Businessman in row with Etihad over cheap first class ticket

Businessman Lakhi Ramchandani claims to have bought a first class ticket online last month for a flight from Mumbai to New York in January, but was issued a business class seat

Etihad Business Class may cost a bit more than economy but you get what you pay for. Delores Johnson / The National
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An Etihad customer who bought a ticket advertised as first class but was issued a business-class seat instead is hoping the airline will honour the original sale.

Businessman Lakhi Ramchandani, from India, bought what was advertised as a first-class ticket on Etihad's website last month for a flight from Mumbai to New York in January. But after debiting his card, Etihad issued him a business-class ticket.

Armed with a screenshot of his booking summary, taken before he paid for the ticket, he got in touch with Etihad for an explanation.

He said the representative told him the problem stemmed from an online glitch, and the ticket he was issued with was correct for the price he paid.

Mr Ramchandani said the Etihad employee told him the airline would honour the ticket he bought.

But the airline has since changed course and now wants him to pay to upgrade his seat to first class.

“The agent of Etihad confirmed to me that very day that it was an error on their part,” he said. “But ever since I started pursuing Etihad for my rightful claim, per the offer, as I paid for first class and the money was deducted, they say they ‘cannot entertain my request for an upgrade’, which is absurd. I am not requesting an upgrade.”

While he was on the phone to the Etihad employee, he bought another ticket online to test whether it was in fact the result of an online error.

He was issued with another business-class ticket, despite again paying for a first-class seat.

That ticket, at the same price, has since been cancelled by the airline with Mr Ramchandani's agreement.

He accepts the price he paid for the first-class return ticket is low, at about Dh10,000, but he feels he should not have to pay for Etihad's error.

"I did some research and there was in 2014 an Etihad system glitch where it issued tickets from New York to Abu Dhabi at $187 (Dh690) and they honoured all of those," said Mr Ramchandani, who has lived in the UAE for the past 35 years.

An Etihad spokesperson said they had been in contact with Mr Ramchandani throughout this period, advising him about his options for both tickets he had bought.

‎"We have been in contact with Mr Ramchandani since the time he purchased these tickets, advising him about his options.

"He had purchased two tickets online for the same travel and the ticket which required travel on a codeshare partner airline was priced higher and that was fully refunded on the same day.

"Both tickets were correctly priced for the business class cabin they were confirmed in. We have informed Mr Ramchandani that, if these were not the tickets he intended to purchase, he has option either obtain a full refund or pay the fare difference to upgrade the sectors to First Class.

"Therefore we are not in a position to provide the complimentary upgrade to First Class and refute the suggestion that he was advised that his ticket would be honoured in First Class. We look forward to resolving the matter of the second ticket with Mr Ramchandani at the earliest opportunity.”

Experts said Etihad is under no obligation to issue Mr Ramchandani with a first-class ticket for the price he paid. "My view is that unless he has written proof that he was getting first-class flights, the airline is not obliged to honour the provisional offer on screen," said Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser and columnist for The National.


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Airline analysts also say carriers are not duty-bound to honour flawed pricing.

“It’s not uncommon for any transaction online to be rescinded if the pricing is erroneous,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.

“We’ve seen it happen countless times when it comes to buying things online and this instance doesn’t seem to be all that different.”

This year, British Airways cancelled tickets of customers who bought cheap flights to Dubai and Tel Aviv as a result of an online glitch, issuing compensation vouchers instead.

“BA went the extra mile when they didn’t even need to. It’s like going to a Black Friday sale — you have your heart set on a particular electronic item, but when you get to the store, they’re all sold out. Is the store likely to give you a compensation voucher? Not a chance,” said Mr Ahmad.