Q: I recently booked a flight from Atlanta to Kristiansand, Norway, on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). When I tried to check in online, the system said my reservation had been canceled.
I called the customer-service number, and a representative told me there was a payment error that resulted in an automatic cancellation. The airline had given me no notice.
I then called my bank, which said there was absolutely no problem with the payment and that SAS had put $3,480 on hold from my available balance.
I called back to SAS customer service and was told that the airline does not know what the problem is, but that it can’t help me any further. SAS was unable to even find my card number in its system to tell me when the funds would be released.
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Currently, I am unable to travel home to Norway to see my family, and SAS is holding my funds that I require to purchase another flight.
This is no fault of my own. My payment was valid, and the money was withdrawn from my available balance. I also was provided with a confirmation of my reservation with seat selection. This is unacceptable, and I am incurring damages as a result of SAS’s internal-system error or incompetence. Can you help?
Allen Norris Dean, Atlanta
A: This is one of the strangest cases of the year, at least so far. It appears that SAS put a hold on the funds but failed to issue a ticket because of a problem with your card. That’s strange, because if there’s a problem with the card, the airline wouldn’t be able to put a “hold” on it.
Airlines will automatically cancel a reservation when there’s a problem with your card, but you should receive a prompt notification if this happens, which would give you the ability to resolve the issue and rebook your flight. It’s not clear why that didn’t happen, but in fairness to SAS, I’m not sure it knows what happened, either. Sometimes these billing problems spiral into an unsolvable IT mystery, and that’s what seems to be happening here.
The best way to avoid a situation like this? Monitor your credit card carefully, and watch for the charge. Don’t rely on the airline or your travel agent for a confirmation; instead, wait for the charge to show up on your credit card. I know that sounds almost paranoid, but I’ve seen more than a handful of payment-error cases where monitoring your credit-card statement could have at least offered an early warning, if not helped a traveler avoid a serious problem.
I love the resolution on this one because it shows the power of persistence and the effectiveness of self-advocacy. I shared the executive contacts with you, and you used them to contact Jan-Eirik Persen, head of SAS’s customer service. The airline charged your card and reinstated your ticket.
Email Christopher Elliott at email@example.com.