A little background:
I'm an American college student studying in Dunedin, New Zealand for a semester (southernmost university in the world!) My semester's just about up, and I was scheduled to come home next week. However, my grandfather just died last weekend, so I had to cancel my travel plans and get back to Toronto for the funeral next Saturday. Naturally, this involved changing my flight.
I went to the Air New Zealand office as soon as I got off the computer, at about 2:20 PM. Was a little confused at first, because my mom's e-mail said "Prentice street", which doesn't exist. But then I recognized it as "Princes" street, and realized that I already knew where it was (I'd been by it on the bus when I was at the homestay).
The ANZ people were very helpful, sympathetic, and competent. They called the home office, got confirmation that it was okay to switch the ticket over. However, there was a problem in that my original ANZ ticket only took me as far as San Francisco, where I connected with an American Airlines flight back to Boston. And American is not an affiliate of ANZ. So they could only take me as far as the West Coast.
I called American from the ANZ office. They told me that I could only switch my existing flight to a different day, not change destinations. Getting to Toronto would cost an extra $835 in addition to the $100 switching fee. No thanks.
However, I did see a possibility, since the ANZ people were able to get me into LAX on the 17th (yay time zones). If I could switch the ANZ flight to go to SF, I could change my original flight to the 17th, get into Boston on the 18th, and drive up to Toronto with my parents. Lots of traveling, but worth $835.
So I hung up with American and went back to the ANZ agents. They were able to get the required flight into San Francisco, after another call back to the head office. Yay Air New Zealand.
I got a different rep this time. And she told me, "Oh, you can switch flights, for the difference in fares. It's a $100 change fee across the board."
So I asked her how much it would cost to do my original plan, LAX->Toronto on the 18th, getting in late at night. After being put on hold for a good 20-30 minutes (and accidentally hung up on; I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to get the same rep the second time), she found some planes. And there was one that was almost perfectly timed, getting in at 11:00 PM, right when my sister was supposed to go in.
The only thing is, it'd cost $600+ dollars. Oops, no, wrong flight, that one wouldn't work. It really costs...$835.
So, after waiting a good 40 minutes, I'm back where I started. I ask about bereavement fares. "To do a bereavement fare, you need to fax us a copy of the death certificate." I have a copy of the death certificate, but I don't have a fax machine (though I might've been able to use the ANZ office's one, for a couple dollars). Luckily, before I wasted any time on that avenue, the rep told me, "Oh, but there're no bereavement fares available for that flight anyway."
Scratch that idea.
At this point, I just wanna do something that won't leave me stranded in New Zealand. So I say, "Okay, then, I want to switch my flight from the 27th to the 17th. Same flight number, same destinations."
I'm put on hold for another 5 minutes or so. When she gets back, she tells me, "We'd have to upgrade you to business class because there are no economy class seats left. That'll be an extra $235. Oh, and we can waive the fee if you fax us the death certificate."
"The whole fee?"
"No, just the $100 for switching. You'll still have to pay the $235 for the upgrade."
So I hem and haw a bit, thinking about how I can get my hands on a fax machine and whether it's worth saving $100. I ask, "Could I give you my credit card number now and you just bill me the extra $100 if I can't get you the death certificate?"
"I can't take credit card numbers over the phone."
"Then how am I supposed to pay for the change-fee and upgrade price?"
"You'll have to go to the nearest American Airlines or Quantas office. I'm in Australia, I can't take credit card numbers over the phone."
"Where is the nearest American Airlines office?"
Auckland, for those of you who don't know your New Zealand geography, is on another island, about 500 miles away. It takes about 2 hours to fly there. What am I supposed to do, walk on water?
"Where's the nearest Quantas office? Is there one in Dunedin?"
"I don't know."
"So you can't change my flight at all over the phone? I have to go in to the office?"
Grr. Arg. IF I START A CONVERSATION WITH "I'D LIKE TO CHANGE MY FLIGHT" AND YOU CAN'T CHANGE MY FLIGHT, I DAMN WELL EXPECT YOU TO SAY "I CAN'T DO THAT OVER THE PHONE" RATHER THAN KEEPING ME ON HOLD FOR AN HOUR WHILE WE LOOK UP POSSIBLE CONNECTIONS AND FARES. And people claim that computers are dumb and inflexible.
So I went back to Air New Zealand, having to waiting for some Japanese tourists who were doing a flight to somewhere in Asia. We were back to the original plan: fly out on the 18th, buy a connecting ticket on an ANZ-affiliated carrier to take me from LAX to Toronto. But the only flight available had a price tag of $1600.
Sixteen hundred fricking dollars.
So clearly that wouldn't work. The ANZ people were almost ready just to sell me a completely new ticket, because it's cheaper to fly from New Zealand to Toronto than it is to fly from LA to Toronto. Go figure.
I brought up the possibility of flying into Boston here. Fingers crossed, we searched for LAX->Boston fares, arriving in the early morning so I could catch my parents before they headed up. And we were in luck! We ended up getting a flight for about $430NZ, or just under $300US. Plus the $200NZ ($125US) fee for switching flights. It means I'll be travelling continuously from just after my final exam on Thursday till Friday night, plus a sixteen hour time difference. That's like 2 days of continuous travel. But at least the price is semi-reasonable.
So, basic summary: Air New Zealand good, American Airlines bad. The ANZ people were wonderfully helpful. The American Airlines people were completely useless. Maybe even worse than useless; useless would be to say "Sorry, can't help" without wasting an hour of my time. Grr. And they wonder why they're close to bankruptcy.