In my Silicon Valley heyday I was a Platinum-level frequent flier on both KLM and British Airways, thanks to business class flights from Italy to San Francisco four or more times a year. When I quit Roxio in 2001, I stopped flying business class (in fact flew far less in any class at all), and was steadily demoted by both airlines.
A couple of years ago, after its merger with Air France, KLM began actively soliciting my custom. They made me a Platinum Plus member for life, and sent me a bottle of champagne to celebrate KLM’s anniversary. BA, on the other hand, eventually dropped me from their list, and I never heard from them again.
I am now planning a trip to Singapore and Malaysia for myself and my daughter in June. KLM not only has the best prices, they’ve kept themselves in the forefront of my attention by letting me know they care to have my custom. I think they’ll get it.
I wrote the above before March 26th. On that date, my beloved aunt died in Texas, and I decided to fly there for the funeral (I had already gone twice in recent years to visit her during hospital stays).
I know that there are, or used to be, special fares offered to airline passengers in cases of emergency or bereavement. I also knew, from recent experience, that some international airlines do not now offer such: I had helped a friend book a flight from Milan to Tel Aviv for a funeral, and Alitalia told me they do not offer bereavement fares.
But I thought I’d give KLM a shot, especially in light of the warm fuzzies mentioned above. I logged into the special frequent fliers area on their website and searched for any information on bereavement fares. Nothing to be found.
I checked their online booking system to see how things looked for the dates I needed (I had some flexibility – the funeral was scheduled for the following Saturday – but could not stretch things infinitely since I would be missing work and my daughter school). The price wasn’t ultra-low, around 550 euros each was the best I could figure out in the reservation system. I was half out of my head with grief and not sure I could trust myself to book online without messing things up, so I tried calling the (Italian) customer service number listed there for ultra-special Platinum members such as myself. What I got was a phone menu with a lot of choices, none of which seemed to be “talk to an actual human being to book a flight.”
Searching elsewhere on the site, I found a general reservations number for Italy. Called that – closed on Sundays.
I finally found a booking number in the Netherlands, and called that (international long distance call!). Lo and behold, a real human woman answered, so I explained the situation. No, they don’t have bereavement fares, she said. What they do in these cases is book you at the lowest available fare. (Uh, wouldn’t I have done that anyway?) I asked her if she could book the flights for me, just so I wouldn’t make any mistakes in my state of distraction. She quoted me a price of 1100 euros each. I was startled, to say the least.
“But I just saw a fare at half that on your website!”
“It’s a different market. You’re calling Holland, we can’t access the fares available from Italy. Your best course is to book it yourself on the website.”
By now I was getting irritated enough that adrenaline was clearing my head and confusion would no longer be a problem, but I gave her one last chance to do the right thing:
“I’m a Platinum Plus frequent flier with KLM, I have just told you that I am in mourning and making an emergency trip for a funeral, and this is the best you can do to help me?”
“Yes, it is.”
So I booked my flights online. With Continental. Didn’t save much money over what I would have paid KLM (in fact, it was all so expensive that I have had to give up the Malaysia trip), but I got a far more convenient departure time. The six-hour layovers in Newark each way were less welcome, but we used the time to visit with my good friend Mithu (who works near Newark Airport), and have (well-deserved and much-needed) spa treatments at the terminal.
As for KLM, they’re going to have to try a lot harder now.
Share your airline experiences – who do you like (or not), and why (or why not)?