Vancouver Diaries

Poor experience with Cathay Pacific.

I live in Vancouver, Canada. I was visiting India during the festival season. My fight was from YVR to CCU via HKG and back. Cathay Pacific all through. I was carrying with me my DSLR and lenses and also my laptops and my ipad so that I can take photos of the festivals. When I boarded my flight from Vancouver, everything went smoothly and no one complained about my carry on luggage weight. I was carrying mostly my laptops and my camera + lenses with my carry on. I also had some basic minimal spare clothes and couple of small books for light reading.

When I was checking in for my flight back to YVR from CCU, the person at the check in counter started complaining about the check in baggage weight. I told him that I had only my laptops and my camera and I could not check them into my check in bags. When he insisted further, I took some stuff out from my carry on, like some light books and some computer external drives, some clothes etc which I thought were safe to check in and I put them into my check in bag. Still the guy kept complaining that I should reduce the weight further. I was not comfortable with putting my expensive lenses and laptops in the check-in baggage. So I asked him to call his supervisor. The supervisor came and he said I should check in one carry on as an extra bag. Normally back in Vancouver, when a passenger carried an over sized bag or a bag with extra weight, some airlines (Air Canada and Emirates I can vouch personally) would check-in your carry on without an extra charge. The supervisor of this airline said he would have to charge for this extra check in. I would have no problem doing that and I would pay extra if needed only if I was confident that my camera and lenses were safe in check-in. I asked the supervisor whether the airline can take responsibility for my expensive electronics and he said he can’t give me that guarantee. He also said that electronics was not legally allowed in check-in. So here I am, with my stuff which I can neither take in my carry-on nor I can check it in. If I checked it in, it would be fully on my own responsibility. I told him that, had the airline mentioned me their issue with the weight when I was leaving Vancouver, I would have left my stuff back home. However, here in Kolkata I can’t leave my stuff. I am stuck. The supervisor said (and I felt offended by his remark), that he did not know if I had brought the camera and laptops  from Vancouver or whether I bought them here. Why would I lie? I can produce receipts for my laptops and camera lenses and my camera if needed. They were all bought in North America. After much debate, I asked the supervisor for his business card and he did not have any. When I wanted to take a photo of him and his airline ID (so that I could refer this matter to the airline support later on), he did not allow me to take photo of his ID or himself.  Back in Vancouver, when you get into an accident and are required to share information with the other person, most people gladly allow their driver’s license to be photographed. Here, apparently, the guy got concerned about his privacy and hence refused me (BUT he never said that to me – if he did, I would probably somehow find a pen and paper and note down his name). Now, I did not have a pen and paper handy to take down the name. The thought of taking a quick note on my cellphone notebook app did not cross my mind at that time. Even if it did, there are two issues. I could make a typo and get the name wrong. Secondly, more importantly, there could be two persons with the exact same name. Taking a picture of the entire airline ID with all info and designation and location is a pretty straight forward approach and I can’t imagine why someone would deny that in the absence of any business card. I took the photo of the person in the check-in counter and a picture of his ID (and of course I am not going to disclose that information here to protect his privacy – it goes without saying). 

In any case, I was forced to leave the airport (I went through security formalities again). I left one of my bags with a relative who had come to see me off and take only my camera bag along with my laptop bag with me. When I went back, the guy at the counter, a different guy this time, continued to complain about the weight. They showed no urgency or attitude that a valuable passenger is in the dangerous risk of missing his flight. Most airlines back in North America shows some courtesy. There was simply NONE from Cathay Pacific. While we were figuring out weights again, this supervisor conveniently now came forward on his own and reminded the person at the counter that the time window for checking into flight had closed. The guy at the counter immediately refused to check me in. I was disgusted at this point and I left the airport and came back home with the relative. While on our drive back, I called my trusty travel agent and promptly booked another return flight with a much better and well known carrier out of CCU.

I have flown many times from CCU to YVR with various airlines, Qatar, Emirates, China Eastern, British Airways and Lufthansa in the last 10 years. I have never had this issue. No airline which I have used from Vancouver or elsewhere showed so much lack of courtesy, disrespect for their passengers and utter incompetence. This was my first time using Cathay.

Upon returning home, I did some Googling. Cathay Pacific is running business at a loss. Their shareholders are losing money and they are trying very hard to regain profitability. It seems to me that this is an evil tactics to sell an empty vacant seat at an extraordinary high price to some last minute traveller.

Due to cut throat competition, many airlines have resorted to bad tactics, smaller leg rooms, restrictions on carry-ons, charging extra for a cary-on (oh that would be such a good solution for me in this particular instance), cheaper food, poor in flight services etc. A 7kg limit on carry ons is not reasonable for anyone who carries electronics (a laptop, an iPad and a DSLR would in itself overshoot this limit). The good airlines recognize that and respect their passengers by giving some leeway (particularly true for long haul flights which take you across the world). If they complain about weights, they do it at source, at the start of the journey, not in the return journey when the passenger is stuck.

Maybe these days, we should revise our expectations from some commercial airline carriers. Missing a flight is probably better than getting dragged off the flight by force.

After this experience, I will never ever use Cathay again in the near future. I have never used Cathay before this trip and I am pretty happy with other airlines which I have dealt with in the past. I suggest those who fly Cathay Pacific be aware of this experience and either spend extra money and fly a better airline (one that cares about its customers) or be extremely cautious of Cathay and take appropriate precautions.


Note 1: I did report this incident to Cathay Pacific support. They came back 2 days later with a reply “sorry for your experience but our ground staff acted on the guidelines” BS. I didn’t think they would provide financial compensation given that the company incurred huge losses last year and are resorting to this kind of ugly tactics. I expected someone senior to give me a call and give his personal assurance that things would be looked into and appropriate changes/amends would be made including removal of employees who did not act in a manner that would be courteous or helpful to their valued passengers. None so far. Instead I got an annoying DM on twitter saying “would you spare a couple of minutes to give us the feedback on the support you received” crap. I have blocked them on twitter and don’t intend to respond to any of their messages.

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