Airline Reservation Nightmares or Why You Shouldn’t Book Vacation Package Combos

Even though travel was uncertain during COVID, my friend and I booked a ski trip in France for January 2022. We booked it through Club Med and the package includes almost everything you could imagine, including accommodations, food, drinks, ski passes and entertainment. It even includes air travel. I thought about buying the air travel separately, but my friend said the price through Club Med was just too good to be true. The difference between booking the vacation package without the airfare and booking it with the airfare was about $500. So, we booked.

When flying I always like to get an aisle seat for several reasons. First, I have a bad knee and if I need to get up and stretch every hour or so, otherwise it locks up on me. Second, at my age my bladder just can’t sustain a long flight without a bathroom break. Third, when flying I hate to disturb my fellow passengers by having to ask them to move so I can get out of my seat. Fourth, I find it claustrophobic to be stuck in a window or middle seat.

The Club Med ticket was booked by Club Med through United Airlines, so I called United to get my seat selection. United told me that the flights were code shares with other airlines, and I would have to contact those other airlines to get seat assignments. Not a problem. I’d done that before.

The first contact was with Air Canada, where I was booked from Los Angeles to Montreal, and then from Montreal to Geneva. I went online to reserve my seats, but Air Canada’s system would not let me reserve a seat online. I tried several times but kept getting an error message that read “parent.error.SS_SEAT_002.” Another time when I tried, I got an error message that read “(err-7) (ERR_LDR).”

I called Air Canada. Air Canada puts it phone number clearly on the website, so it is easy to find. Of course, I got the usual recording saying, “go online to reserve seats.” These automated recordings are so annoying but that is a topic for another article. I pressed the key to be connected with an agent but was informed that the wait would be three hours. I hung up.

I decided to call United again. Guess what? United does not provide a phone number on its home page. I had to scroll to the very bottom of the page to find Contact Us. After two clicks I was able to find the phone number and called. The automated system asked for my confirmation number. I gave the number I had. The system could not find it. I gave the electronic booking number I had. The System could not find it. It asked for the date. I gave the date. It asked for the flight number. I gave it the flight number. Finally, the computer system “I can’t help you with that reservation. You need to speak with an agent.” Arrgghhh!!

At least the machine said the wait time was 4 minutes as opposed to 3 hours on Air Canada. Except the wait time wasn’t 4 minutes. It was about ten minutes. Still better than 3 hours.

Unfortunately, the agent from United to whom I spoke could not help me. He explained that the carrier who operated the flight oversees the seat assignments. I asked if he had a different number for Air Canada. He had the same one I was calling. I asked if he had some special carrier to carrier way of communicating with Air Canada to tell them their website wasn’t working properly. He didn’t. I gave up for that day, deciding I would wait a few days and call Air Canada again.

I called Air Canada a few days later. This time the robot said the wait would be an hour and a half and I waited on the line a little longer and it did give me the option for a call back. I left my number and sure enough in about an hour and half I got a call back. I told the agent why I was calling and just as I was giving her my flight information the line when dead. I waited but did not get a call back again.

I called back. Once gain left my number for a call back. I received a call back in about an hour and half. The person on the line told me that I would have to contact United to reserve seats. I explained that I had already contacted United and United had said I needed to book the seats directly with Air Canada. So, she put me on hold to check. Finally, she came back on the line and said she could book the seats for the Air Canada segments. It took over 30 minutes to book two seats and there was a fee for each seat.

The story doesn’t stop here. I wish it did. My flight back from Europe was Swiss Air from Geneva to Frankfurt and then Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Los Angeles. I call Lufthansa and was able to get an agent on the line right away. However, when I told him I wanted seat assignments he first told me to go to United (who had already told me I needed to get the seats directly with Lufthansa). He then said I needed to book online (which I had already tried, and the Lufthansa website would not let me book the flight.) Finally, he said I needed to book with United, that he could not book the seat reservation, and he said, “Thank you for calling” and hung up on me.

Not to be deterred by a mere reservation agent I called Lufthansa again. This time the agent looked up the reservation and told me flat out that there was no way to get a seat assignment in advance. I just had to show up at the airport on the day of the flight and my seats would be assigned.

Obviously, this was a problem for me so I decided to call up Club Med to see if they could get me a seat assignment, or alternatively if they could refund me the portion of the cost of the vacation that was applicable to the airfare and then I could book my own flight on some other carrier. I called them and the person I spoke with was very nice and tried to help, but even Club Med could not get Lufthansa to give me a seat.

I doubled checked the flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles and the time was over eleven hours. I really didn’t want to take a chance, so I went online to American Airlines, booked a one-way ticket from Geneva to Los Angeles for 40,000 mileage points, and got a seat assigned, all in about five minutes.

At this point, between the time I spent online, the time I spent on the phone with United, Air Canada, American Airlines, Lufthansa, and Club Med, I had an additional $200 or so dollars, 40,000 mileage points and about five hours of my time invested in this flight. As a consultant who typically charges my clients $250 per hour, I have about $3,000 invested in this flight, including the value of the mileage points.

Next time I will just make my own flight arrangements and leave those super cheap combined air and vacation packages to others who don’t care where they sit. And of course, I will not be booking with Lufthansa any time soon and I recommend Club Med and you don’t either.