Talking about etiquette, in relation to complicated ethical and moral dilemmas is an amusing task. But etiquette, there must be. There’s an increasing rise of airline “mistake” or “error” fares, they’re easier to find than ever, and this triumphant rise has brought growing tension between airline and consumer. Is the mistake fare dead? We don’t think so – but it’s changing.
What is a mistake fare? That’s the root issue. How are we as customers supposed to truly know? Must airlines prove that an error was made, before they’re allowed to cancel? What may seem to clearly be a bold mistake with one airline, could be an entirely intentionally filed fare to drum up promotional excitement on another carrier. Qatar Airways has launched intentional $640 round trip business class fares to some of the longest haul destinations on earth, with the very best planes, so how are we to know that any of the countless airlines in the world wouldn’t do the same?
The more you research, the more you can spot a shocking fare. Those regularly looking at flights from Europe to Asia would know a standard price of €600, so €200 would naturally stand out. But it doesn’t mean it’s not real, or fully intentional. Competitive deals, wildly below standard prices are filed constantly, designed to win incremental business, before disappearing and reverting to standard prices most consumers find. The “mistake fare” is in an existential crisis, because the lines are blurred.
In many early error fares, there was a code of ethics. Kind of how people talk about the old days of the mafia. If a fare was genuinely an error, the airline would unilaterally cancel all tickets within 24 hours. No guess work, stress or issue. Lately, almost seemingly as a deterrent for even trying, airlines are waiting days and weeks to take decisive action. A recent Delta issue was perhaps the murkiest yet, with the airline waiting more than 8 days to cancel tickets, before apparently choosing to honor the tickets, at least for some – in the end.
So is the “game” dead? Hardly. It’s just more enigmatic than ever before. As airlines increasingly file aggressive fares against low cost carriers and competition, our collective viewpoint of ‘what is an error’ becomes clouded. As airlines operate in the shadows, with no oversight as to proving an error was made, or being held to a requirement for when a fare becomes valid – we grow further apart. Why are we as passengers held to 24 hour cancellation standards, or forced to forever pay exorbitant fees if the same system of checks is not in place for the airlines as well?