Friday, July 9, 2010

Flying the Not-So-Friendly Skies

The rather expensive comedy of errors I’m about to relate is typically self-induced. Before moving here, I booked a flight online back to Texas for Memorial Day weekend, well in advance in order to get the cheapest fare possible. Just a few days before climbing into my Ford Escape in mid-May to literally escape the heat and make the Flint Hills my home, I retrieved the confirmation e-mail to send to my beautiful mystery companion, so she would know when to pick me up at the Dallas airport.

At the time I was sitting on her living room couch in Longview, Texas. That’s when she heard me utter a phrase that best not be printed in a family newspaper. When I called up the e-mail, I realized that I had booked the flight in reverse order. Instead of flying from Manhattan to Dallas, I had booked it in the order I had taken to come up here for the initial job interview and then on a second trip to find a house to lease.

A panicked call to the discount online travel site that I use yielded unsatisfying results, after the requisite 30-minute delay during which I listened to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” apparently performed underwater on out-of-tune instruments. Finally a woman came on the line — such a quaint term to use in these days of cell phones. I explained my doofusness —I had booked the flight backward because I was used to starting in Texas and going to Kansas and hadn’t adapted to reversing the order. She laughed sympathetically, which gave me hope that with a quick peck of a few computer keys she would erase my stupidity and get me pointed in the right direction.

It wasn’t to be. From Bangalore or somewhere in the neighborhood, she punched buttons and finally informed me that it would cost me $1,350 to change the ticket. I asked to speak to someone else. After more Vivaldi, a gentleman no doubt from a neighboring village drew the same conclusion. I finally accepted a credit for a future purchase and went back online to rebook the flight in the proper order.

A few days ago, I called to attempt to use the credit and book another flight in August to visit my mother and, of course, my BMC, who will have returned to Texas by then. You must call; this can’t be done online. The musical selection this day was Pachelbel Canon in D — this time broadcast through two tin cans attached to each other by string. I had an hour-long conversation with a pleasant young man who had apparently secured this job at about 9 a.m. that morning, not long after finishing his ESL class.

I had gone to American Airlines’ Web site and planted the dates, flight numbers and times on the screen in front of me. Manhattan to Dallas on the first leg, where my BMC would pick me up. Then Longview to Dallas to Manhattan on the trip home. Total cost: $316 if purchased directly from the airline. But I was owed money from the online travel site and wanted to use my credit.

The customer-service representative kept putting me on hold to Pachelbel performed by the Tin Can Orchestra, then returning, determined to send me to places I didn’t want to go — even though I was providing the airport codes for all three airports. “Spokane to Dallas, correct?” he asked. No, Manhattan, I said. Kansas, not New York. Airport code MHK. He would apologize and disappear for another five minutes.
“Long Beach, yes?” he asked hopefully. “No, Longview: GGG is the code,” I replied. I decided God was paying me back for being dumb enough to book the Memorial Day flight backward, so I was being extraordinarily patient.

One hour into the conversation/concert, he informed me he had to “determine the validity and policy of the original booking.” I then was informed the airline was going to charge me $150 for changing the original fare. I argued a while, then gave up and booked the flight. As of this writing, eight hours later, I still haven’t received a confirmation e-mail, and my credit card hasn’t been charged.

The trip isn’t until early August, so I’ll give it a few days before calling back. Perhaps by then Bach will be the musical selection, performed by baying hounds. I’ll call when I have a couple of hours to spare, and my blood pressure is at low tide.

Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union, July 10, 2010


  1. I wonder. If someone in New Delhi has a problem, when they call for tech support (or any other kind), do they get someone from Taledega?

  2. When in August? I'd love to see you!

  3. Or Lufkin. Be about the same.