It’s not a request a consumer journalist gets often — if ever. “Help! I owe a company more than R5,000, but they won’t take my money!”
The company, in Harry Herber’s case, was the beleaguered parastatal SA Airways. Having paid SAA R49bn in bailouts to date, the state has yet to conclude a deal that would transfer majority ownership to a private partner.
Herber, of Johannesburg, booked four SAA tickets online, using his Voyager miles. But then he noticed that SAA hadn’t processed the payment: the money remained reserved for the airline on his credit card account. “Eventually the money was released back to me,” he said. “As luck would have it, two weeks later my credit card expired.”
And so began what Herber calls “eight weeks of hell, dealing with SAA”.
“I sent them a copy of my new credit card so they could debit it and got many promises but zero service.
“I got incompetence, apathy, and blaming the next person.
“I was at my wits’ end trying to do the right thing,” Herber said.
In desperation, he sourced the email address of the airline’s CFO, Fikile Mhlontlo.
“I emailed him and he actually responded, and promised action.
“A week later, they took my money.
“But it took 56 days and at least 20 phone calls and 20 emails to get them to take what I owed them — incredible!,” Herber said.
“I can only imagine how many other non debits must exist. I’m pretty sure most people would not be as fussed as I am about ‘doing the right thing’.
“I’m not surprised the business is circling the drain.”
Asked to comment, Mhlontlo began by acknowledging that SAA “had a problem with Herber’s receipt of payment for airport taxes relating to tickets he’d booked using his Voyager Miles”.
“It took the team some time to resolve the problem for two reasons: Mr Herber’s credit card did indeed expire and we had to upload new card details before payment could be effected and there was a technical glitch on the Voyager website.
“But we are pleased to report that the problem is resolved and Mr Herber’s money was received by SAA.”
Despite the “technical problem”, he said, “the money he owed SAA was not going to be written off”, as the system flags non-payments.
“As an airline in financial distress every cent counts and we appreciate the numerous times Mr Herber made contact with us.
“We sincerely apologise for the frustrations caused and accept that the airline should have initiated contact with the customer.
“SAA applauds Mr Herber’s steadfastness in resolving the problem.”
–Sowetan Consumer Corner