Cool Stuff in Paris. By Manning Leonard Krull.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Annoying Air France online check-in/booking experience

Please see update below; looks good for now.

I just had a frustrating experience with Air France. I always blog about these things because I think it's important that there's a record of these situations so other customers can be aware of them and reference them, and so the companies themselves can be aware and (hopefully) work on improving things.

It's the day of my flight and I wanted to check in online and upgrade my seat if possible. I located the online check-in for Air France in English. (By the way, Google is always the best way to find an online check-in; way easier than trying to navigate any airline's website.) I entered my flight info and saw the economy seat I'd purchased; so far so good! I clicked "Change seat," and luckily there were some business class seats available! Cool! I chose one and proceeded to the payment area of the page.

I entered my credit card info. Upon clicking the submit button, the site displayed an error! Gah! It said there was a problem and that I needed to contact Air France asap. Did I get my seat? Did they take my money? No idea.

In the error message, "Contact Air France" was a link. I clicked this link and got another dumb error; it looked like the Contact page tried to load in a very small frame on the page I was currently on; it was unreadable and broken-looking.

I then dug around on the site for a contact number. Found one; a French number; no US number available (not a big deal!).

Before I called, I wondered if I may have received an email about the error; this might even confirm if I'd successfully paid or not. I checked and found that I DID have an email, which was in English, fortunately. It told me, again, I needed to contact Air France asap. No other info. The email had a contact link in it, which I clicked.

... And the contact page it linked me to was all in French. There was an English option at the top of the page, but when I clicked that it went to the homepage of the site in English; not the contact page!

Okay, but there was a Contact link at the top of the English version of the site.

On this Contact page, there was, again, only a French phone number available. I actually had to refer to my own article about how to call a French phone number from the US in order to call! Ha!

I called and got the options for French or English. My French is good but not perfect, so I chose English. For important transactions like this I don't want to add the risk of doing it in another language.

I listened to the same song on repeat for fifteen minutes, then a lady answered... in French! I started off with (in French) "Hello! Excuse me, my French is not great!" expecting she'd switch to English right away. Instead, she replied, in French, "My English isn't great either, so we'll work it out together." Her tone was extremely friendly and I was sure we'd be fine (and we were) but still, I chose the English option; what if I didn't speak French at all? I'd be pretty screwed. In the end we did the whole conversation in French, and it was no problem, but c'mon. I dreaded the thought that we might get stuck and she'd have to put me on hold and transfer me to someone else who spoke English. Fortunately we got through it in French just fine. I really like using my French, but throughout this whole process I kept thinking, man, imagine if I spoke no French at all. This all would've been really difficult.

The lady was extremely helpful and luckily she was able to confirm for me that I had, in fact, successfully changed my seat to business class and I had successfully paid. Weirdly, the seat I ended up with was not the one I chose -- I chose 8A and I now have 10A; it's the same exact kind of seat, so no problem; just weird! But even with this shaky confirmation, I'm sure you can imagine how I feel: I honestly have no confidence that is all correct and that I really truly did get my seat and successfully pay. Everything about the whole experience was so disorganized it inspired no confidence whatsoever. I'll be very curious to see how it all works out when I get to the airport; it's all too easy to imagine that, in fact, something went wrong and the lady was mistaken and I totally don't have the upgraded seat; I seriously wouldn't even be surprised if it turns out they did take my money but didn't upgrade my seat. But I'm cautiously optimistic that everything's fine.

So, to recap:
- Error when I tried to pay for an upgrade.
- Error when I clicked "contact us."
- Email in English linked to contact page in French.
- I called and chose the English option; got a lady who didn't speak English.
- Sounds like I probably got my seat, but after all that I just have no idea.

These kind of frustrating experiences are all too common; I'm sure anyone reading this has dealt with this kind of thing from countless big companies. It sucks. I make websites for a living so the online parts of this problem are particularly annoying for me. We all pay so much for these services -- and flight prices have been skyrocketing these last few years. We deserve better.

Fingers crossed for this flight! I'll post an update when I find out if I got that seat or not. It could seriously mean the difference between getting some decent sleep and arriving in Paris feeling great, or getting no sleep at all and feeling like crap my first day back. We'll see!

Update: Only a few minutes after I tweeted a link to this blog post, Air France has reached out to me on Twitter to tell me they're looking into this. Neat! I love social media; in my experience it's always the most direct and efficient way to get help from big companies. The official channels (telephone, contact forms on websites) are always slow and confusing and frustrating. The people running social media for big companies somehow manage to get things done. Possibly related, or possibly not, I tried to go through the online check-in again to see what would come up, and my seat is now listed as 10A, so it looks like I'm all set. Boarding pass arrived in my inbox showing same; looks good.

- Manning

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