Cathay Pacific says it will honour first and business class tickets sold in error, but one customer says his seat had already been cancelled

The airline admitted the mistake but said it would “look forward to welcoming” the customers on board their tickets.
Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways is to honour first and business-class tickets accidentally sold at economy-class prices, in a move that could cost the airline millions of dollars in lost earnings.

While Cathay has not said how much the technical glitch cost the company, the Post spoke to 11 people who had snapped up 18 first class and eight business-class tickets totalling HK$216,925. Based on the current retail price, the airline should have collected almost HK$5.4 (US$685,800) million from them.

Several thousand tickets are believed to have been sold during the computer error, which has been blamed on an individual entering the wrong fares into the company’s system for flights between Vietnam and North America.

Customers who snapped up these unusually cheap air airfares breathed a sigh of relief after waiting more than 24 hours to discover what the company planned to do.

In a tweet announcing it’s decision to honour the tickets, Cathay said it hoped the move would make 2019 special for its customers.

“Happy 2019 all, and to those who bought our good – VERY good surprise ‘special’ on New Year’s Day, yes – we made a mistake, but we look forward to welcoming you on board with your ticket issued. Hope this will make your 2019 ‘special’ too!,” the airline said on its Twitter account.

Acknowledging that the delay had caused unwelcome speculation, Cathay added #promisemadepromisekept, and in a nod to the expensive error, #lessonlearnt.

Meanwhile, a passenger who had complained on Twitter that the airline had cancelled two first-class tickets he bought, admitted it had actually been his travel companion who cancelled the booking by mistake.

New York-based IT professional Vincent Lee Chun-fai, 42, had publicly berated the airline for not taking responsibility for the incident.

Cathay vowed to investigate and found that the issue lay at Lee’s end. It is not known if he has apologised for his error.

One customer did have issues. Wang Guanran, who documents his travels on hktravelblog.com, had his plans to travel to New York on Wednesday cut short when he was prevented from flying by immigration officials in Vietnam.

The 18-year-old had bought a HK$5,470 business-class flight from Da Nang to New York via Hong Kong, along with five first-class round-trip tickets for his family to use later this year.

However, he was detained by Vietnamese immigration officials, who said it was illegal to return to his city of origin while in transit.

By Wednesday, a typical Hanoi-New York round-trip business-class ticket for a flight in May was going for HK$125,000 while a first-class fare was HK$246,000.

The Hong Kong carrier’s first and business-class seats have won multiple awards over the years, and are popular with clients. In a first, Cathay travellers in these flight categories can dine on caviar, champagne and canapés among other pampering perks.

Last summer, Hong Kong Airlines made a similar error, but honoured its mistake. It sold business class tickets for HK$4,600 for return flights from Los Angeles to both Shanghai and Bangkok. The airline was widely praised after it said it would cover all bookings. As of Tuesday, the same tickets were selling for HK$30,000.

In 2014, Singapore Airlines also allowed 400 passengers to fly business class after they bought seats at economy-class prices in Australia for travel between Asia and Europe, once again an online error was to blame for the mix-up.

Cathay Pacific has endured a tricky couple of years, marred by back-to-back losses caused by competing Chinese and budget carriers, and running with high costs, prompting a wholesale restructuring that cost at least 600 jobs in Hong Kong, and more overseas.

The company suffered a major data breach, which saw the personal details of 9.4 million customers compromised. More humorously, the airline also mistakenly repainted a plane with a typo “Cathay Paciic”.

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Read also: The 21 scariest data breaches of 2018