United Airlines has admitted to an error in its billing system that double charges travelers, and has promised to fix it and provide refunds to all affected customers.
The admission was contained in a two-line response from United Airline Africa Communications office following a complaint by Techgh24 regarding three cases of alleged “fraudulent” billing on the electronic cards of persons traveling from Accra to the United States through Kotoka International Airport (KIA).
In their response, United Airline wrote “Following a system issue which resulted in inadvertent errors in payment processing and customer billing, we are working to resolve the system issue and provide refunds for affected customers. We apologise for the inconvenience caused.”
The airline did not say how many travelers were affected by the billing errors, over what period and how much refund they will be making, but the three reported alleged fraudulent billings by United Airline staff at KIA totaled US$1,000, and it happened between July and September 2021. All three got their refunds due to their own vigilance.
Even a staff of the airline also told TechGh24 he has been a victim of the double charge in the past, except that he blamed it on the point of sale (POS) device, which belongs to a bank in Ghana. But the bank provided enough evidence to Techgh24, to show that the fault is not from their POS machine.
The first of the three cases reported involved Mrs. Gifty Bonzi, who traveled with her husband, Fiifi Bonzi from Ghana to the states, where they live, on July 10, 2021. They were over-billed to the tune of US$600 when they paid for their five bags of extra luggage.
The over-billing reflected on their bank statement as “UNITED AIRLINE TEXAS”, even though the transaction happened in Ghana. That was when the alarm bells rang and further investigations proved they were indeed over charged.
But even while they were at the KIA on July 10, 2021, the United Airline staff, who actually work for Aviance Ghana, a company contracted by United Airline to perform check in duties at the KIA on behalf of the airline, played around with the payment cards of the travelers in a manner that raised suspicions.
Mr. and Mrs. Bonzi said they were therefore not surprised when their bank statements back in the US revealed what they described as “fraudulent” charges.
The second case involved Robert Essien who traveled from Ghana to the US on August 22, 2021. He was also over charged by $200, and the payment advice also read “UNITED AIRLINE TEXAS”; while the third case involved Eric Agyepong Mensah who traveled on September 18, 2021.
Indeed, in Eric’s case, his bankers in the US, Navy Federal Credit Union investigated the matter and wrote a letter dated December 4, 2021 to him, confirming that his claim of having been defrauded was a valid one.
The letter read in part “This letter is to inform you that we have made a final determination regarding your Navy Federal Debt Card fraud claim in the amount of $200. Based on the facts of our investigation, your claim is found to be valid.”
Concerns about Aviance Staff
A very reliable source at the US office of United Airlines told Techgh24 on grounds of anonymity that the airline has had concerns about the conduct of the Aviance Ghana staff for a while, but the Ghana Office Head for United does not seem bothered.
The source said Aviance Staff often create problems for the US staff by “taking bribes” and checking travelers in with excess luggage without the appropriate fees. So, those travelers expect a similar treatment when they are leaving the US to Ghana and that is how the US office discovers that they actually didn’t pay for their excess luggage from Ghana to the US.
Meanwhile, an independent point of sale (POS) expert told Techgh24 the staff of the airline (Aviance) may have captured the card details of the travelers and entered it manually into another payment channel via which they made the fraudulent billing that read “UNITED AIRLINE TEXAS”.
His reason was that the same POS machine could not have generated different payment advices.
But United Airlines, in their statement, chose to describe it as a billing and payment process error.
Whatever it is, whether it was a fraudulent billing or just an error that lingered on for such a long period without being fixed until now, Ghana cannot afford to have such fraud/errors at its prime and only international airport for two very important reasons:
1. The country is on a massive digitalization agenda, underlined by electronic payments. So, such incidents cannot be happening at Ghana’s main entry point.
2. Ghana recently embarked on a massive two-edged project dubbed to attract tourists and investors into the country. Such petty thievery and or billing errors at the main entry point threatens to mar that noble agenda.
Ghana Airport Company, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Ghana Tourism Authority, Bank of Ghana and the country’s security services should be interested in this matter to ensure there is sanity at the country’s main entry point.