Taca – A Tale of Two Airlines

Few travelers have been as faithful to an Airline as I have to Taca.

I have probably flown 100,000 miles on Taca in the last two years, and ALL of those miles have been regional in Central America. I I only got a Distancia (Frequent Flyer) card, mid year last year, or I would probably have at least 100k in total miles.

Taca has the newest fleet in the Americas, with Airbus 320 and 321’s, and their planes are clean and normally well kept, and the crews usually friendly. I was probably one of the worlds most satisfied customers until about a month ago. Until that time I normally received an upgrade on at least one leg of all of my round trip flights. As a Silver Frequent Flyer I really enjoyed this, as it is rare that anyone under plattinum gets such priveledges on other airlines. With Taca I could always count on an upgrade when I got to the airport if Business Class was not full. (I generaly fly minimum once a month and sometimes every two weeks. Taca changed their upgrade process to some arcane system based on fare types… Well, I can not complain, they are only getting more in line with the industry, and I still manage to snag one every now and then.

What has lowered my satisfaction level considerably with Taca are a couple of issues:

They used to have the best ontime record in the industry. It is possible that they still do, but I have had three late flights in the last six.

I have ran into some really obnoxious gate attendants in their El Salvador hub. It is the only taca airport I have been to where the Frequent Flyer Elite are not allowed to board at the same time as the Business Class Passengers. Now this really tweaks me when in the case of July 2nds flights, BOTH flights were over an hour late, and I just wanted to get on the plane. Not only was I not allowed to pre-board, but the woman attending the gate was obnoxious. Hardly the way to treat your most loyal level of customers.

Their website has become almost unusable. Now to be fair, I am not sure if this is due to the numerous changes they have made to their website, or to the fact that I have switched to Macintosh, but my last three flight bookings online have not resulted in me recieving a confirmation email or receipt, or even a confirmation number. As I write this, I am absolutely furious. I booked a flight while sitting in the VIP lounge in Managua, Wednesday night. The page locked up on me when I submitted my card information to pay for the flight. Since I used a debit card I went immediately to my bank to verify that the payment had been made. The money had been deducted…. I contacted Horizonte Support (Taca’s Elite Frequent Flyer Help Desk), and recieved this:

Dear Mr. Anderson:
Horizonte de Plata 20233112443

Thank you for contacting us.
It’s a pleasure to greet you.

We apologize for this inconvenience; we are unable to use the debit on your card because there is no charge registered on our system, therefore we are unable to use it as a form of payment for your confirm flight and ticket issuance.

During a booking request the credit card institutions hold the funds, In your case due to the time out shown during the process your bank held your funds but did not send us the confirmation of the charge, when this happen it usually takes the banks aproximatly 48hrs to realease the reteined funds.

We are truly sorry for this but in order to complete your purchase, we invite you to call our TACA Call Center to pay the fare for this reservation to be able to issue this ticket.

Any further questions please contact us it will be a pleasure to help you.
Sincerely yours,

Jose Bonilla
Customer Service Center
Loyalty Programs

NOW, is it just me or does it sound slightly ridiculous for me to pay a fare TWICE, that I have already paid, and that DUE to their Page timing out, MY FUNDS are in limbo. I wrote the gentleman back explaining that I thought that was unreasonable and that I would not pay twice. I also explained that in the case of disputes, my bank usually took 45 days to do an investigation. Meaning that I would be without my funds NOT for 48 hours, but for a month and a half. Oddly, he never responded. BUT TACA DID! They canceled my reservation, despite the fact that my Bank account was $768 lighter due to them!

I called Taca’s call center yesterday and got a young man named Javier Roman. After explaining th situation to Javier, he at first gave me the same party line. “Sorry, I cant do anything, we did not get the money.” I explained to Javier that I would be willing to have them recharge my card, BUT I expected someone from Taca to take responsibility for an immediate refund of the money already charged. Mr. Roman found my request logical and reasonable, and presented my case to his supervisor. While it took some time, and I lost my original reservation and am now forced to spend 4 hours in El Salvador tomorrow, Javier did not let me off the phone until he had “fixed,” the situation without charging my card again. As a Customer Service Advocate, Javier gets my HERO award, and he deserves top kudos for taking care of his customer. It is because of him, and the miles I have invested in Taca that I will remain, for NOW, a customer.

The effect of these past couple of weeks of experiences, is that I have gone from an enthusiastic Taca customer who practically INSIST that my clients fly them when visiting Latin America, to someone who will continue to use them for convenience sake, but is hardly a supporter or recommender. As I mentioned to the head of their loyalty program not long ago, I am NOT the kind of passenger you want to lose, and even less the kind you want to dissolution. For now Taca remains a favorite of mine in many areas, especially in terms of inflight service, but they have lost much of their luster otherwise. And to the Headquarters team in El Salvador, the young lady attending the gate for the flight leaving El Salvador for Costa Rica on Wednesday night, is the worst employee you have, and I say this after experiencing her sarcastic and nasty attitude on two occasions.

    UPDATE (July 5th)

I thought I was good to go, that is until I tried to check in online this afternoon. System would not let me check in. I had to go all the way to San Jose to the Taca ticket office, and wait nearly two hours while they sorted this all out. Seems the system just did not want to give me a ticket, and despite all of my complaints NO ONE followed through!

I now have boarding passes in my hand, and a delightful young woman named, “Lady,” showed an incredible amount of dedication in trying to resolve my problem I say TRYING, because honestly, i wont know until I am in my seat and the plane has taken off tomorrow, that I am finally done with this nonsense. I estimate, that with my standard hourly rate, and the amount of time I have spent on this issue, that I could have bought this ticket three times….

Now with my luck I will be denied access to the Taca Lounge in El Salvador tomorrow, despite having a business class ticket, and a forced four hour layover because of their screwups.

One Response to “Taca – A Tale of Two Airlines”

  1. Jaime Aguilar Says:

    Mr Anderson,

    I am from EL Salvador and live in NY. I do travel too EL Salvador and Guatemala for business frequently. I think I have the same comments as you do, so far TACA has not let me down and most of the times I get upgrades or I buy early in Business class in which sometimes I have paid less than coach..Lucky me. I think that TACA is the best airline to Latinamerica so far and they are getting better everyday. There is a major renovation/extension programmed for El Salvador airport in 2011 that I think will make things easier.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with other passengers…GO TACA.
    Jaime Aguilar

The Business Adventures of an Expat Call Center Guru in Costa Rica