Trying to book short flights with Garuda is nightmare

5-Star?  Not in my book.  Not by a very long shot given appalling customer service.

5-Star? Not in my book. Not by a very long shot given appalling customer service.

The sluggish saga of my attempt to book a roundtrip flight between Bali and a small island began last Saturday.  As I start to draft this post on Wednesday morning, I still have been unable to get my tickets from Garuda, the small Indonesian airline with which I am condemned to deal.

Moreover, responses to my e-mail have gone unanswered or delayed intolerably.  When they arrive, the e-mails contain unreasonable requests.  The only time I seem to get anywhere is when I complain on Twitter and Facebook, proving that social media can have a use beyond seeing what “friends” enjoy for dinner.

You may wonder why I haven’t tried the services of a travel agency, as my wise friend Amanda advised me, or a travel site such as Orbitz. 

For one thing, the travel sites doesn’t list my destination.  For another, I did go not only to one, but to two, travel agencies here in Phnom Penh.  Each quoted the same price: $385 total. They said that is what the “system” requires.  The price on Garuda online: $209.

(It is only a slight exaggeration to say that trying to fly farther afield from Cambodia than Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand always is a logistical nightmare often involving budget airlines, long layovers in the countries I listed and inconsistent rules.)

So, I am back with trying to get satisfaction from Garuda.  There follow some of the grim details of my Internet slog:

Garuda IndonesiaI go through the airline’s booking process on Saturday, tap in my credit card information and click to pay. The transaction seems to go through, but there then follow no confirmation page and no email confirmation.  I check my Visa account at Capitol One, and sure enough there is a charge shown as “pending” from Garuda.

I contact Garuda through its site on Aug. 1 asking what gives.  Five hours later, I get a reply asking for routing and card details.  I provide the information 45 minutes later.  Then nothing. At 9:30 the next morning, I decide to send another e-mail:

I am puzzled that I have not received a response after I supplied the additional information. Please note the following from my credit card company:
Visit Capital One Sign in to your account
An international purchase has been charged to your account.

There still being no reply, I write once more, 23 hours later, and begin occasionally complaining on social media.  This is what I get back the same morning:

We would like to thank  you for using Garuda Indonesia Online Booking.
We are very sorry for the inconvenience.

Responding to your email, please be informed. After we checked through payment system, for your payment is fail due to rejected by the system. Based on that, we are sorry we are unable to issued for your ticket. Regarding to the funds which taken from the Bank, please kindly check to Bank for reversing process upon the funds due to the funds are not taken to Garuda Indonesia account

May this confirmation give enough information.
Thank you for your cooperation.

Although I worry about seats disappearing on the small jet, I dare not try to rebook since the pending charge still shows up in my account.  When I call Capitol One to ask that it be removed, I am told I cannot have that done until it shows up as a completed transaction.  Then I would have to claim a dispute to have the charge removed.

What happens, I wonder, if I book again and two transactions from Garuda appear as pending. Would I be charged twice?  Would both be removed if I filed a dispute?  I decide to return to my battle with the airline.

Minutes after hanging up with Capitol One thanks to a free call via Google Voice, I inform Garuda about the pending charge and have an e-mail from the airline in a matter of a few hours:

Responding to your email, please be informed. For your payment were not taken by Garuda Indonesia account due to rejected (please see the payment information from our payment system attached). If it’s still informed that for payment were success, please kindly send us for the billing statement from the Bank regarding to it. While for your reservation is already inactive due to no payment accepted, it’s cancelled automatically based on the payment time limit

However, if you still want to have for a reservation by Garuda Indonesia online booking service, please kindly inform us through email for the data below as our supporting data to register for your Credit Card to minimize payment rejection from our system.

* Credit Card owner’s name
* 4 last digits of the Credit Card number
* Credit Card Issuer
* Credit Card scan picture attached

After we finished register it, we will inform you and you will be able to process for a new reservation through our online booking facility in www.garuda-indonesia.com

We will be waiting for your reply.

May this confirmation give enough information.
Thank you for your cooperation.

Please note that the Garuda “system” rejected the payment, yet sent it on to Capitol One and asked me to correct the charge.  Also it asks me to send my Capitol One statement to them! Then, it requests an e-mail a scan of my card, ignoring any security issues, so as to register the card with the airline.

Banging my head against a wall once again and expecting my head to stop hurting from doing that, I ask Garuda on Tuesday whether I may send a scan of the card with all but the last four digits blocked out, though I cannot comprehend why they need to see it.  The result: No response.

Again I resort to Twitter, which, along with Facebook, proves to be the only way to relieve the booking office’s constipated system of responding to my e-mails.  (I do want to acknowledge that the various names monitoring Twitter and deleting my posts on the airline’s Facebook page demonstrated their effectiveness.)

With respect to masking part of my credit-card number, the company does finally answer my question in understandably stilted English.  No problem, I am told.

Hopefully, with my pending Visa transaction miraculously having disappeared, I send the scan and the other information (which is on the card anyway) in my return e-mail late on the morning that I have started to write.

I don’t finish the draft when, contrary to my expectations, good news!

My payment information gets registered within a couple of hours.  I go online and trepidatiously go through the ticketing process yet again, fearing another slog through the airline’s unforgiving maze.  I re-enter my information about my flights, me, my Visa account and hold my breath as I order payment.

It works!

E-mail: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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