South East Asia – Chapter 3 – Air Asia

After being rebooked twice (United to Air Canada and then United rebooked me to a different Air Canada), I was all set to depart Halifax at 11:45pm on August 14th. Not soooo bad after the rotten morning I had when United originally told me I couldn’t leave Halifax until Friday.

After getting the International flight sorted, I was still left to sort out my connections. I’d be landing in Bangkok at 6:05am on August 16th at the Bangkok (BKK) airport and would need to transfer to the DMK airport about an hour away to catch my flight to Yangon, Myanmar. This, would pose a problem. I would be landing at the same time that I should be checking in for my flight at the other airport. This was just not going to work.

I tried to call Air Asia, but there was no answer. There was a message in Thai and then click. No English. Not that I’m surprised, but a little disappointed. Then, I discovered that they were closed for the day because it was after 9pm in Thailand. Hmmm … now what. I started looking through the website to figure out if I could change my tickets … after a bit I found the change penalties (1100 Thai Baht), but those are only if you cancel / change with more than 48 hours notice. Unfortunately I was less than 48 hours away. Now what?

I found @askairasia and I asked them. But, I didn’t get a response right away.

I found instructions in ‘help’ on how to manage my booking and make a change. I figured it was worth a try, so I tried, but no go … the computer knew I was under 48 hours until departure.

I called the insurance company back and confirmed that I did in fact have coverage for this flight as it was due to a cancelled flight by United … and then by Air Canada. They informed me that I did, for up to $1000 for change fees or new flights.

I asked if I could start the claim right away, because I had all the documents I needed. They advised that the claim form had been emailed to me and that I can’t start it until I have the claim form. Not seeing it in my inbox, I advised her. She told me it could take up to 24 hours. Really? How often now-a-days does email take 24 hours? (By the way, it’s now been 22 hours and it has not yet arrived in my inbox …)

There was no way for me to cancel my original Air Asia flights online (because of the 48 hour restriction) and the office wasn’t open. So, I went ahead and bought a completely new round trip ticket from Bangkok to Yangon for August 16th at 4:30pm instead of my original one at 7:15am. Total damage? About $250, which the insurance company should pay back.

Total time to sort out all of these issues: 7 hours

August 13th
– Check in to United through to getting off the phone with them – 2.5 hours

August 14th
– Check in for Air Canada flight (6:50am) – find out it was cancelled – 15 minutes
– Call to United – 1 hour
– Call to my manager at The Adventure Travel Company – 5 minutes
– Call to insurance company – 30 minutes
– Collecting proof of cancelled flights from Air Canada – 5 minutes
– Collecting proof of cancelled flights from United – 5 minutes
– United Staff member finding me good new connecting flights without me even asking – 10 minutes
– Waiting at United counter for my new ticket to be issued and printed old school as a paper ticket – 30 minutes.
– Sorting out Air Asia flights including their slow website (not normally, just yesterday) – 1 hour
– Calling credit card company because my payment wouldn’t work – 15 minutes
– Contacting Tucan Travel to re-arrange my airport transfer on arrival in Yangon – 5 minutes

Problems started at about 9pm on Tuesday evening. I didn’t have them fully finalized until nearly 2pm the next day. That’s a lot of pain in the butt.

Now, has this ever happened to you?
Two really strong points of advice …

1. Buy good Travel insurance for trip cancellation, interruption & medical. My insurance cost me about $90, but before I even left Halifax it paid for itself as they will reimburse me for the $250 for the Air Asia flight I had to rebook. Plus, I still have coverage if any other issues arise throughout the trip or on my return.

2. Book your travel through a travel agent. Unfortunately it didn’t help me much as I AM the travel agent, so I still had to do all my own work. But, if you have a travel agent, they can help you find better routings for cancelled flights so that you don’t have to believe that it is impossible to leave the Halifax airport and get rebooked two days later. Your travel agent will also have access to agent lines to get through the queues slightly faster at the airlines and access to more options than the standard person whose flight needs to be rebooked. This also means you can go about your day doing other things instead of sitting on hold with the airline. If you are in another country when any of this takes place, you make the call to your travel agent and then you don’t have to worry about wasting your cell phone battery power while on hold or making long distance, international phone calls or paying for wifi to research everything. Oh yeah … and that means that you can go home (hotel or airport bench) and sleep while the travel agent that you hired and paid does the work to get you sorted out. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal? When people wonder why travel agents are worth it and why they charge booking fees? This is just one example of many. I would gladly have left this all in the hands of a travel agent for a booking fee of ($50 – $60 – which insurance would probably cover), just to not have to wait on hold for all of that time and to get the right options first.

Air Asia did actually get back to me on twitter, but it was early this morning (during their work hours), so unfortunately it was to late and I had already rebooked my flights.

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