Thomas, one of our regular readers wrote in last week with a warning about Thai Lion Air; apparently the retardation levels at this airline are off the charts, even by airline standards. Thai Lion Air is a domestic budget airline in Thailand that flies popular routes such as Bangkok to Chiang Mai at rock bottom prices.
Below is a summary of his ordeal:
On March 5th and 6th I tried to make an online reservation for my return ticket on Mar 15. I was not able to do so because every time I clicked on the button to process the purchase, the website put up a page that said something like, “Your session has timed out.” I tried at least 3 times per day. No matter how fast I entered the information and all of the credit card info, I was always logged off whenever I clicked the submit button.
Finally, on March 10, the transaction went through. Not more than 30 seconds later, I received an e-mail from Thai Lion Air verifying a confirmed booking and a record locator code, XXXXXXX.
Two weeks later, March 15, on the date of the flight, I arrived at the airport more than 3 hours before the flight departure. I spent about 20 minutes in the queue to get my boarding pass and check my luggage. When I presented my passport, I was told that they couldn’t find my name in the computer. I got my laptop out and retrieved the Record locator code and gave it to them, along with a payment reference number.
After about 5 more minutes of waiting, I was told to go to the ticket office, which is about a 5-minute walk. At the ticket office they asked if I had paid by cash. I told them no, that I had made the reservation online and paid with a credit card. After more furious typing and conferring with other agents behind the counter, she said that I had not paid by credit card, and then directed me to go back to the check-in area. Having already gone through this routine, I asked them to just sell me another ticket because I did not want to spend the rest of the day going back and forth between the ticket office and the check-in area, only to be told to go back to where I had just come from. Of course the price of the ticket had gone up by 600 Baht, or approximately 50% more than the original booking.
With a hard copy piece of paper saying that I had just made a credit card purchase for this flight, I walked back to the check-in counter, and got in the queue again. This time it only took 15 minutes: 5 minute walk and only a 10-minute queue. When I got to the agent, it only took about 3 more minutes to execute a procedure, (i.e. to check my bag and obtain a boarding pass), which ought to take no more than 30 seconds.
The Boarding Pass said Gate 30. I arrived at Gate 30 about 1 hour before the Boarding would occur. So I settled into one of the chairs at gate 32 to wait for them to announce the commencement of boarding. After a very long wait in the molasses slow barding line, the gate attendant finally took my boarding pass stub and waved me forward. Just as I was about to board the plane, she came running after me to inform me that I was at the wrong gate. My flight was departing from gate 42. It was at least a 10-minute walk from gate 30. Of course, by the time I got there I had missed the flight.
I walked back out of the secured area to the ticket office to obtain a boarding pass for the next flight, which would depart in about 2-1/2 hours, at 18:30. The ticket office doesn’t issue boarding passes so thy sent me to the check-in area. The check-in agent, (the same one), asks if I have any luggage to check. Answer: “No, you checked my luggage for me about three hours ago for the 3 o’clock flight. Once again I was told, “… name not in computer”. My response was, “Of course it is, here, look at this boarding pass that the computer printed out. It has my name on it!”
More furious keyboard typing followed by backroom conferences with other ticket agents, all of whom appear to be clueless about what to do. Finally they do what any good bureaucrat would do, they make the problem disappear by sending the problem-laden customer somewhere else, to become someone else’s problem. They tell me to go back to the ticket office. I explain that I was just sent by the ticket office to the check-in area. I ask to speak to a supervisor.
The Supervisor arrives in about 5 minutes. I explain that my problem is simple. I just want to get a boarding pass for the 18:30 flight and be on my way to Chiang Mai. She appears to understand. She asks me to follow her through a back entrance to the secured area. I have my passport thoroughly examined by the security officer guarding the rear door, before being allowed to enter. I empty my pockets and put my computer bag on the conveyor belt and get admitted to the secured area. Then I follow her for about 15 minutes walking all the way to the other end of the airport to another office with a counter and an agent behind it. He asks me why I am there. I go through it all over again. He appears disinterested in my answer. After a pause, he asks me if this is my suitcase, pointing to a suitcase, which is there on the floor. I notice it for the first time, because I had assumed that my suitcase was now spinning around on a conveyor belt in the Chiang Mai airport arrivals area. However, it is my suitcase, so I take it.
Apparently when I didn’t get on the plane, they offloaded my bag and brought it to this office. I thought it was incredible that they could figure out that I hadn’t checked in for a flight for which I had bought a ticket only three hours earlier, and could efficiently find my suitcase and get it off the plane. However, they couldn’t make an announcement over the PA system and page me by name with a request to check-in immediately at gate 42. This certainly would have been easier than offloading my suitcase.
The “supervisor” who escorted me here is long gone. Now reunited with my suitcase, I am free to continue my fruitless quest for a boarding pass for the 18:30 flight.
I go back to check-in area. Thankfully there are only 2 people in the queue. When I get to the check-in agent, I decide to short circuit the preliminaries and ask to speak to a supervisor immediately. After 5 minutes, a supervisor appears. Once again I explain my problem. She tells me that I must go back to the ticket office and buy a ticket. Incredulously, I ask if she is suggesting that I should now pay for a third ticket in order to be flown to Chiang Mai. She says, “No”. But I do have to go to the ticket office and pay a “change fee” before I can get a boarding pass. I ask why I should have to pay for a “change fee”. The answer was an accusatory, “You missed your flight.”
Here is the dialogue:
Me: But it wasn’t may fault. I was sent to the wrong gate. See, it’s right here on the boarding pass.
She: But it IS your fault. The gate change was announced over the PA system.
Me: I didn’t hear it.
She: Well it’s still your fault. Several other passengers were issued a boarding pass with gate 32 on it, before the gate was changed, therefore, it is your fault.
Me: There must be 50 or 60 PA system announcements in this airport every hour. When one is given a boarding pass that says gate 32, and you show up at the gate 32 less than an hour before they start checking people in, why would one listen or pay attention to every PA announcement that is broadcast at the rate of approximately one every minute, especially when many of them are made in a foreign language, and the ones that are supposed to be in English are often completely incomprehensible to native English speakers.
She: It’s still your fault; you will have to pay the fee.
I do the now familiar 5-minute walk back to the ticket office. Another queue. When I get to the agent I explain that I need to pay the “change fee”. After the obligatory keyboard tapping and two sidebar conferences with her co-workers, she announces, “No. Cannot.”
Me: Why cannot?
She: You buy another ticket.
Me: I just spoke to a supervisor who sent me here to pay the “change fee.”
More tapping and sidebar conversations.
She: No cannot.
Me: But your supervisor said that I could.
Her: No cannot
At this point I decided that I would never fly on Thai Lion Air ever again. I went to Air Asia and purchased a ticket to Chiang Mai for 1,000 Baht more than what my third ticket on Thai Lion Air would have cost.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. I arrived in Chiang Mai only 7 hours after I would have arrived on my original Thai Lion flight.
This actually happened. You can’t make this stuff up!
Use a website like Sky Scanner to find the cheapest flight other than Thai Lion Air. Frequently you can fly on Thai Smile (operated by Thai Airlines) out of BKK which is the airport where all the decent airlines as well as long haul international flights fly in and out for just a small premium over Thai Lion. Bonus: you actually get a checked back without some bullshit additional fee. Thai Lion is not worth the trouble!