AUSSIE newlyweds Brendan and Julia Widdowson have been looking forward to their European honeymoon since they booked it last year.
The 28-year-old Melburnians, who tied the knot at a Victorian winery in February, were all set to take off on the trip of a lifetime through Croatia, Montenegro and Albania next month.
But the pair was left “devastated” and “bewildered” when Virgin Australia said they would have to pay more than $8,500 to re-book their trip — all because Julia took her new husband’s name after the wedding.
“We thought it would be a simple process, and we may incur a small fee, to update the name on the ticket,” said Brendan, a partnerships manager at a loan provider.
But when he contacted Virgin Australia’s customer service name to change his new wife’s reservation from Wallis to Widdowson, he was told their only option was to cancel the reservation and re-book.
“We were also told that the availability of flights could not be guaranteed and that if we were to re-book, we would need to do so at the current rate — 1,321,700 velocity points or $8,590,” he explained in a recent Facebook post. “Furthermore, we were told that we would incur a cancellation fee.”
The difficulty in changing the reservation name was due to the flight being a codeshare with Singapore Airlines, Brendan was allegedly told.
The couple, both Monash University graduates, say they were left “devastated and helpless” by the news. Scrambling to find a solution ahead of their 14 May flight, the pair looked into options including flying separately — several days apart — on new flights.
“I honestly can’t believe that it has come to this,” says Julia, an environmental scientist at a global consulting agency. “It should not be on the customer to suffer at the expense of the airline because their system cannot do the simplest of tasks.
When she called airline’s call centre for help, she felt like she was “talking to a robot,” she says. “They show no empathy for your situation and are just reading their scripted lines off a screen.”
Brendan says he was “shocked” and “bewildered” to learn that a well-known organisation that prides itself on customer service would not have a system in place to easily accommodate textbook reservation changes like theirs.
“It is outrageous and seems completely unreasonable that it is on us to cancel our ticket and re-book a flight because Virgin’s system cannot handle a simple name change,” he wrote.
After Brendan posted on its public Facebook page, the airline eventually re-booked the Melbourne couple on another flight with Etihad, but not without leaving the couple out of pocket.
The Widdowsons still had to pay close to $1000 in taxes due to a difference in taxes between the two airlines, Julia says.
And while the pair are thrilled to be able to travel together on their honeymoon as planned, they’re concerned other young couples may face the same challenge in future.
“It is great that Virgin has solved our problem. However, it is still crazy that the system will cause others to face the same problem in future,” says Brendan.
“A real resolution would be for them to change the system, as this will keep happening to other people,” adds Julia.
In a statement to news.com.au Virgin Australia said: “Due to security reasons, the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) does not permit any airline to change names on issued international airline tickets.
“IATA only allows three letters to be changed in the instance of a spelling mistake. Therefore in order to change a name, an airline must cancel and rebook a ticket.
“If you are cancelling and rebooking a frequent flyer program redemption ticket close to the date of travel, it is often the case that a redemption seat will not be available and therefore will incur a greater cost to rebook.”
Virgin said they were happy to have resolved the couple’s issue, moving them to an Etihad flight in Business Class. “Etihad charges other airlines a carrier surcharge which we must pass on to guests. The guests were therefore charged the Etihad carrier charge of $616.50.”