine Web site error or inaccuracy. In the event of such cancellation Cityjet's only liability shall be to refund the ticket price paid by You. You agree that this is fair and reasonable in the circumstances and your continued use of the Web site indicates your agreement with this specific provision.
I took exception to the following part: “An offer will be deemed to have been accepted by Cityjet once the customer is in receipt of a booking confirmation.” I read this to the customer services agent, and yet she still tried to insist that I had a contract with City Jet, even though this directly contradicts the liability section of their website. I asked her to explain how I had a contract as the above terms as stated in the ‘liability’ section on City Jets website were not met – she had no answer for me. I asked again for her to explain to me exactly how I had a contract with City Jet considering they had not taken the amount of money initially requested by them, before declining the transaction, but they took and held the price of a ticket for 1 person only. Surely if we were to have a contract, City Jet would have just broken it. I told her that a contract had to be agreed by both parties, and I told her that if she wished to go down a legal route, I would be more than happy to do so, as there is absolutely no contract, nor was there ever and she could not prove anything; and she continued on to change the subject. Again, had I not discovered this request for payment made by Air France to my bank, I would be none the wiser – there was no contract! I explained this to the customer services agent, at which point she implied that I was lying as she said several times ‘I just don’t understand why we would hold the money on your card’, and yet she refused to get in touch with her bank until the end of my conversation with her. I explained several times that my bank had given me a transaction code, which proved that her bank were holding funds from my credit card. During the course of the conversation, I asked her several times to just contact her bank, as she was talking over me and was becoming quite rude. Up to this point she refused to acknowledge that Air France were holding my money. She insisted that it was my bank. I again re-iterated my request that she please check with her bank instead of arguing with me as I had now checked this 4 times with my bank, who gave me the transaction code which proved that Air France were holding my money. I repeatedly asked to speak to a manager but I could not as the manager ‘would not help me’ (her words, which she quickly retracted and said ‘could not help me) and guess what – the manager was just going into a meeting! She insisted on talking over me and continued telling me that my bank had to cancel the transaction. My partner got on the phone to our bank while I was on the phone to the girl from Air France and told them what she said – they said again that as the request was made by Air France, that Air France had to cancel the request. There are a limited number of days that a company can continue holding money on your card without accepting or denying a payment and eventually the money would be returned to you, but this was not acceptable to me as I still required this money to book flights. All Air France had to do was ring their bank and cancel the transaction and it would happen immediately, as we were told by our bank.
I kept asking her to please just contact her bank with our transaction number and they could chase it up, but she wouldn’t do this. She kept implying that there was no way they would just hold money on someone’s credit card without their knowledge. When I said that I could 100% prove to her that Air France was holding money on my card, and that they couldn’t go around holding money on credit cards without their own bank being aware of this. Surely their bank HAD to have some record of it. Eventually she conceded and said she would call the bank and check. I later got a call from her supervisor, and she told me that the bank did indeed find the transaction and they would release the ‘holding’ money. Maybe its just me, but personally I do not see the need for a 1 hour long conversation whereby it is implied that I was lying or that my bank was making it up, when a simple phone call which took a matter of minutes to Air Frances bank with the transaction number I provided would have shown that I was not making this up. This supervisor told me that she had been filled in about our case, and yet when I asked her how is it legal for Air France to do this to me; she didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. I just didn’t have it in me to go through the entire episode again, so I left it at that – they were indeed holding money on our credit card, without our prior consent, or a lawful 2 party contract and they would release the funds back to their rightful owner – ME!
What I can gather is that Air France take your credit card details when you try to book on-line, hold money on your credit card for your ‘provisional’ bookings which you are sent no notification or confirmation for, and then charge you for either canceling your flight when you eventually realize what is going on, or charge you for not turning up for your flight!!! I really think that it is absolutely outrageous and had I not noticed what they I had done, I would have been out of pocket €119.70. I received no real explanation – I was told that it was ‘technical’ and they probably wouldn’t be able to explain it to me, while the 2nd lady I spoke to was implying that I simply must have concocted the whole ordeal in my head as she couldn’t possibly just pick up the phone and call her bank. We have received no apology for this. Had it been the other way round and I had taken something from Air France without their prior consent, no doubt the boys in blue would be knocking on my door but it doesn’t work that way for the average Joe. I believe that us average Joe’s have to look out for each other, especially these days when money is scarce, so please be careful out there – even companies that you may think are reputable are not too slow when it comes to scamming us.
I wonder is this accepted business practice by Air France?
I wonder would Air France have eventually contacted me to let me know they were holding money on my credit card?
I wonder do Air France normally book provisional seats without a method of payment?
I wonder would Air France have eventually charged my card without my knowledge, and later told me that I missed my flight when I inquired as to where my money had gone?
I wonder why every time I asked to speak to a manager, my request was denied and I was told that they were in meetings?
I wonder why it took 4 phone calls to different people at Air France before they eventually picked up the phone to check with their bank, instead of implying that I was a liar?
I wonder that if the same situation were to arise in a different scenario, say a shop and I hand over money to the shopkeeper to pay for goods. He declines to sell me anything, but holds on to my money and tells me that he will decide in a few days if he will accept and sell me the goods after all – would this be theft?
I don’t know if Air France have broken any laws – most probably not, but the question I think people need to ask themselves is: are Air France’s business practices ethical, moral and honest?
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