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Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007

LIFELINES

Plane wrong?


Max Phillips Jr. wrote in after getting a nasty shock from his local travel agency.

"My wife (Japanese) and I are going to Hawaii in September. Since we are arranging to meet my (mid-60s) parents there, we thought it best to plan as far in advance as possible.

"I went to the local H.I.S. office to inquire about airline ticket prices. In May we agreed to buy a ticket for an (as of that time) unpublished airline and put a four-man deposit down on the tickets. I paid the remainder of the quoted ticket price on July 6. (I have the documentation showing that I paid the remaining balance, as recorded by H.I.S.)

"On Aug. 10, I received an e-mail from an H.I.S. agent informing me that even though I have already paid what they quoted me and what we agreed on, that I must now pay an additional fee because the airline has decided to increase their fuel surcharge on selected routes.

"Naturally I was upset and went to the office to speak with a manager (the representative that I spoke with went to talk to a manager, but I was not allowed to speak directly with him). The way it was explained to me was that nothing has changed regarding the ticket price; in fact I have not yet paid everything (due to something outside of their control, even though I dealt with them and not directly with the airline).

"They also informed me that unless I pay the new balance they will not be able to issue me the tickets and I may be subject to penalties because it is so close to the departure date. I asked the agent who was helping me if there were many angry customers and she said that all the customers were angry but that many of them were just paying the difference.

"To me, this would be exactly the same as going into the only restaurant that is open, making the last order of the night (steak) and when the waiter/waitress comes to serve you they tell you that because the price of beef has increased, I must now pay an additional fee in order to get the meal I ordered, even though I made the order based on the prices that they set in their menu."

Max, we checked this out with H.I.S. As someone who travels constantly, I can tell you that the situation you describe is a common one. These days there are a lot of additional charges that airlines, airports and governments are trying to squeeze onto tickets. Believe me, I have seen them all, from airport departure fees to security fees and more.

At the same time, and unfortunately for all of us, travel agencies like H.I.S. claim they have no idea of when these charges will come and have no choice but to pass them on. Travel agents say that they make so little off tickets these days that if they were to swallow every charge that came up they could not keep going, which is why so many smaller agencies have gone under, whereas the "big guys" like H.I.S. are still operating.

The response from H.I.S. to your question was as follows:

"Unfortunately we have to pass on extra charges including fuel charges that come up. At the same time as we purchase seats in bulk we do our best to negotiate these prices down and sometimes are able to do so. At the same time, and as a sad sign of our times, we are powerless in general to do anything about the extra charges."

To find out more, visit www.his-world.co.jp.

Ken Joseph Jr. directs the Japan Helpline at www.jhelp.com or on (03) 000-911. Send questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp


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