Sometimes airlines can be unpredictable and change their aircraft last minute or even in advance due to scheduling and this can come with the unpleasant surprise of an old, inferior cabin product.
When I bought my Business Class ticket on ANA All Nippon Airways this summer I had a look at the aircraft and cabin product beforehand and was delighted that the new Business cabin on the B787-900 Dreamliner is being used. The price was right (roughly $2,200 Canadian) for a return flight to South East Asia (open jaw going to Singapore and returning from Bangkok).
Long story short I have now reached the time of my return trip and when I logged in for my online check-in yesterday I was surprised that the seat for Haneda – Vancouver had been changed to 5A. I wondered why and was shocked to see the new seatmap:
ANA had swapped their B787-900 Dreamliner with the new Business Class in 1-2-1 configuration to the 787-800 model that has Cradle seats as displayed in the image above. This is a product ANA usually uses on regional routes such as to Seoul or Beijing. I flew on it many times before and know it’s horrible for an overnight flight that’s going to take almost 10 hours.
I contacted ANA customer support via their webform and got a nonsense reply that I should contact my travel agency:
… We acknowledge that our in-flight seat product did not match your anticipation on this occasion. We request your genuine understanding we are unable to guarantee the current aircraft configuration will be the one used for your travel.
As for your request for rebooking, as ANA cannot make modifications to tickets issued by travel agencies, please kindly inquire directly with your travel agency regarding this request. …
Needless to say I wasn’t going to accept this answer as the final solution to my problem. After arriving at Haneda Airport I went to the Business Class check-in and ticketing desk to talk to a manager. It helped I still had a business card from one of the Duty Station Managers I met previously even though he wasn’t working today.
I outlined the issue, demonstrated it by the picture above and asked for their understanding that I can’t accept to fly on this product. I offered instead to go to Narita for my return flight on my own expense if they could change the flight to the codeshare operated by Air Canada which is also operated by a B787 Dreamliner but features their new Business Class product. What I learned about Japan is to be polite but firm and bring a lot of time and patience. It turned out to be a successful request and after roughly 45 Minutes and involving several managers to ask for permission I got my booking changed to the Air Canada flight.
I’m actually looking forward to my Air Canada flight as I’ve never tried their new Business Class on the 787 (not my favorite plane by any means though) and as luck would have it the new flight also earns 50% more miles on United Mileage Plus pushing me over the qualification hurdle for Gold.
Their cabin looks much nicer as well:
I’ve had aircraft swaps before and find them super annoying. Especially since nobody informs you about it even though the airline collects tons of data including email and cellphone numbers. The worst is when it’s about a premium class product that is being swapped out against an old, outdated one. Thai Airways is notorious for this as well (And was much worse in the past).
If you go by the book then the airline has to transport you only in the class of service reserved and they don’t guarantee a specific on board product. There is very little you can do legally against this if they operate a cabin you don’t like. The only thing you can do is try and politely request to be changed to a different flight. It helps if you have data available where you wish to be rebooked on. In my experience you get this done much easier at the airport than through the hotlines. Most customers will likely just swallow the bitter pill and not complain or demand a change of flight but I think it just isn’t right especially when you compare the seat types in a case such as this (the seat wouldn’t even be lie flat which probably helped me win my argument).