JustFly.com — A Scam Hiding In Plain Sight

Saumil Mehta

JustFly.com, an Online Travel Agent similar to Expedia/Orbitz and tacitly endorsed by aggregators like Kayak — is a scam hiding in plain sight. Thanks to JustFly.com, I am writing this essay stranded in a hotel room right outside of Newark, NJ and caught in the East Coast “bomb cyclone”, out an additional $2,200 dollars and at least 1–2 days late to my return to San Francisco. JustFly’s shady and unethical practices, not to mention their horrendous website and email execution, usage of dark patterns and atrocious customer service are directly to blame. I hope this essay can prevent future consumers from getting suckered.

JustFly homepage

Here’s the TL;DR — I found via Kayak and booked return flights for my sister and I from SF to Mumbai and back for a total of $4320. JustFly cancelled my return flight without my explicit authorization or even my knowledge. When called, they refused to take responsibility and told me, essentially, to pound sand. I then booked a last-minute flight, one-way from Mumbai to SF — unfortunately this flight happened to fly through Newark, NJ and landed as soon as the bomb cyclone hit the East Coast. All flights from Newark were cancelled and in addition to the $2200 for the new flight I’m now out $200 more in hotel rooms and cabs, not to mention another few hundred dollars in international phone call charges. To make an amazingly shitty situation that much worse, our cab from Newark airport to the hotel crashed into an embankment while trying to exit the highway and we had to call 911 and another cab to get to the hotel, a bit shook up but no worse for the wear. In the meanwhile, our original flight has successfully landed in SF with us, regretfully and obviously, not on board.

Here is how JustFly.com screwed us and will continue to screw over other consumers unless this message is spread to hold them accountable.

  • On 10/08, we found round-trip tickets on Kayak and booked them via JustFly — so far so good! They were slightly cheaper than everything else — little did we know that we’d later pay in spades for the small difference.
JustFly Booking Confirmation Email
  • On 11/02/17, we get the first of a few cryptic emails from JustFly asking for “immediate attention” — but clicking on “Manage my Booking” shows no problem at all, just a successful and confirmed booking. We ignore it for now.
JustFly’s cryptic email design — clicking the button showed a successful booking every time
  • But the emails keep coming — and yet, every click on “Manage my Booking” loads a landing page that shows a perfectly fine and confirmed booking.
  • I mention the emails to my sister and she urges me to call JustFly over Thanksgiving break. I call JustFly on 11/27 and after 20 excruciating minutes trying to understand a nice but clearly-barely-competent woman with a hard-to-understand Filipino accent I hang up the phone after learning the important bits — JustFly Customer Service had told us that the booking was fine after all, just like the website landing page suggested. Their automated system triggers a feedback request to my inbox immediately after.
Automated email on 11/27 asking for feedback on call — JustFly would later deny the call ever occurred

After this small hump, we successfully fly to India on 12/15/17 and have a grand time. On 01/03/18, after gaining a handful of pounds thanks to Mom’s famous “Fried Carbs and Salt” diet we are ready to fly back.

This is where the epic shit sandwich served by JustFly on a silver platter makes its appearance. I try to check in on JetAirways.com and it fails to find the e-ticket number or the booking reference number. I call Jet and hear them explain to me nonchalantly that JustFly had cancelled our return tickets and that we needed to talk to them for more help.

What. The. Fuck.

As you can see, there is no email record from JustFly having informed us that they had cancelled our return leg. This screenshot shows the full email search history from them to me:

Full Email History from JustFly — where is the screaming subject line outlining flight cancellation?!

In addition to being shady, unethical and straight-up bullshit this also offends me as a builder of software products — don’t make big-ass account changes automatically without clear and attention-grabbing email notifications and dashboard banners.

Not only is their transactional email system bogus, their web dashboard continues to show a Confirmed Booking right up until flight time. I say again — What. The. Fuck.

Booking Landing Page on JustFly.com, weeks after they cancelled my tickets and hours after they told me on the phone that they had done so. Note 01/03/18 time stamp on Mac.

Notice Jan 3rd date on my Mac. Note “Booking Status: Confirmed” at the top of the page. This was taken after screaming at JustFly customer service for 2 hours. At least have the decency to be competent criminals, JustFly! You make George Papadopoulos look like a Bond villain.

In fact, I was so surprised that the web dashboard looked hunky dory when the IRL situation was an unadulterated clusterfuck that I emailed the itinerary to myself — fully believing that JustFly would cover their tracks in no time and update their records on the website. Sure enough, they send me an itinerary that looks like candy and roses all around. Once again, these people are crooks but not extremely smart ones.

Emailed Itinerary from JustFly.com, weeks after they cancelled my flight without permission

Yes, in a cruel twist of technology, GMail has tied the email to flight status and the flight is arriving at SF in 35 minutes at the time of this screenshot capture.

I am not on this flight — instead, I’m stuck in a crappy hotel room outside of Newark airport, New Jersey — 3000 miles away from SF, without winter gear (coz, ya know, I went to India), without a confirmed ticket to SF and $2200 lighter in the wallet if we’re adding insult to injury.

This is happening because JustFly’s atrocious customer service reps refused to take any responsibility for the situation when confronted. Their take: we emailed you a few times since there was a problem with your return flight. We have no record of you calling us on 11/27 (see screenshot above, you crooks). We therefore cancelled your return flight and it’s your own damn fault. Oh, that $2160 you paid us for the return flight? That’s with the airline. Good luck with that! Oh, you want our help? Well we’re going to need change fees. Oh you’re even willing to pay change fees? Oops! Sorry, there’s no flights available for the next 3 days on Jet Airways so you’re on your own. Good luck!

After screaming bloody murder at JustFly and racking up hundreds of dollars in international roaming charges, I called Jet Airways in a final, desperate attempt while eyeing the 11th storey window in my folks’ condo and contemplating a jump off it as sweet release. Their take: your booking website asked us to cancel and then they never re-issued your ticket on a new route. So, good luck with that! Oh, you want that in writing for your records? Surely you jest! We’re an airline, damn it, customer service is for suckers and fools.

We search online for 2 more hours and eventually find a United flight that gets to SFO via Newark and costs $1100 apiece. I pony up the ducats on my trusty Mastercard and think to myself, phew! $2200 lighter in the wallet but at least we’re going back to the land of brogrammers, raw water and sex parties for nerdy programmers!

Not so fast.

We land in Newark and are casually informed that Bomb Cyclone has resulted in cancellations of all outbound flights. We’re put on a standby flight the next day and told, once again with impressive nonchalance, that all next-day flights are not only full but actually oversold so our chances are middling at best. Oh and hotel rooms for the overnight stay? Yeah they’re not going to pay for that for weather-related cancellations — surely you jest if you think they would! Force Majeure is a bitch if you’re on the wrong side of it.

Tired and dispirited, cursing JustFly as frequently as we can until we tire ourselves of it, we book a hotel room a mile away down the highway and hop in a Yellow Cab.

And then, in a wonderful real-life example of Murphy’s Law, the cab crashes into an embankment while exiting off the highway as the cab driver loses control in the snow and informs us in broken English after inspecting the car — “I cannot drop you off. Call another cab”. 20 harrowing minutes pass watching cars whiz by on a one-lane exit as my sister tries to control her tears. The other cab shows up and we get to the hotel after all. We’ve called 911 too, by the way, but there is no sight of them and the hotel staff informs us when we finally show up — “well it takes the cops 2 hours to show up in Newark so consider yourself lucky another cab showed up”.

That about sums up the last 40 hours, most of it directly or indirectly courtesy of the sleazeballs at JustFly.com. And if you don’t believe my case, trust the Failing New York Times which found basically the exact same case 18 months ago (oh to have seen this earlier!). Don’t ever fly them — the extra $100 bucks ain’t worth the loss of thousands of dollars in change fees, new flights, hotel rooms and crashing cabs. While I’m at it — Kayak.com should be ashamed at lending its tacit endorsement to a company that has hundreds of suspiciously similar BBB complaints piled up against it.

Fuck you, JustFly. This ain’t over.

Saumil Mehta

Written by

General Manager at Square. Previously at LocBox, Kosmix, Ning, Stanford. Opinions obviously my own.

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