Virgin Atlantic promises Jerry Levine it will send him a paper ticket for his flight from San Francisco to Johannesburg. But when it doesn't, the airline is less than helpful in tracking it down. Is his lost ticket a lost cause? And what should he do now?
Q: Can you help me with an airline reservation? I recently bought a ticket on South African Airways through Virgin Atlantic Airways to fly from Los Angeles to Johannesburg. My credit card was charged and the airline promised to send me a paper ticket.
It's been several weeks, and I haven't received a ticket or an email confirmation from Virgin. I've made many, many phone calls to Virgin to find out what happened to my ticket. If possible, I'd like to make a change to the ticket, too. There's no way to contact a manager to find out if it's actually been mailed to me.
Do you have any contacts at Virgin who can find the ticket? -- Jerry Levine, San Francisco
A: Yes, I have a few phone numbers at Virgin Atlantic. But it shouldn't be necessary to make a call. The airline should have sent the ticket to you by now, and if it hasn't, then a polite email or call should be all that it takes to track it down.
Too bad that's not how it works. Your story about the unhelpful phone agents is becoming increasingly common in a world where airlines try to cut costs by automating their phone systems or offshoring their call centers to places where English isn't a first language.
I think one of the reasons you were getting nowhere with the airline is that you made repeated calls. I don't think it's a bad idea to start your inquiry by telephone, but when it comes to follow-ups, don't let your fingers do the walking. Try emailing the airline.
You can contact Virgin online through its website. Airlines generally track electronic queries more efficiently than incoming phone calls. You'll get an automatic email acknowledging your note, followed by a meaningful reply "as quickly as possible."
But the benefits to committing your grievance to writing go beyond the promise of a speedy resolution. You're also saving yourself countless minutes -- perhaps even hours -- of having to explain yourself to the next reservations agent. That's not a problem when you're emailing the airline, since there's a record of your previous correspondence.
I have good news and better news. First the good news: This particular problem is unlikely to repeat itself. Late this spring, airlines finished transitioning from paper to electronic tickets, according to the International Air Transport Association, a global trade association for the airline industry. That means any future tickets don't need to be mailed to you. Instead, your airline will send you an electronic confirmation.
And the better news? Turns out your tickets were mailed to the wrong address. The airline resent you an electronic ticket and added 5,210 frequent flier miles to your account as an apology.
Virgin also made the change to your ticket and waived its fee.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.