SOCIAL MEDIA VS. SAA: What the web can do to improve SAA
FOR those of you who don’t know, Justin Hartman has created a space on the interweb for people to complain about their treatment by South African Airways and share their horror stories online. He simply calls it SAA Sucks. Here’s a quote from his introductory post:
“It is clear that SAA are living in complete arrogance and have a total disregard for their clients and I think we need to take a stand. I’ve been a big pundit of the power of social media and now we can really put it to the test and see if we can make any difference whatsoever” - Justin Hartman
It would be interesting to me to see whether social media in South Africa actually has the power to get the fat cats of large companies such as SAA to change their tune with regards to consumer service. So here is my contribution. It’s a letter I wrote to SAA last year when I was trying to book a ticket to get back to varisty to write my final exams. I lost 10 days of life through the process…
I have only flown a handful of times in my life, each time having been enjoyable and hassle-free. It was now time for me to fly back to varsity to write my final exams and enjoy my seventh trip in the air. I decided to go for the cheapest flight, which so happened to be South African Airways. I booked a ticket online at and all seemed to be in order. I only awaited my email to confirm the booking.
The next day I found an empty inbox, so I went to the SAA website for the second time to check if my flight was confirmed only to be told that my details (i.e. reference number and email address) were incorrect. It didn’t, however, specify which one of the two was incorrect or let me change either of them for that matter. So I attempted to book again online with the obvious fear of getting charged twice.
The next day there was still no email of conformation awaiting me and I was again told that my details (with the new reference number) were incorrect. So I phoned the airline service in Durban, and after listening to “Smooth Operator” about seven times over I was told by the ‘customer care’ operator that their link was down and that there was nothing that they could do. I wasn’t told what my next step should be or whether my two bookings were at least in the process of being confirmed. So I left it for a day hoping that all would be well the next morning.
When I phoned for the second time I was told (by a different ‘customer care’ operator) that there was a problem with the credit card details and that a “SafePay” error had occurred. Yet this was not displayed when I booked both times, and I know that actual problems display themselves in red digital ink. So I went online yet again and attempted to do a bank transfer from a different account. It all seemed to go smoothly and I printed the deposit slip and faxed it through the next day as had been instructed.
I phoned again the next day and realised that “Smooth Operator” must be your only song to entertain people while they wait for an answer. When I was finally received I was told that my online booking was still on their records but they hadn’t any record of payment. I was then told by the smooth operator that she would phone their accounts department to see if they had any record of payment and that I should phone back later. I kindly asked if they could rather phone ME back when they had done their magic. Telkom isn’t cheap these days.
About an hour later I got the call and was told that there was no record of any payment. I felt really perturbed at this point as for one: it said on the deposit slip “payment made successfully” and two: I feared that I had now paid TRIPLE the price for a ticket that was not even yet mine.
So the next day I phoned for the umpteenth time with an optimistic air that everything would have worked out and all would be right with the world. So after singing to “Smooth Operator” (as I now knew all the words) I was told that I still owed R455! In a tone devoid of any hint of hope I asked, “So what do I do now?” It was suggested to me that I physically go to the bank and try deposit the money directly into SAA’s account.
So I took R455 cash down to the bank and did just that, after which I had the latest deposit slip faxed through. I attempted to phone several times after I got back home (from 4pm onwards). I gave up around 6pm as my ear was getting sore from holding the phone against it. The only relief for the day was that they had changed their ‘entertainment’ music (to something equally annoying).
Knowing the number off by heart at this point I speedily dialed SAA again the next day. I explained that I had been to the bank, physically transferred cash into their account, had faxed the deposit slip at exactly 4:08pm, and had attempted to phone them immediately afterwards without success. I was told that they would call me back after they look for the fax.
Waiting patiently for the call, and feeling quite constipated at this point from all the stress, I was phoned and told that the fax could not be found. I explained what the accounts department had said to me but was told that it didn’t matter; the ‘customer care’ operator needed to have a fax of the deposit slip in front of her. She asked me if I could fax it again. I explained that it WAS a bit of trouble as it meant going into town in the pouring rain to do exactly what I had done the previous day (the fax machine at home was on strike and refusing to work). But no, she needed to have a fax of the deposit slip to help me.
Getting ready to venture back into town I decided that it was really unfair that I had to fax the damn thing again AND pay more money to do so. So I thought I would phone the woman back, give her an earful, and ask her to look for my fax again. I hung up the phone after enduring about five minutes of “Smooth Operator” which seemed to be back at the top of the charts.
I’m now back at home. The latest deposit slip has been faxed and I am about to attempt calling back in the hope that this whole nightmare will end. That or suicide - I can’t decide. It’s been 10 days at this point…